Monthly Archives: March 2016

Horse teeth 101

horse incisorsDental Disease in Horses: How much do you know about your horses mouth?

Horses, unlike dogs and cats, have teeth that continuously grow (hypsodontal teeth). This is an adaptation to allow for continued grinding of forage and feed material to better extract nutrients and aid in digestion. A horse has 36 to 42 teeth depending if it’s a mare or stallion and if it has wolf teeth or not. Stallions usually have canine teeth, while mares typically don’t.

Here is a diagram of typical equine dentation. The lower jaw has two halves, each half contains 3 incisors, 1 canine (may or may not be present), 3 premolars and 3 molars. The upper jaw is similar except for a residual premolar which is often referred to as the wolf tooth. These are often removed during castration in colts and on the first dental examination of fillies.

Horse teethequine skull

Age can be determined by looking at a horses teeth due to their eruption time as youngsters along with their wear pattern and shape as adults. Below is an example of how the teeth change with age. It is not an exact science but it can give you a decent estimate of age.

teeth agingDuring the natural chew pattern and wear of the teeth, there are common dental abnormalities that occur during the lifetime of the horse. Some horses due to their conformation and selection for other abilities such as athleticism, agility or disposition have a predisposition to developing pathology (detrimental abnormalities) within their mouth. If these horses were wild, they would perish due to these abnormalities. This is where regular dental care and preventative treatment can significantly prolong the life and well being of your horse.

What are the signs of dental problems?

Signs of dental problems are varied. They can be subtle signs such as slow eating or reluctance to drink cold water, chewing and then stopping and then chewing again. Or more obvious like head tilt during chewing, dropping feed (called quidding, see images), foul breath or weight loss. Some more serious consequences of poor dentation include premature swallowing of feed leading to indigestion, choke or colic. If teeth become infected you may see excessive drooling or sinus discharge (since the roots of the teeth are closely connected with the nasal sinuses) or facial swelling. Oral discomfort will also lead to reluctance taking the bit, excessive head shaking, resistance during training or acting out.

quidding 1 quidding 2

This horse may be acting out due to discomfort in its mouth. Without regular dental care, teeth can develop sharp edges and points which can cause ulcers and irritation, especially when we ask the horse to carry itself in a specific manner such as a tucked head carriage.

bucking horse??skinny horse??

Dental Examination and Pathology

Most dental problems can be prevented by having regular dental care. If you suspect your horse may have a dental problem, a physical exam and then an oral examination can be done by your veterinarian. Due to the nature of the horse, a thorough oral examination cannot be done without sedation and a speculum. This is because the molars in the back of the mouth can’t be safely and properly evaluated without these tools as they are nearly 12 inches from the front teeth.


The following are a list of abnormalities (pathology) that can occur in a horses mouth:

Enamel points–These occur along the top outer edges and along the bottom inner edges of molars and premolars. They can cause ulceration of the cheeks and tongue.

enamel points

Hooks and ramps–These occur along the first premolars and the last molars and can dig into the gums of the opposing side if large enough, and can influence the wear of the opposite matching teeth by changing the chewing pattern of the horse to something unnatural.

hooks and ramps

Parrot mouth–This is where the upper and lower jaw are not the same length causing the upper incisors not to match with the lower. Therefore the teeth won’t wear down naturally and overgrow causing an entire array of problems! It is very important that these horses get regular incisor care to minimize problems. This is an inherited condition so horses with this problem should not be bred.

parrot mouth

Extra teeth–Most often incisors which will cause misalignment leading to abnormal wear.??

extra teeth

Tooth fracture-1Young horses that fracture their baby teeth may have adult teeth that erupt abnormally. Older horses that fracture their adult teeth will influence how the opposing tooth is worn down and may need corrective adjustments until the fractured tooth grows out to a normal size again.

Caps– As a horse ages, the first premolars and molars erupt first and then the second and then the third. As the third premolar erupts, the first molar is already well established, so if there isn’t enough space the baby tooth gets wedged and doesn’t allow the adult tooth to fully erupt, this is called a cap.

Wave mouth and Step mouth–These problems refer to an irregular bite surface which prevents proper grinding of feed. Both conditions esasberate if left alone until the horse can no longer chew or grind feed and often results in pain as gum disease and feed impaction develop. If caught early, they can be corrected. If left too long there are management strategies but no solution.

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Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and hypercementosis (EOTRH)–This condition affects older horses and is extremely painful, to the point the horse will not be able to apprehend food and loses condition rapidly because they simply rather not eat due to the pain. An example of how extreme this pain can be is that even horses with fractured mandibles will continue to eat so we know that EOTRH is extremely uncomfortable and if not corrected the horse will starve to death. The only way to correct the condition is remove all the incisors. While this may seem harsh, the horses rapidly adapt and can even continue to graze with their now pain free gums. They simply aren’t as efficient at grazing anymore and may need nutritional supplementation.


