Why do the horses need to see a dentist?
This past week we had the vet come out to float all of the horses’ teeth at Hanaeleh. The horses get their teeth floated every year to ensure that they can all eat and masticate their food efficiently so they are getting the nutrients out of their hay. Just like people, who only get a baby and adult set of teeth, horses have both baby teeth and adult teeth. What is different, however, is that horses’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime as they are expected to be chewing food for most of the day. In the wild, horses will graze continuously, but when we keep them in stalls and only feed them high-quality food a few times a day, their teeth aren’t grinding down against each other. This can create sharp points or waves that need to be filed down.
As horses get older, their teeth will end up cracking or even falling out. As most of the horses at Hanaeleh are older, we know that some of our horses have special needs, and will feed them pellets or grain instead of hay so they are able to eat more comfortably. We also get their teeth floated regularly in order to prevent any ulcers from forming in the mouth.
Everyone asks why it’s called “floating” their teeth. The reason is because the small tool that the vets and dentists use to file the teeth is called a float. This tool was originally used in masonry, usually to smooth out concrete. You’ll have to ask a mason why they call that tool a float, however.
Floating the horses’ teeth
We started the morning with Hope, who decided for no apparent reason that she had a phobia of needles and had a complete conniption when we tried to sedate her. We got her settled down and the vet started working on her teeth, but discovered that she had a tooth whose roots had died, and it was only being held in her mouth by the gum tissue. Chewing on that tooth could create some pain, and since the roots were no longer attached, we decided to remove the tooth. It took some time, but the vet wanted to go slowly so she didn’t crack the tooth. Thankfully the tooth came out intact, and Hope was no worse for wear. We gave her some pain medication just to make sure she was comfortable and would want to eat later that evening, and put her on some antibiotics as we had to remove a small amount of gum tissue.
The rest of the day was hot, but otherwise mostly non-eventful. None of the horses had any major issues, and the vet was able to get their teeth done relatively quickly. We had to give some oral sedative to both Tamahome and Gypsy as both of them hate veterinarians. Tama didn’t need any additional sedative (he’s a lightweight), but Gypsy was not so willing, so we had to give her some additional sedative. She wasn’t thrilled with getting a shot, and kept backing away, but after a few minutes we were able to get her settled and quiet without any further drama.
The sedation that the vet gives wears off rather quickly, but it’s important that the horses are not given any food too soon after they are sedated as they can choke. We don’t feed the horses for at least two to three hours after they were given sedation, just to make sure (we had one horse who choked even though we waited about an hour after his teeth were done, so we wait an extra long time to feed them after they are given sedation, just to make sure we don’t go through that experience that again). We also keep an eye on them to make sure that they come out of the sedation safely.
One of the things we try to do when the horses are still somewhat sedated are to clean the sheaths of the geldings. The area around the penis will get covered in a gunk called smegma, and will bunch up into hard beans that can be very painful for them. Although some horses don’t mind it too much if we clean the area, most of the horses will try to kick us, so it’s safer if they are sedated. The sedative the vet gives when floating the teeth is relatively short-acting, however, so we don’t have a lot of time before it wears off and the horse is too awake to clean that area safely.
Hershey was the first gelding we had sedated, so we put him at the tie rail next to the round pen. That tie rail has mats, however, and Hershey slipped and slowly slid down like he was drunk, and decided that once he was lying down that he would like to stay there and take a nap. That was fine until he put his head under the rail where he could hurt himself, so a few of us with the help of the vet had to literally drag him away from the tie rail. He was annoyed that we interrupted his nap and stood up, but at that point most of the sedative had worn off, and when we tried to clean his sheath he kept trying to kick the vet. After several attempts we finally had to give up as it was pretty apparent we were going to get hurt if we kept trying.
The rest of the geldings were pretty easy, however. In order to clean that area, we wear gloves and slather a medication onto the area that helps to soften the smegma so it’s easier to remove, and then use a hose to wash the medication off. Lou Dillon ended up “waking up” just as we were finishing up, but Ollie and Quixote were very good and didn’t try to kick us. Ollie’s sheath didn’t appear to have been cleaned in a long time, so that took us a while, but we did the best we could to get that area all cleaned out.
Trimming Gypsy’s chestnuts, too
Thankfully we don’t have to worry about cleaning up after the mares- while they can get smegma build-up, it’s much easier to clean that out during bath time on a regular basis. We did take the opportunity while Gypsy was sedated to cut the chestnuts on her front and back legs, however- they had grown very long but she kept kicking out when we tried to trim them. We took the opportunity after her teeth were done to trim them as the sedation wore off, without upsetting her at all. It doesn’t hurt her to trim the chestnuts, but Gypsy just doesn’t like it when we mess with them.
Overall, while it was a long, hot day, it was also productive, and it was great to know that the horses all have their teeth floated and will be able to continue to eat comfortably.