Dentistry Practices

silver_horses1 writes:

There’s recently been a big push in Australia (NSW at least) to take power away from Equine dentists and give it to vets. Already it is illegal for dentists to administer sedation, and the push is to prevent them from using power tools, and further more to prevent them from working at all. There have been some cases of ‘lay dentists’ causing such severe damage to horse’s mouths, such that they had to be put down. Another horse died because of a reaction to the sedation and the owner sued the vet, despite the fact the vet wasn’t present on the occasion.

On the one side of the argument are people who say the vets are trying to establish a monopoly, put equine dentists out of business and make more money. These people claim that a lifetime of experience in dentistry is worth more than the four day dentistry course, which is all a vet has to do to become qualified to perform equine dentistry. On the other side, the vets are arguing that lay dentists, though not always, can be under qualified and because a horse’s teeth are so important to their well being, it’s dangerous to put it into the hands of a group of people who may or may not be fully qualified. That the vets have already learnt about horse dentistry during their five years ofvet school and the four day course is just a refresher. They are able to safely administer sedation, usually have access to a crush, and are better qualified to handle complications and severe tooth problems such as root canals and infections. The vets claim they’re doing it for the good of the horses, and after all the courses and equipment has been paid for, they’re coming out at a loss anyway. 

I’m not sure how things stand in the US or the rest of the world, but this is currently a massively hot topic in my area, and I was curiousif this is an issue overseas as well. I don’t know if this is worth a blog, but I thought you might be interested anyway.

First, thanks for submitting this as a topic. This is an area I feel is often neglected by horse owners AND vets. I’m not sure how it all works in the US, but I’m sure one of our fellow participants will enlighten us. My experience in Canada was this:

a) Most vets don’t know their way around a horse’s mouth any better than I know my way around the inside of a spaceship. (I’m not some secret undercover astronaut, in case anyone is wondering.)

b) I have been told by a number of equine vets – because I’ve asked – (and this supports what silver_horses1 said, and supports my personal experience of point a)) that they spend only a few hours of their schooling on dentistry and feel, in general, ill-prepared to do dentistry.

c) I know of no one doing equine teeth in my home province that isn’t a vet, and unless they came highly recommended by one of the few horsemen I admire and respect, or I knew them personally (had seen them work – on someone else’s horse) and was fully aware of their capabilities, there’s a slim to none chance I’d use them if they weren’t also an equine vet.

d) Very early on in my horse ownership, once I realized my points a) & b), I very specifically sought out equine vets who had furthered their education to become specialized in an area or two of personal interest, like dentistry, and have only ever used vets with specialties ever since. Most people have one equine vet, I’ve usually had 3-4 at any given time, all with their own set of specialties. We don’t ask doctors to be good at everything, not sure why we’d expect ‘animal doctors’ to do it.

Addressing more specifically the topic, I’m not opposed to ‘lay dentists’, IF they are able to take the same dentistry courses as equine vets AND if they get supplemental veterinarian type schooling on sedation and dealing with potential risks such as allergic reactions. I personally wouldn’t require any legislative safeguards and such, but then I know what questions to ask and I’m capable of doing due diligence, getting references etc…and making the best decisions for my own horses. I’m also willing to accept associated risks with the decisions I make. Aside from the fact, being a certified vet and even being a certified vet with some additional dentistry courses doesn’t automatically make you any good at your job and people all too often fall into the trap of putting blind faith in someone simply because they’ve got some letters after their name. Educating yourself is always key. You don’t have to have the skills to do the actual work, but you should know the basic structure of your horse’s mouth, be able to stick your own hand in and feel what’s right and what’s wrong, ask intelligent and pertinent questions, and make decisions in the moment on behalf of your horse.

Secondarily on the topic, I’m suspicious of any powerful group who wants to ‘protect’ me and mine, particularly when they specifically say it’s for our protection AND they personally benefit from it. To that I say; worry about yourselves. Police your own group before deciding to police the community.

The Up And Down Of It – Levelness Of Build

There are many who still think the way to determine the levelness of a horse’s build is to compare wither to croup.  If both are the same distance from the ground, then the horse is level built.  If the withers are lower than the croup, the horse is downhill built, and if the withers are higher than the croup, the horse is uphill built.

Simply put, that is wrong.

Have a look at our skeleton horse and notice that the withers are created by vertebrae spines.  


