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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Teeth Filed

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Any time you think dental checkups are a big deal, just think what it is like for horses. The vets grab the tongue and reach their arm into the horse’s mouth. The horse gets to wear a speculum that forces the jaw to stay open and the rasp is attached to a power drill that looks like the one in a construction worker’s toolbox.

It was actually the first time we have moved the rescued Thoroughbred mares into the barn stalls since they arrived in April. They walked in without hesitation, but since we only brought in Swings and Mix at first, the other two that were left outside became very vocal and upset about the separation.

We haven’t reached a level where the four horses we are fostering have shown complete comfort with us yet, so we didn’t know for sure what condition their teeth were in. Our suspicions were raised because the mares all show some difficulty eating the feed pellets we serve in pans.

Since the upper and lower jaws of a horse don’t align precisely, the outer edges of the upper teeth and the inside edges of the lower teeth can develop high spots, some of which can become sharply pointed. The rest of the tooth gets ground down by regular grinding contact that happens naturally from chewing.

Occasionally the vet needs to file or “float” the high spots to give the horse a fuller flat surface for chewing.

Our horses were mildly sedated to minimize stress during the procedure and allows the veterinary team to focus more on the inside of the mouth and less on the thousand pounds of unpredictable equine energy attached to it.

We were happy to learn that none of the horses’ teeth were in terrible shape. There were some other sore spots and understandable aging evidence, but nothing requiring additional treatment.

When the work is done and the speculum comes off, the horses are kept in the stalls for a couple of hours to nap until the sedative has worn off.

I was happy for the sedation because Light became very agitated when we got her into a stall, even though she was now inside with all the others. Luckily, she didn’t balk about stepping in there, but once inside, she became very unsettled. I wondered if it might be a Post Traumatic Stress memory of the life circumstances from which she was rescued.

The horses had a very interesting day because I brought out the big tractor with the brush cutter earlier to mow the high grass around the perimeter of the paddocks and along the edges of the pastures. They showed a healthy curiosity about the big machine and my activities, as well as an attraction to the areas freshly cut.

It is our hope that their newly floated teeth will make both their grazing in the fields and chomping the feed pellets easier and more comfortable for them. I also hope the sedation will have left them with little memory of the indignities to which they were subjected.

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