So it follows that horses on relatively 'unnatural' diets (hard
feed and restricted hay) suffer much more from sharp unworn
teeth than say, moorland ponies on a sole diet of rough herbage.
In addition to the side-to-side chewing action, the jawbone
also alters position as the position of the head in relation
to the neck changes. With the head elevated the jaw retracts,
and conversely when the poll is flexed the lower jaw moves forwards.
Any restriction of this forward movement, predominantly caused
by enamel 'hooks' on the first upper and last lower cheek teeth
jamming against the corresponding over- or underlying tooth,
will make it very difficult for the horse to adopt the poll
flexed 'dressage' posture unless it opens its mouth. This mouth-open
posture is perceived as a 'resistance' and invariably prompts
the trainer or rider to tighten the noseband. The horse consequently
is in constant discomfort resulting in tension in the neck and
ultimately in a back problem.
Horses in discomfort from the bit will show resistance when
the rider takes up a contact with the reins. This resistance
may involve raising the head, trying to pull the reins from
the rider's hands, showing reluctance to come down on the bit,
being 'stiff' on one rein, jumping to one side of the jump etc.
Some hard-pulling horses are running away from the discomfort
caused by the bit. Any horse that shows resistance when ridden
should have its mouth carefully examined. Most dental problems
are easily fixed, often resulting in a dramatic improvement
in the horse's acceptance of the bit
In addition to causing pressure on the tongue and bars, the
bit pushes the soft tissues of the cheeks against the cheek
teeth. Wolf teeth are variable-sized 'extra' teeth found in
30-50% of horses just in front of the first upper cheek tooth,
exactly where these soft tissues are pushed by the bit. As discomfort
is likely, removal is strongly advised.
As a further aid to bitting comfort we often also reshape the
leading edges of the first upper and lower cheek teeth (see
diagram) to create more room for the cheek soft tissues. This
reshaping is called creating a bit seat, and may dramatically
alter the comfort level of a bitted horse, causing relaxation
of the poll and better acceptance of the bit.
Solving dental problems
The last cheek teeth erupt at four years of age. By five years
the abnormal wear has started to begin so it follows therefore
we at EqWest Equine Clinic recommend that every horse five years
and older has its teeth checked at least annually. If done regularly
only minor attention is normally all that is required. Sharp
enamel points are removed with a selection of rasps, although
occasionally motorised grinding equipment is required for more
For adequate examination of the teeth it is essential that
a full mouth gag be used. This allows the vet to see and feel
every single tooth, and the tissues of the mouth, to detect
any problems that need correction. More importantly the vet
can also choose the appropriate equipment for each abnormality
and especially conform at the end that the problem has been
solved. Good dental care requires lots of experience and an
extensive range of equipment, found principally in specialist
equine veterinary practices. If you use a dental technician
make sure they are on the BEVA/British Veterinary Dental Association's
Approved list - many are not !