Posts Tagged ‘dental care’

Dear Cherry,

I recently learned that I was the new owner of a couple of horses. One a pony and the other a brown and white horse. The pony has been broke before. The big horse has not. We have land for them to roam and water and plenty of food for them. But I have never owned a horse and would like to most definitely learn. I just don’t know how to approach this situation. How should I begin this process?

Thanks, Salvador

Hello Salvador,

Well, you have a most exciting adventure ahead of you.

First of all, although you can learn a lot from the internet, books and DVDs, the best possible advice I can give to you is for you to find an experienced, trusted horse owner or trainer/instructor in your area who can help you get started. For example, you will need to find a farrier and a veterinarian and an experienced horse owner/trainer/instructor in your locale so you have people to contact.

101 Horsekeeping Tips DVDAn experienced horse owner will be able to take a look at your fences and pastures and give you an opinion as to if their suitability for horses and if your pastures provide enough of the right type of feed. Even if you have wonderful pastures and water, you will need to provide the horses with salt and mineral blocks. Horses should have access to salt at all times.

Horsekeeping On A Small AcreageAs far as taking care of the horses on your land and managing your fences and buildings, I’ve written a book specifically for that. It is called Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage and discusses all you need to know as far as the care of the horse on your property.Horse Health Care by Cherry Hill

Horse For Sale by Cherry HillWhen it comes to specific health care skills such as feeding, deworming, vaccinations, hoof care and so on, you can ask your farrier and veterinarian to help you somewhat and you can also refer to Horse Health Care and Horse Hoof Care.

Now when it comes to handling the horses, ask your experienced new friend to help you assess what the pony and the horse know and what they need to learn. Then you can make a plan as to how to proceed from day to day. It is probably best for the horses and your safety for you to have help with both the pony and the horse until you have developed the confidence to handle them on your own. I have posted much information on my website about ground training, manners and so on which will be very helpful to you. And I’ve written many books on all levels of training. You can look through a complete list of books by topics in the Book Barn.

Once you get started, you will have a hundred more specific questions, so feel free to write again.

Best of luck and be safe,Cherry Hill horse trainer and author of 30 books and DVDs


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I’ve heard people around the barn talking about getting the wolf teeth taken out of their horses. What are they and is it necessary? Can my vet do this or do I need to take my horse to a special dentist? Will my horse need to be drugged to do it? I’d rather not have this done unless it is absolutely necessary. Mac

Hi Mac,

First a little tooth geography. See the diagram of Horse Teeth .

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

At the front of your horse’s mouth are the incisors. At the back of the horse’s mouth are the premolars and the molars. In between the incisors and the premolars is a relatively tooth-free space called the interdental space, also called the bars. This is where the bit sets. In the interdental space, there might be certain additional teeth.

Most male horses five years of age and older have four canine teeth in the interdental space located about an inch or two behind the incisors. Some mares (about 20%) have small canines or canine buds, usually on the lower jaw.

Both male and female horses can have wolf teeth. Wolf teeth are actually the first premolars. But they are smaller than the other premolars because they are remnants of teeth from prehistoric horses and through evolution have decreased in size and frequency of appearance. Most, but not all, horses have wolf teeth. They appear more commonly in the upper jaw but can appear in the lower jaw. Wolf teeth start coming in at about six months of age and are fully visible by 12 to 18 months in horses that are going to have them.

Some wolf teeth fall out at about 3 years of age when the horse sheds the temporary second premolar.

Wolf teeth are removed surgically if their size or location could cause painful bumping by the snaffle bit or pinching of the horse’s skin between the wolf teeth and snaffle bit. If a wolf tooth is small and fits tightly up against the second premolar, it might not cause a problem. But if the wolf tooth is large or there is a space between the wolf tooth and second premolar, it is much more likely to result in a problem because the tooth is standing alone, unprotected and the mouthpiece of the bit could hang up in the space between the wolf tooth and the second premolar.

Wolf teeth are usually removed when a yearling colt is gelded to take advantage of the fact that he is already sedated for the castration. With fillies, wolf teeth can be removed anytime after about 12 months of age and before snaffle bit training begins.

Your veterinarian will likely use a sedative and a local anesthetic to perform the extraction. Stocks are an asset for dental work and a twitch may also be used to ensure added control. Most veterinarians use a periosteal elevator to expose as much of the tooth as possible before extraction.

The root of wolf teeth is shallow, about 1/2 inch in young horses. Wolf teeth are relatively soft and can be easily crushed during removal which would be a bad thing. If a tooth splinters during removal and small pieces are left in the jaw, an abscess can result. If a small portion of the root breaks off below the gum line, often the remaining root tip will be absorbed and cause no problem.