Those spines vary in length from individual to individual as evidenced by comparing a Thoroughbred, with their typical prominent withers, to that of a QH, with their general lower withers.  So how then should levelness of build be measured?    

Simply put, by looking at the spine, itself.

First we locate the lower cervical curve and the LS joint, and then we draw a line from point to point.  If that line is parallel to the ground, the horse is level built.  If the line slopes upwards (left to right), the horse is downhill built, and if the line slopes downwards, the horse is uphill built.


Let’s have a look at our guinea pig horses and see how they measure up.

Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion

Take a look at him unmarked.  What is your first impression?  You’ll probably have noticed that with all that flesh you can’t see the lower cervical curve.  So how do we know where it is?  The best way is of course to palpate.  The lower cervical curve creates the widest part of the neck just before it passes between the scapulae.  Stand in front of your horse and place a hand on either side of the neck below the poll.  Now run your hands down the neck.  You’ll feel it begin to get wider and then as you hit the widest part of the neck, you’ll also feel the cervical vertebrae very close to the surface.  That’s the lower cervical curve.  In some photos we’ll be able to easily spot that point due to lighting differences.  In other photos we’ll best guess it.


We can see that this horse is a bit downhill built via the ‘old’ measuring way (wither height vs croup height) but also via the ‘new’ measuring way by looking at his spine.


Horse #2 – QH Gelding

What about this one?


He’s very similar to our first horse.


Horse #3 – 4yr old QH

Does our third QH also look downhill?


This QH has almost identical wither and croup heights, but is more downhill in body balance than our first two.   Your first thought might be, ‘That’s because he’s got his head lower than the other two.’  But the lower cervical curve doesn’t change its orientation within the neck.   Its ‘posture’ can be changed, as in the lower curve can be ‘deepened’ by the horse hollowing its back and ‘dropping its base of neck’, at which point the horse’s head would be higher and we’d see a bulge at the base, or the lower cervical curve can become ‘shallower’ by the horse engaging, rounding its back, and ‘lifting its base of neck’, at which point the horse would lower its head (relative) and hang it freely from the poll.  Our grey QH actually shows some neck telescoping going on suggesting that his base of neck is, in fact, ‘raised’.  If he was under saddle, we could be reasonably happy with his ‘long and low’ frame.


Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion


Aha!  Our first horse with withers higher than croup, but look how much more prominent they are than our previous grey QH.  In the end, our Arabian is level built.


 Horse #5 – TB Gelding

What about this one?


Yes, this one is downhill too as expected.  Most QH’s and TB’s are going to be downhill built.  It’s the nature of breeding for speed/racehorses, which undermines riding these horses in other disciplines.


Horse #6 – Paint Mare

Here’s your last chance to test your eye.


Yes, Paint horses often fall into the downhill category as well, since they are essentially QH’s with color.  Note that this horse has a similar downhill build to our grey QH, but has her head up.  Putting her head up didn’t suddenly make her more level built.


What amount of importance should be placed on levelness of build? 

A level built horse carries more than 50% of its body weight on its forehand, making him heavy on the forehand.  Even an uphill built horse carries more than 50% of its body weight on its forehand.  That weight percentage increases the more downhill built a horse is structured.  Forehand weight is all well and good – for a racehorse – but not for a riding horse. (See Hooves Blog article – Speed Kills – for an explanation of the biomechanical difference between a racehorse and a dressage horse.)

Since we know that we must ‘lighten’ a horse in front, get them ‘off their forehand by transferring weight onto a lowered haunch’, to improve its ability to carry a rider in balance and with the least amount of stress to its body, it only stands to reason (logically) that horses of level or uphill build will find that task easier.

Consider as well some of the things we ask a horse to do, such as jumping fences.  A downhill built horse is not only going to struggle to carry its rider in balance, but it will also find it difficult to get that heavily weighted front end up and out of the way in time to navigate a jump of any significant height.

You might ask; what about horses in speed events (other than flat racing)?  Well, let’s consider barrel racing.  It is an event that requires a horse to navigate three barrels, with the fast time winning.  I contend that the best horse for this event is one of level build and here’s why;

To be truly fast around the barrels a horse has to be able to engage to a high degree significantly lowering its haunch to ‘slide’ around the barrel tightly on that haunch, then once around the other side with its haunch still lowered it can then thrust off the haunch and powerfully launch itself forward ‘onto’ its forehand (as if coming out of a starting gate or roping chute) and ‘race’ hollow and on its forehand to the next barrel, where it should then reengage to a high degree, lighten its forehand, and sit on its haunch to once again slide around the next barrel…rinse and repeat. 

