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Horse Roundup 2021

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Horse Roundup 2017

Tips for Horse Judging Success 

Horse judging is a favorite pasttime of many across the country. A highly competitive and intense activity that can demand the absolute most out of individuals and teams alike. Focus, practice, and a passion for excellence are all drivers for success when 4-H and FFA members walk in to the arena for a chance to be high individual at a contest. Great evaluators keep it simple and stay disciplined in their approach.  

Kortney Bahem of Homedale, Idaho says that one of the biggest mistakes young evaluators make is focusing on the bad in each horse. Bahem was the High Individual Overall at the APHA Spring Sweepstakes as well as the High Individual Overall at the Quarter Horse World Show and said, “It is important to focus on the good of each horse and try not to make the class tougher than it needs to be.”  

Amelia King of Huntsville, Texas agrees with Bahem’s statement and said, “4-H and FFA horse judgers should first begin with the basics of staying positive and logical within each class.” King was a member of the Reserve Congress and World Champion horse judging team as well as Champion team at the Arabian Nationals for Colorado State University before becoming the head horse judging coach at Sam Houston State University. 

“Regardless of judging halter or performance horses, individuals must stay disciplined to evaluation techniques and not simply throw away a horse because they are only focused on the problems,” Bahem said. Despite some of the amazing horses shown and exhibited, the perfect horse has never been made. “Remember not to nitpick and bottom horses based on minor holes,” King said, “because every horse has a fault if you stare at them long enough.”  

Therefore, it is important to stay grounded within each class and realize that all you are asked to do as an evaluator is simply place the class. You are not asked to buy them, sell them, or breed them. Simply to judge them for what they are. “Don’t go on a witch hunt and out-think yourself, just evaluate the class as a whole and find the good in each horse,” Bahem said. 

Both Bahem and King offer specific evaluation techniques when judging haltered classes. “I see too many kids getting too close to the horses when they evaluate a haltered class,” Bahem said.
Stay off the horses; the father back you are the more you will see and the easier it will be to evaluate the entire class.” The closer an evaluator stands to an individual horse, the harder it is to see everything the horse has to offer. 

“Your eye should be drawn first to their topline; think proportion, length and strength with how that correlates to the overall picture,” King said. First impressions will inform your decisions, so spend the time to make sure you have an accurate first impression. 

“In halter classes, make sure you move up and down the line while gathering your first impression based on balance, structural correctness, breed characteristics and muscling,” King said. “After you form your initial impression of the class and have a rough idea of your placing, then go back and study the closer pairs, reading deeper in to each horse.” 

Bahem stressed location when the horses are asked to walk or trot when she said, “Standing on the corners of the square are a must to get a clear and unobstructed view of each horse for how they are built structurally.” Keeping horses sound on their feet and legs is a crucial element to placing each class. “Severity always determines structural issues and you must make sure you know which structural deviations cause performance problems, especially in geldings,” said King. Structure is a big placing factor, but it is not the only thing to consider. “Balance, proportion and quality are key elements when talking about visual appraisal,” Bahem said, “but at the end of the day, just consider which one you would like to see out your front window standing in your pasture.” 

Scored classes are a little different from haltered classes and there are some additional things to consider. King said, “You must always consider the overall run quality and not simply the final score because most officials take minor penalties in separate ways if there are two closely scored runs. Rank the maneuvers based on difficulty while always watching for direction, number of turns and non-riding hand placement.” These scored and performance classes are evaluated for different things, but the approach of seeing the whole class and being open minded is still crucial.  

Rail classes are different yet. “When judging rail classes, direct your eye to just below the riders’ heel so that you can focus on watching leg movement while still checking frame and overall attitude,” King said. Rail classes can often offer extra challenge for beginners because of the speed and quickness of the classes. “Train yourself to write without looking down, rail classes run quickly so always keep your eyes up,” said King. 

When it comes to reasons, the best advice for 4-H and FFA horse judgers is to be accurate and tell the truth. Bahem was undefeated in oral reasons at the collegiate level. “I always tried to be as honest as possible in the reasons room. Respect the good in each horse, but don’t be afraid to occasionally criticize because honesty is always refreshing when scoring reasons,” said Bahem. An excellent set of reasons begins with confidence in a good placing however. While at the class, focus on coming up with a placing before worrying too much about what you are going to say in the reasons room. If you are only focused on the reasons portion of a class, you may end up misplacing the class. It becomes really tough to score well in reasons when you have misplaced the class. 

Both Bahem and King offered their take on keys to success. “If you trust in yourself and have confidence in your ability, then success will follow,” said Bahem. Evaluators and judges will always have certain personal preferences that may vary from one another so you may not always get the perfect score even if you give it your best. At the end of the day though, your best is all you can ask of yourself. “Just don’t second guess yourself and trust in your coaching,” King said.

Bucking saddle-fit myths

Being knowledgeable about tack is part of our journey as horseman. Yet when it comes to saddle fit, confusion and misinformation abounds, said Ed Odgers, a saddle-maker from Arena, Wisconsin. “Horses’ backs are complex shapes and a lot of factors need to come together to achieve a good fit,” he said. ”Furthermore, horses can’t talk so it’s up to our observations to evaluate saddle fit. This is a difficult task since the critical saddle tree is concealed from view by sheepskin and leather. To cloud the matter further, the tack industry lacks clear and consistent standards to communicate the dimensions and shapes of saddle trees.” Odgers responds to common myths he often encounters concerning saddle fit. 

Myth: I need a saddle made uniquely for my horse to assure a perfect, comfortable fit. 