So Mac, I’d suggest you have your veterinarian examine your horse and advise you as to whether removing the wolf teeth would be a good idea. It will depend on the size and location of the wolf teeth, the age of your horse, if you use a snaffle bit on your horse, and if you have had any indications that the bit might be contacting the wolf teeth. If your horse has been becoming more difficult to turn or stop or if he throws his head up when you make contact with the rein, then he might be having dental problems and it is possible it could be due to wolf teeth. A thorough dental examination can reveal any problems.

For more information on teeth, refer to these books:

Horse Health Care pages 26-35

– Deciduous Tooth Eruption schedule

– Permanent Tooth Eruption schedule

– Mouth of 2 year old

– Mouth of Mature horse

– The horse’s jaw

– Floating

– Dental Warning Signs

– Step-by-step photo guide to mouth exam

Making Not Breaking , pages 58-66

– Fit of the snaffle and reactions to the snaffle as it relates to mouth and teeth

Best of luck,

Cherry Hill

P.S. Sherlock was gelded at 6 months. Since his wolf teeth hadn’t appeared yet, they were not removed at that customary time. At 18 months of age, I saw that he had two medium sized upper wolf teeth. Most wolf teeth are located right next to the premolars but Sherlock’s were about an inch in front of his premolars – that left a dangerous gap that could allow the mouthpiece of a snaffle bit to either bang on the wolf teeth or get caught in between the wolf teeth and the premolars.

So at 24 months of age, with Sherlock backed into the loose stocks, the vet sedated Sherlock and removed his wolf teeth. A simple on-the-farm procedure that took about 10 minutes.

(First photo below) The vet used an adjustable crutch to support Sherlock’s sedated horse’s head. He added extra padding to the underarm pad and it serves as an underchin pad to hold up Sherlock’s head as he works. Richard really liked the crutch!

(Second photo below) The vet used a headlamp to help him see into the dark recesses of Sherlock’s mouth.

(Last photo below) Sherlock’s wolf teeth, showing the very shallow roots. There is about 1/2″ of tooth above the gum and 1/2″ of root below the gum. The wolf tooth on the left has more tissue debris so it only looks longer.

horse, dental care, wolf tooth, photo, teeth, veterinarian, stocks, loose stocks, wolf tooth removal, wolf teeth, vet, first premolar, Sherlock, two-year-old
horse, dental care, wolf tooth, photo, teeth, veterinarian, stocks, loose stocks, wolf tooth removal, wolf teeth, vet, first premolar, Sherlock, two-year-old
horse, dental care, wolf tooth, photo, teeth, veterinarian, stocks, loose stocks, wolf tooth removal, wolf teeth, vet, first premolar, Sherlock, two-year-old, root, gums


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Where is the summer going ??!! I can’t believe August is nearly half gone.

But no matter what month of the year, we horsekeepers are busy ! Here are a few things pertinent to August here on Long Tail Ranch.

These are excerpts from my book Cherry Hill’s Horsekeeping Almanac.

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac

Dental Work

Fall is a good time to have routine dental work completed: floating teeth, removing wolf teeth if necessary, and removing retained caps. Because a horse’s upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw and horses chew from side to side, as their molars wear, they form sharp points on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars. To keep these sharp points from cutting your horse’s tongue or cheeks as he eats, they should be filed (floated) regularly with a special file called a float that attaches to a long handle.

At the same time, your vet can remove caps and/or wolf teeth. Caps are temporary premolars (baby teeth) and molars that have not completely dislodged even though the permanent ones have erupted. In between dental visits, monitor your horse to determine if he needs more frequent visits.

Here are some sign of necessary dental work:

    • Bad odor from mouth
    • Quids (wads of food around feeding area)
    • Feed falling from mouth during eating
    • Weight loss
    • Sharp points

Remove a Loose Shoe

Use the following procedure to remove a shoe that has become bent, dangerously loose, or has rotated on your horse’s hoof. Necessary tools include : clinch cutter, hammer, pull-offs, and crease nail puller.