This is the fastest and most efficient way around the barrels.  It’s not, however, what we typically see.  Most of the time we see horses coming into the barrel heavy on their forehands and then the rider pulling on the brakes (er…mouth) and yanking the horse’s nose and head around the barrel (with the tiedown/martingale taut as the horse struggles to keep its balance during this contortion), the horse stalls and loses all momentum,  gets either too close to the barrel with the shoulder or too far from it losing valuable ground, before pulling itself back into gear with its front legs, instead of propelling itself forward from the powerful haunch, which has been left in China.  Yes, barrel racers would do well to spend at least half their training time and focus (of themselves and their horse) in dressage.

Levelness of build is pretty darn important because it can’t ever be changed; only temporarily manipulated by strength of conditioning and work.  The horse lives with it its entire life and either struggles against it or is helped by it in daily under saddle work.

The Disgusting – Criolla Week In Montevideo

I try to be careful to not wish ill on my fellow man, as a little thing known as ‘Karma’ works both ways.  I have to say, though, while the photography for this short article is mucho caliente (a lot hot – as in very good), my heart hurts for every horse.  The body contortions and inner stresses being put on them is through the roof, making it very hard for me to think anything but exceedingly nasty thoughts about every single human involved.

Aye Betta Someone Gets Hurt

Thank you, Quill, for pointing out idiocy in the equine retail business…because there already isn’t enough in the non-retail sector of horse ownership.  Pfft!

Who thought the Buddy Seat was a good idea?  Who funded its creation?  And who decided to make it part of Abetta’s line?   Each and every one of you needs a baseball bat to the side of the head to juggle whatever little brain matter is in there into function.   Clearly all of you were fully committed to its existence since it’s offered in an array of attractive colors.  Buddy Seat On Ebay

Without even discussing rider safety – since I’ve already admitted to not being particularly child friendly – and strictly from a horse health and soundness standpoint, you can’t possibly have a clue about horses if you think it’s appropriate to put weight over the horse’s loin.  Here it is:  In action

Book Of The Summer Club – Tao, Part 1

If you decided to read Tao Of Equus then you noticed that it’s conveniently divided into three parts.  Here are my thoughts on part one.

I might as well start by addressing the elephant in the room.  There will be some who call BS right off the bat; predictive dreams, horse ancestor ghosts that provide training advice, a well-versed in alternative healing practises psychologist and some sort of out-of-body-into-horse-mind experience.  I can’t claim to have had any of those experiences in my life, therefore you’d think I’d have no basis in which to relate to them.  But I sort of do.  I’ve seen and experienced some odd things in my life, such that I won’t automatically dismiss what someone else claims to have experienced.  Let’s be real here, millions of people (I’m not one of them) believe in God (as per the Bible) and not one of them can provide proof of his/her existence.  The author discusses several cultures over the centuries, all of which believed in something otherworldly.  Maybe the entire human species is crazy?  But I know what I’ve experienced.

Several years ago I was having lunch in a mall with a friend and co-worker.  I’ll call her Anita (because that’s her name).  It was February and we were discussing a recent change in company policy whereby yearly bonuses would be given out on employees’ birth dates rather than on the previous once a year fiscal date.  I promptly blurted out (and with conviction) that I didn’t care when they gave out the bonuses because I wasn’t going to be there (at the company) by the time my birthday (December) came around.  Anita raised her eyebrows and looked at me, and I looked back and said, “I have no idea why I just said that.  That just came out of nowhere.” 

The truth of the matter was that I had no intentions of leaving that employ.  I enjoyed that job immensely, my co-workers and my boss.  As it turned out, the singular and simple event in May of a neighbor cutting down a tree led to my husband and I putting our hobby farm up for sale.  We placed just one ad in an area newspaper and sold it privately for almost the entirety of our asking price within two weeks.  We had also already found the property we wanted to buy within that two weeks, and by August we’d moved to our new farm two hours away.  I quit my job and was long gone from the company before I was due for my yearly bonus.  Somehow I’d predicted a future I’d had no mental awareness of.  I’ve done it a number of other times in my life and always it comes from me blurting out things from left field that have never crossed my mind previously.  I will also admit to having very strong ‘gut feelings and instincts’ that I always listen to because they never steer me wrong.  In the end, though, I’m not sure it matters what we believe or even if we agree on an origin.  It probably only matters if you want to satisfy your curiosity or if you need to place responsibility somewhere to feel at ease.  I suspect a lot of us just simply dismiss these sorts of events in our lives because it’s easier that way.

