Horse floss

Chroi and Paris both had their teeth done today. And by “done,” I mean only that they were examined by an experienced and knowledgeable professional. 
Chroi had her teeth minimally adjusted (less than 2 millimeters) with a rasp. 
He didn’t even touch Paris’ teeth with a tool, he simply examined her and shared his wisdom. 

No sedation. No mouth speculum. No power tools. 

Teeth are a pretty big deal. Horses, like humans, use their teeth to grind down their food and add saliva, both of which aid in digestion. Unlike humans, however, horses’ digestive systems are much more complicated and small adjustments can have big implications. Horses’ mouths work kind of like a grain augur. The horse brings food into its mouth and then “rotates” it “upward” from the front of the mouth to the back and finally down the throat. Food is masticated along the way by anywhere from 36-44 large teeth. Chewing is the first step in digestion, readying the food by breaking it down and adding saliva before sending it in its way. If for some reason there is a problem- say, the food isn’t chewed down to small enough dimensions, or the food isn’t sufficiently moistened- the horse can’t bring it back up if its digestive system has an issue. Horses don’t chew “up and down” like people do; rather, they chew “side to side” in a sort of elliptical motion. And what that means is that sometimes teeth can wear down unevenly. When that happens a whole host of eating and health issues can occur. 

It’s common practice in horsekeeping to have teeth “floated” once a year, which usually involves sedating the horse, a mouth speculum to hold the mouth open, and using a large power tool to remove sharp points from the teeth and make the chewing surfaces of the horse’s teeth “even.”

This, in my opinion*, is overkill. 

*yes, this is my opinion. I am not, and do not claim to be, a dental professional or expert.

The biggest danger that I know of with power tools is that they make it too easy to over-grind the horse’s teeth, taking off too much of the surface and exposing pulp, opening up a pathway to infection. Another risk is heat: power grinding generates a lot of heat, and that heat can cause severe pulp damage even if the pulp is not directly exposed. 

Most importantly to me, though, is that a power tool cannot assess subtle biomechanics feedback. 

Did you know that horses are physically incapable of vomiting? That’s right! Horses can’t throw up, which is one major reason why chewing their food properly is a very big deal. Horses’ mouths are their first line of defense. In the case of humans, we most often vomit when there is a bacterial or viral contamination in our food and sometimes we can detect that by taste, which is something that happens immediately upon putting something in our mouths. If it doesn’t taste good, we don’t want it! Horses have a similar instinct, and usually- usually- have good enough sense not to eat something that is bad for them.

The interconnectedness of the horse’s body is something I’m only beginning to learn about, and I’m feeling quite out of my depth at the moment. I do know, though, that the jaw and its functions are intimately connected with body mechanics. When the jaws are out of alignment or are constantly moving in repetitive unhealthy patterns it affects the whole horse. This is where a skilled and knowledgeable equine practitioner becomes important. Someone who has laid hands and eyes on hundreds (if not thousands) of horses and understands 1. the importance of equine teeth and 2. the importance of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Someone who can tell when either or both are out of whack and how to adjust dentition for best effect.

I feel lucky and blessed to have been alerted to such a person. I also feel a little bit uncomfortable generally talking about it, because I know that to some people it can seem a bit hokey and gimmicky. I know full well that there are so many scam artists out there claiming expertise that they don’t have just so that they can rake in some cash (at best) while sometimes injuring your horse with their bullshit (at worst). However, I also have sought and worked to surround myself with respected and knowledgable equine professionals, and it was one such highly respected member of my equine community that introduced me to Phil Ratliff, the person I now trust with my horses’ dental care.

Phil approached both of my girls with the quiet confidence of experience. He gently asked each to open her mouth, and he reached in to palpate and examine. And they let him. It was really quite amazing to see, and also validating. When we approach horses respectfully they immediately offer the same in return. Although, do note that “respect” is as individual for horses as it is for humans, and means respecting boundaries while working cooperatively to achieve goals.

Since Chroi was the only one whose teeth needed any kind of work, I only have pictures of Phil working his magic with her. He did an exam on Paris and determined that not only do her teeth not need any work, they likely won’t need it for a couple of years yet. Surprise! Horses don’t actually need their teeth floated annually unless there’s a problem.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

– a very wise person

He did comment that Paris’ mouth structure is consistent with horses who are prone to IR (insulin resistance) issues. I thought it was fascinating that it could be “read” in their mouths. This makes complete sense to me, as there are certain breeds and types that we know are indeed more susceptible to IR and just as conformation varies and can tell us something about what work or discipline a horse may or may not be suited for, the mouth also has conformation that we can learn from.

Chroi at first wasn’t so sure about this and she backed up a few steps. Phil followed while staying gentle, and didn’t punish her (not even inadvertently!) for her completely normal and understandable response to having hands in her mouth
It didn’t take long at all for Chroi to realize that Phil was not going to hurt her, and she accepted and allowed him to rasp her teeth. She didn’t much like the feel of the rasp (who would?!) but she didn’t resist or evade.
As soon as Phil was done Chroi dropped her head in complete relaxation- she looked like she was under sedation (I didn’t think quickly enough to take a picture, I was too busy marveling)! It was absolutely mind blowing and beautiful to witness, and right then and there was the most powerful testimony I have ever seen for holistic equine care.

you can pay for someone’s time, or you can pay for their experience; you can pay for someone’s education, or you can pay for their knowledge

I won’t shy away from it- he’s pretty expensive. But consider this: you can pay for someone’s time, or you can pay for their experience; and you can pay for someone’s education, or you can pay for their knowledge. Personally, I am more than willing to pay for the latter- experience and knowledge- when it comes to my animals’ wellbeing. That is always money well spent.

Information for this post came from Phil Ratliff and Phil’s website, as well as from information I’ve learned from Tami Elkayam and David Landreville (he has a website, but Facebook is the best way to find him).

Categories: A Girl and her Unicorn, Chroicoragh, Life of YES, Life with a Unicorn, Living YES, The Horsey Life, UnicornTags: , , , , , , , , ,

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