  1. Using the chisel end of the clinch cutter, open the clinches by tapping the spine of the clinch cutter with the hammer. A clinch is the end of the nail folded over; this needs to be opened so that the nails can slide straight through the hoof wall when pulled without taking large hunks of hoof with them.If the shoe has a crease on the bottom, you may be able to use the crease nail puller to extract each nail individually allowing the shoe to come off.Nails with protruding heads can be pulled out using the pull-offs. If you can’t pull the nails out individually, then you will have to remove the shoe with the pull-offs.
  2. After the clinches have been opened, grab a shoe heel and pry toward the tip of the frog.
  3. Do the same with the other shoe heel.
  4. When both heels are loose, grab one side of the shoe at the toe and pry toward the tip of the frog. Repeat around the shoe until it is removed.Never pry toward the outside of the hoof or you risk ripping big chunks out of the hoof wall. As the nail heads protrude from the loosening of the shoe, you can pull them out individually with the pull-offs.
  5. Pull any nails that may remain in the hoof.
  6. Protect the bare hoof. Keep the horse confined in soft bedding.

Blister Beetles

Four to six grams of blister beetles (whole or part, fresh or dried) can kill and 1100 pound horse. That’s because they contain cantharidin, a toxic and caustic poison. There is no antidote. Research has shown it is the striped blister beetle that is the source of cantharidin.

Typically, blister beetles will appear after the first cut (mid June or later) and disappear by October, so usually first cut and last (late 4th) cut hay is safer than 2nd or 3rd cut. Blister beetles tend to cluster in large groups often in the area of 1-2 bales but hay growers know that if left alone after cutting, most blister beetles evacuate the field. You need to know your alfalfa hay grower; ask him what he did to eliminate blister beetles in the field.

Buy only first cut or October hay. Inspect alfalfa hay before you buy and again before you feed.

Protect Riparian Areas

Riparian refers to the vegetation and soils alongside streams, creeks, rivers, and ponds. These are precious areas that can easily be damaged by horses.

Manure, urine, overgrazing, destruction of trees, and the creation of muddy banks all can lead to less vegetation, warmer water temperatures, more algae, less fish, and decreased wildlife habitat. Monitor and limit horses’ access to natural water sources so that a natural buffer zone of grasses, brush and trees is preserved around the edges of ponds and creeks. This buffer zone is essential for filtering nutrients from excess runoff before it enters the water.

Choke Cherries

Choke cherries are ripe during August. Although horses don’t eat the berries, the leaves are poisonous to horses and the berries attract bears.


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Hi Cherry !

I have a 2 + year QH that I am having trouble getting him to use a bit.

As I try to put in his mouth he will back up and refuses for to put the bit in his mouth. What can I do to get him to let me put on a bit, or is it his age?


Hi Ruben,

The best way to solve this problem is to forget about the bit and bridle for a few lessons.

First you need to teach your horse to allow you to handle his head, his ears, his lips, his mouth, examine his teeth and so on.

I use one of my old toothbrushes to get the horse used to having something in his mouth. This will also be safer for you than using your fingers if you aren’t really sure where the teeth are located (see drawing below). Hold the bristle end in your hand and rub the end of the smooth plastic handle along the horse’s lips. When your horse will allow you to do this without moving his head or backing away, then insert the smooth toothbrush handle into the interdental space – the area between the incisors and molars where the bit goes. If you don’t have a toothbrush handy, you can use an old, washed out dewormer tube for this lesson.

Next be sure your horse doesn’t have any fear of you opening his lips to look at his teeth. Your veterinarian needs to do this anyway, so take the time to make sure your horse is comfortable with you handling all parts of his mouth and head.

Then be sure you can handle and rub his ears and are able to bend his ears forward like you will need to do when you slip the crownpiece of the bridle over his ears.

When you feel your horse is comfortable with all of this, be sure you are bridling properly.

Horse Training - Proper Bridling Position

Horse Training - Proper Bridling Position

Refer to the photo above to show you how to put your right hand over your horse’s head and between his ears while you present the bit to the horse with your left hand. Be careful not to bump the horse’s front teeth with the bit. If he doesn’t readily open his mouth, you can insert the thumb of your left hand into the corner of his mouth – this usually gets the horse to open his mouth. See the illustration below to help you determine the safe zone for you to place your fingers – the interdental space which is the space where there are no teeth – between the canines and the wolf teeth.

Teeth of a Mature Horse Showing the Safe Finger Zone, the interdental space

Teeth of a Mature Horse Showing the Safe Finger Zone, the interdental space

After you have thoroughly prepared your horse for the sensations of bridling, he should accept the process willingly. Take your time because these habits last a lifetime, whether good or bad.

For more information, refer to

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillHow to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillMaking Not Breaking

How to Think Like a Horse

Best of luck, and let me know how you make out.


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Hello.  A family relative is trying to do some research and has gotten stumped.  One of her questions is to explain 4 ways to tell a horses age.  I was hoping maybe you could help her out.  We know that teeth is a definite, but unsure about the other 3.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you for your time! Carrie

Hi Carrie,

Examining the teeth to age a horse is the main method used.