Mostly, I like to claim being a logical thinker with my fair share of common sense practises.  I have to give the author some credit as she continually questions her thought processes and even wonders if she’s going crazy.  Mixed amongst her struggle to find answers there are a lot of really good tidbits of equine advice.  She seeks out professional training services and input from those more experienced, gets second opinions from healthcare professionals, she applies theory to practical, learns from mistakes (hers and others), and follows a logical path.  Even if you can’t grasp ‘the other stuff’, you can (should) appreciate the rest that she writes about.

The flowery metaphors and poetic prose are not my favorite writing style to read, but then I’m not entirely sure there’s a simple, bland or blunt way to write about some of the topics.  References to Freud, Jung, Sheldrake et al…are a reminder that she’s not in fact talking about anything new or particularly ‘mysterious’, though it comes off that way.  I’ve never studied those particular men and I don’t possess their sophistication, but they do make me go ‘hmm….’ in a good and interesting way.

I loved the historical and cultural data presented by the author, much of which wasn’t about horses.  The development of belief systems is fascinating whether you buy into it all or not.  Mythology, shamanism, religion, spiritualism; all of it has been part of the human existence from the beginning of time.  I’ve got nothing against someone incorporating it into their equine practices as long as it works for the human and the horse.

I also really enjoyed the reference to anthropomorphism versus the more accurate anthropopathism, and the entire Sympathetic Vibration section where the author got all scientific about the sympathetic nervous system, the enteric nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.   That alone was worth the read.

On the equine front there were so many good tidbits I can’t list them all, but I will comment on a couple.  In the latter portion of this section the author takes her Arabian mare out to the desert for the day, to do (basically) nothing.  She’d already come to the conclusion that even though her horse would not be the performance superstar she’d planned for because of her injury, the mare still had much to offer.  This is an important shift that many people never experience.  So often horses are viewed as disposable commodities, like a keyboards.  Bang away, every day, until it breaks, then toss it and go buy a new one.  I hate that. 

In a similar vein, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of people purchasing a new horse only to immediately climb aboard and start riding/showing it without ever giving the horse a chance to adjust to its new environment.  Then a week or two later the horse has a meltdown and everyone stands around scratching their heads wondering why.  I call those first few days/weeks ‘the honeymoon’.  Once it’s over then you learn what you’ve really got on your hands.  I’ve always advised people who’ve just acquired a new horse to take some time getting to know that horse, and the horse to know them by essentially doing ‘nothing’.  Take a lawnchair, a book, a brush and some apple/carrot pieces and sit your butt in the middle of the pasture/paddock and hangout.  If the horse wanders over to say hi, great. If not, there’s always tomorrow.  Eventually they all do.  And eventually they’ll all stand quietly, without restraint, to be groomed.  You’ve now begun to build a foundation of trust that’ll carry you forward in partnership.

The author also references emotional congruity and how that affects the horse.  We’ve all experienced this; we’re in a hurry, just had a fight, or are upset about something going on in our lives.  We head out to the pasture to bring horses in for dinner or before we leave for an important meeting, and the buggers scatter like a flock of birds on a highway with a Mack truck speeding towards them.  Horses that otherwise would meet us at the gate with joyous nickers, jockeying for position to be the first one in, want nothing to do with us in that moment.  There’s two things you can always count on a horse to do; behave like a horse and be a mirror that reflects your current self. 

I’m off to begin reading part two and seeing where the author’s journey goes next.


I managed to wrangle a computer for a few minutes because you all just had to see this video.  Have at ‘er, while I call child services.

Well, it appears they’ve now made that video private. Here’s another video of the same child on another horse at a different event. This time she manages to stay in the saddle. In the first video she was whiplashing back and forth in the saddle and at the third barrel tumbled off the side of the horse, got hung up in the stirrup briefly before hitting the ground. The horse backed up a bit, but quickly came to a standstill and waited for the father to come pick the girl up and put her back in the saddle (then handwalked the horse out of the arena).