What is the best way to ensure healthy dentation?

The best way to maintain oral health in a horse is have your veterinarian perform routine oral examinations and dental floats if necessary. Depending on your individual horses needs this may be every 6 months or every few years, the more problems your horse has in their mouth the more often dental floats will be required. Ask your veterinarian how often they recommend floating teeth for each individual horse and their unique circumstances.


I work with many great folks and their horses. I’ve observed a commonality we are all prone to: frustration. This might be frustration with the horse, frustration with yourself or frustration with a particular exercise or event. Here’s a helpful thought, one that may just help you with more than just your horse:

Frustration is simply a product of your expectations.

Frustration isn’t something imposed upon you, it’s something you create for yourself. Put another way, frustration is a result of a path you chose to go down.

Unless you enjoy being frustrated, and who does? – then a way to eliminate frustration in horse training is to change your expectations. Don’t confuse this with lowering your expectations, because our goal is still to produce a clear, concise attempt that leads to a successful result. Instead, ensure that your expectation is realistic within the context, the moment and the situation.

tyroneAnother way of thinking of this is:

Always set up a situation for success.

It can be risky and even pointless to attempt an action without some confidence at succeeding. If there is a huge question mark over whether or not something will work, then step back and evaluate. Every exercise you do and every movement your horse makes has several prerequisite movements that must be executed at some degree of consistency before you can introduce something more complex. Eventually, when you do introduce the next maneuver, be aware that the proficiency with which it can be executed depends entirely on the proficiency you or your horse have attained at those prerequisite steps. Consider that next step as only a test of how well you built the foundation. This way, you don’t end up setting yourself up for failure…and frustration.

I recently helped a student that was having difficulty with a side-pass on a horse she’d recently purchased. We quickly determined that the horse was unable to move his hind because he was bracing from the feel of the rein and the learned expectation that he would get kicked or spurred.

The following unfortunate scenario seems to be common.
 Here’s how it goes:
  1. The trainer asks something of the horse.
  2. The trainer elevates the pressure of their request because the horse didn’t get it.
  3. The only possible response the horse has is to brace (not move) or flee (move but not yield). Elevating pressure is a negative reinforcement that will teach your horse to brace against you and dull your aids.
  4. The trainer realizes the horse isn’t responding and, out of frustration, elevates the pressure even more or resorts to pain as a motivator.

It’s much more rewarding and beneficial to your leadership to produce a fluid, connected yield. A more realistic method is simple:

  1. Recognize the mental state of the horse. What’s really going on in his mind? Is he braced because he is scared ? Is he trying, but confused because he doesn’t know if his tries are correct? Is he frustrated because the current request is beyond his (or your) current ability?
  2. Ensure both you and your horse are starting from a clear, calm state of mind. Achieve release.??
  3. Consider steps that will support your horse in the exercise; steps that will allow him to progress – with obvious success.
  4. Assist the horse in that progression.

Supporting the horse and showing him how to succeed is such a better way.



So what did we do? We started with the very basics of release, yield, space and energy – every step intended to show the horse a better way to succeed…and we eventually connected the rein to the hind.

Now here’s the kicker: my student was no longer frustrated. Why? Because we changed our expectations to those we had a great chance at succeeding at. When we started working with her horse, there was a tremendous amount of licking, chewing and even yawning as he let go of all his tension. Success! Now we were in a good spot to progress to the next step. We continued to work through progressions, praising the horse and really feeling we achieved something with each small step. Frustration eliminated for my student AND her horse.

It’s a different way to look at things. If you set up every situation for a reasonable chance of success you’re starting off on the right foot. Now, rather than focus on the ultimate success, focus on the try; on the attempt. This is how your horse is going to learn he’s on the right track. His tries might be small, but it’s important you recognize and reward them.

Trailer loading. Anyone experience frustration here?

Trailer loading. Anyone experience frustration here?

It has been my experience that when you start looking at things like that, you basically eliminate failure and frustration because they simply don’t exist in that context. It’s a powerful, motivational way of thinking. It doesn’t just apply to horses; it can apply to how you handle everything in your life.

Again, frustration is a product of expectations in a situation that you created. It’s not going so well? Then evaluate and create another situation that will. In a team comprised of you and your horse, you are the leader. Leadership comes with responsibility and accountability.

You are responsible for providing an environment where you and your horse succeed. You are ultimately accountable for his success. You can never blame or punish the horse for his response in a situation you created – to do so is forsaking your role as a leader.

Our clinics at Amazing Horse Country revolve around several key principles. One of them is consistently setting up successful situations for our horses.  In addition to having a great time with friends and horses, we view our 60+ obstacle course simply as a way to evaluate:

  1. Where our horses are at; and
  2. What we need to work on.

We focus on the positive. We focus on your success. We focus on FUN. Thus our horses learn the value in trying and we eliminate frustration.

Scott Phillips, March 2016