Horses Need Dentists Too!
I grew up around horses. I don’t come close to knowing everything there is to know about them, but I have always felt adequately informed….until about two weeks ago. For some time I’ve been thinking about getting an equine dentist out here to check out all of our boys. I’m embarrassed to say that it’s been two years since we’ve seen an equine dentist and even then it was only a couple of our horses. There were a few “signs” that made me think we needed one (the way Doc tilts his head when he eats grain and experiences bit pressure, age on some of our horses, lack of dental care, etc.). Time just seems to pass so quickly and we are always busy out here on the ranch. In other words, I didn’t get it done as soon as I’d hoped to. Well, I finally found a guy who came highly recommended from several friends. He and his wife came out and spent the day at our place. Boy, did I get an education!
This equine dentist (who prefers to remain nameless, but if you want to know who he is just email me or give me a call and I’ll be glad to refer you) went above and beyond to ensure that we were informed and involved in the entire process from start to finish. This in itself was something new to me. Besides being an overall genuine guy, I found out that our equine dentist went through extensive schooling in Texas for several years and that he has worked on over 5,000 horses so far. He takes his trade very seriously and he is very professional. I felt confident that I had chosen the right man to trust our horses with and the fact that his wife works with him throughout the entire process is an added bonus. We were encouraged to stick around during the entire procedure, which for 11 horses was about 11 hours straight through. We got to feel inside each of our horse’s mouths before and after. I can’t even tell you how much each mouth was transformed! The fact that we were included in the entire journey of correcting tooth development errors was an epiphany to me and it made all the difference in my understanding of the importance of equine dentistry.
First up was my best horse, Doc. If you know me at all you know how much Doc means to me….enough said.
I’ve been having some issues with him in the sorting pen and watching him eat made me worry for him. Well, after I felt in his mouth I knew why. His teeth were horrible….and his inner cheeks were all rubbed raw! I felt like the worst horse owner in history. I even got teary-eyed over it. We don’t baby our horses per se…..we let them be horses, but how I didn’t catch this earlier really caused me some distress. I decided right then and there that I was going to sit up and pay attention to the smaller details of our horses from then on. I will definitely never let our horses be in that position again.
The equine dentist was telling me how there are certain signs a horse can give you on the outside of his body about his dental health. One of those signs was big on Doc. His temporalis muscle (located in his forehead) was completely out of whack. It was longer and puffier on one side.
Once we got inside his mouth it was evident what was going on. One side of his mouth was overcompensating for the other because his teeth were being ground off unevenly (causing the insides of his cheeks to be rubbed raw). When I first felt in his mouth it almost felt like I was feeling a tiger’s teeth….sharp and jagged.
After the process was over, it felt like a smooth stone where those jagged points had been. It didn’t take long for Doc to be on the road to a healthier mouth with even teeth thanks to our equine dentist. Doc needed a little time to let his inner cheeks heal up, but within a few days I couldn’t even tell he had a problem in those areas!
We worked our way through 11 head of horses that day (ranging from 5 years old on up to 25). Dollar was the youngest patient of the day….he’s a big boy at only 5 years old!
Each one was interesting with completely different areas needing help. I learned that horse’s teeth continue to grow until they are around 17-19 years old. I also learned that it is really important for younger horses (2-4 years old) to see an equine dentist and that it can make all the difference in their tooth development and future health at that stage in their lives.
The biggest shock we got was on Shane’s best guy and my back up horse, Shotgun. Here he is:
He is only 8 years old so I really didn’t expect any problems. Was I ever wrong! His lower #11’s (way back bottom teeth…or molars as we might call them) were the biggest (longest) the equine dentist had ever seen….in over 5,000 horses! See those long buggers way back there?!
He was absolutely shocked and amazed at what he found back there! We all felt in Shotgun’s mouth and couldn’t believe it at all. Once the dentist explained to us what Shotgun had been going through we could see the signs (hard to keep weight on him, lackluster hair in several small places, etc.). He had a very low grade infection because of these teeth and you would have never known it to look at him or in his mannerisms. Shane felt absolutely horrible about it as did I. The dentist said not to worry and that he would be right as rain in just a few days. He fixed those teeth and you know what, Shotgun looked like a new horse the very next day. In fact, I think he even kicked over his head a few times when we weren’t looking! This was yet another lesson to me on why equine dentistry is so important.
At the end of that long day, I wrote a fairly large check to the equine dentist…and I did it with a smile and a sense of accomplishment. I learned more about our horses in that day than I ever hoped to. We were treated like friends, students, and confidants all day long. The kids (my son and my nephew) even got to see what horse teeth look like (the equine dentist had a few from a previous removal). They were fascinated and each got to keep a tooth or two (that was highlight of their day)! Here is one of their treasures….err, I mean horses teeth. 🙂
Throughout the day, we were informed of why it’s important to keep up on your horse’s dental health (and it wasn’t a sales pitch). Perhaps if this fellow would have come in here and preached about spending up to $200 per horse every 6 months without taking time to inform us and including us in the process I may have felt like a lot of folks do. I’ve heard comments from various people. Things like: “older horses are the only ones who need to be floated” or “unless there is a definite problem, I don’t use those dentists” or “holy cow, that’s a lot of money to spend on your horses” or “I only take them in once a year if that”. I can tell you this; if you think $200 is a lot to spend on your horse then you must not think very highly of him/her. That may seem blunt, but here’s why I say that. Good horses are hard to find. So when you have some good horses a couple hundred dollars isn’t even a thought…is it?! I kind of compare that to this way of thinking: “I don’t use my horse much so I don’t shoe him….I just let the ground break off his hooves…he seems fine….when I need him I’ll just trim him up and lope off”. I guess that might work for some folks, but it just doesn’t work for me. I am happy with my decision to better my horses through their dental health. If you haven’t had your horses to a dentist lately, I highly suggest you do so. Look into equine dentists. Ask around to find a good one. We all prefer certain things about certain people. To me, it’s most important that folks be educated on what they do, passionate about it, considerate, and that they communicate with me. I know that I found the right equine dentist for us because he fits all of those categories. Your requirements might be different than mine. Nonetheless, get your horses on a good dental program. You will be so glad you did….and so will they!
Oh and by the way, Doc and I just went to a weekend of women’s ranch rodeos in Hyannis, NE. He worked better than he has all year. We successfully sorted and roped every critter we came up against and he did so willingly without shaking his head or putting his nose up in the air to escape the pressure of the bit. How’s that for results?
Plus, Turkey Track Livestock (my team) qualified for the WRRA world finals!
I’m sold on equine dentistry, that’s for sure!