You can read all about that and other horse development and aging facts in the horse time line in my book How to Think Like a Horse.

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

There is also an excellent web article Determining the Age of Horses by Their Teeth by Wayne Loch and Melvin Bradley
Department of Animal Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia

Now as far as other methods which is what you are really after, here are some ideas, some of which are fairly obvious but I feel I must mention.

If the horse is registered, look at the registration papers or contact the breed or association registry to ask for that information.

If the horse is branded, determine who owns the brand and contact them.

If you think the horse might have a micro chip implanted in its neck, ask your veterinarian to scan the horse’s neck with a reader to gain information.

As far as visual methods to ascertain a horse’s age, that comes with experience but even knowledgeable horse people can be fooled. There are certain factors that show a horse is getting older such as sunken areas over the eyes, gray hair, lost of muscle tone and so on. But, for example, not all 25 year old horses will show these signs and not all horses that show these signs are 25 and older if you get my meaning.

If you do come up with other methods to tell a horse’s age, I’d appreciate hearing them because for now, today, this is about all I came up with !

Cherry Hill

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Floating a Horse’s Teeth – Video Clip

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

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©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Although your veterinarian will perform many routine and emergency tasks for you, you must be responsible for knowing what to schedule and when.

Immunization Annual vaccinations can protect your horse from certain diseases.  Most horses should be vaccinated against Tetanus, Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis, Influenza, and Rhinopneumonitis.  In some parts of the country, Potomac Horse Fever, Rabies, and Strangles vaccines are also recommended.

Tetanus (lockjaw) is an infection of the nervous system caused by bacteria that enter through a wound or a foal’s umbilical cord.  The muscles stiffen so severely that within a few days the animal dies or must be euthanized.

Encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness) is caused by a virus carried by a mosquito.  The mosquito transports the virus from a wild bird or animal to your horse.  The horse gets a high fever, is paralyzed and dies within 2-4 days.

Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus.  It’s a common respiratory disease spread by coughing that is rarely fatal.

Rhinopneumonitis (snots) usually affects 4-6 month old foals.  Pregnant broodmares that come in contact with this virus might abort.

Distemper (strangles) is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes the glands near the throat to swell.  The horse will not eat or drink and gets a very high fever but rarely dies.

Rabies rarely affects horses but can result in death.  The virus is transmitted from an infected animal to the horse by a bite, usually from a dog, a skunk, a fox, or a bat.

Equine Infectious Anemia (swamp fever) is a virus that infects the horse’s blood and is spread from one horse to another through a biting insect.  There is no vaccine to protect your horse against swamp fever but the Coggins test identifies carriers.

Diseases are spread either directly from one horse to another, from a contaminated stall or feeder to a horse, between horses eating or drinking from communal areas, or through the air.

If a horse is contaminated, use a combination of treatment, disinfecting, and quarantine to keep the disease from spreading and to eliminate the organism that caused it.

Poison Prevention Horses investigate unknown things with their lips so all dangerous substances must be kept out of their reach.  Use safe paint.  Don’t let horses get near junk or vehicles where they might ingest toxic paints, plastic, rubber, antifreeze, or battery fluid.  Don’t apply insecticides or herbicides near their feed or water areas and be aware of which way the wind is blowing when you are spraying.  Read all labels very carefully or you might accidentally give your horse an overdose of an antibiotic, dewormer or nutritional supplement.

Dental Care Once a year your vet should float (rasp) your horse’s molars to prevent dangerous sharp points from cutting the horse’s cheeks and tongue.  At the same time, your vet can pop any caps (baby teeth) that might hang on when the adult teeth have erupted.  If your horse has wolf teeth (small tooth directly in front of the premolars) it can be removed to prevent problems with the snaffle bit.

Parasite Control All horses have internal parasites.  The worm eggs in manure hatch into larvae that are eaten by the horse.  Once inside the horse they subsist on the horse’s blood while they mature, lay eggs and continue the cycle.  Bots live inside the horse until the pupae drops to the ground with manure and hatches into a bot fly.  Although bot flies look like bees, they don’t sting but lay eggs on the horse’s hair.  Nose bots try to fly up the horse’s nose, which causes most horses to strike viciously with their front legs and run frantically.  This is a very dangerous situation.

To prevent your horse from becoming dull coated, pot bellied, and lethargic, deworm your horse every 8 weeks.  Remove manure from his living quarters daily.  Remove bot eggs from his hair every day beginning in August.

Taking good care of a horse is one of the most satisfying experiences that I know.  There is no sight quite like a bright, alert horse that is sound, shiny and ready to go.

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