“Don’t expect to find and maintain a perfect fit, but avoid a bad one,” Odgers said. Horses’ backs change with age and conditioning, leading most saddle and tree makers to advise to fit a body type, not an individual horse.  

“About 60 percent of horses have good backs and will get along with the commonly available, average tree,” Odgers said. “Another 30 percent may have some special need that can be accommodated, such as a wider gullet angle and/or width. The remaining 10 percent have extreme or unusual backs and can’t be fitted with a reasonable saddle tree. Don’t buy those horses and don’t breed them.”  

Horsemen or cowboys that spend hours in the saddle aboard a variety of horses can suit the 90 percent by owning a few saddles with varying trees. 

Myth: My horse is so big he must need a wide saddle. 

“This might be true for draft-cross horses but the opposite is more common. Many big saddle horses carry a lot of Thoroughbred blood and have prominent withers and a narrow back profile,” Odgers said. “A medium to narrow gullet width and a 90 degree bar angle will usually fit these horses.”  

On the other hand, it is more common for smaller horses bred for cutting and reining to have less prominent withers and rounder back profiles that may benefit from a wider angle and/or gullet width. It is possible to learn to judge a horse’s back, categorize them into two or three body types, then fit them with a corresponding tree. 

Myth: Wade saddles (or Bowman or Sid Special or Association, etc.) fit the best. 

“The names attributed to saddle styles such as Wade, designate the general shape of the fork and have no direct bearing on how the saddle will fit either the horse or rider,” he said. “The original Wade saddle and early copies made by Hamley Saddle Company in the 1940s had a distinctive tree bar style but modern day copies vary considerably.” 

Odgers added that many production manufacturers simply install a Wade-like fork on the same tree bars they use for other saddle styles. 

Myth: Rigging location and type will determine saddle position. 

When a saddle tree fits, it fits in one place on the back, like a couple of spoons nested together, Odgers said. “A good back will have an hour-glass shape called rocker, where the bars rest, and well-defined wither pockets behind the shoulders.” A tree that matches that shape will resist movement.  

It is commonly thought that the cinch needs to be perfectly vertical or it will pull the saddle forward. Consider the physics, Odgers suggests: a cinch that is angled forward by 1.5 inches–the typical setback of a 7/8 rigged saddle–has about 94 percent of the cinch’s pull acting vertically and only 6 percent horizontally. Thus, if the cinch is tightened to 40 lbs., only 2.5 lbs. will be acting to pull the saddle forward.  

“Such a minor force will not counteract the fit of the tree. While there are other good reasons to select a rig location and style, the math and experience of tree and saddle makers confirms that the commonly used rigging positions (full, 7/8, 3/4) will not influence the saddle’s location on the horse’s back.”  

If the saddle tends to shift and not settle into a consistent location, it is probably not a good fit,  the rider may be over padding, or the horse may lack the shape to hold that saddle well. 

Myth: Thicker padding is more comfortable for the horse. 

The functions of saddle pads and blankets can be compared to socks, providing cushion, dissipating heat, and absorbing moisture, thereby protecting the saddle leather.  

“Cushioning can minimize minor fit problems but just like wearing three heavy pairs of socks, too much padding can ruin a good fit and reduce stability. Pads that are a half-inch to 1-inch thick are usually adequate.” 

Heavier padding can help if the saddle tree is too wide, but a too-narrow fit will only get worse. 

Myth: This high tech pad will fix my fit problem. 

“Saddle fit problems, real or imagined, have sold a lot of pads, but most pads can only fine-tune a saddle’s fit,” Odgers said. “If the shape of the horse’s back doesn’t correspond to the shape of the tree bars, there will be pressure points. Padding materials can spread that pressure out slightly but none will fully correct the problem.” 

Be cautious using pads that are not uniform in thickness, are wedged or built-up, Odgers warns. They will alter how a tree fits and may cause serious harm. One example he offered is when using a pad with the front built-up or wedged to level the saddle on a down-hill horse. In this situation, the back of the tree bars will be tipped and potentially gouge into the vulnerable lower back.  

It may be necessary to customize pad thickness to compensate for asymmetrical, atrophied or otherwise extreme back shapes but do this carefully with the help of a competent saddle maker. 

Myth: That saddle looks too big to fit my horse. 

Saddle fit refers to the tree buried under layers of leather and sheepskin. ”Don’t confuse the saddle skirts with the weight-bearing tree bars within. Feel the underside of the saddle to determine the location of the tree bars and how they fit your horse,” he said. “The skirts of a properly made saddle should be molded to flare away slightly from the horse and shouldn’t contribute any significant pressure.” 

Myth: I ride Quarter Horses so I must need Quarter Horse bars. 

Semi-quarter horse, quarter horse, and full-quarter horse bars are general terms used by some tree makers to describe the width between and angle of their bars. Semi-quarter horse bars refers to a medium-narrow gullet width of about 6.25 inches measured at the front of the fork and 90 degree angle. This is the most common configuration, Odgers said, fitting a majority of horses. Quarter horse bars contain a wider gullet width of approximately 6.5 inches and 90 degrees. Full quarter horse bars describes an extra-wide gullet width of 6.75 inches to 7 inches and often a wider gullet angle.  

“These descriptions are most useful for comparing saddles by the same maker. They are not an industry standard and actual measurements and fit will vary. Most custom tree makers do not use this system, rather they specify gullet width and angle measurements,” he said. “They also use a more accurate gullet width measurement at the back of the fork called hand-hole width.” 

Common dimensions are a 4 inch hand-hole width, 90 degree bar angle and 7.5 inch gullet height. “Custom tree makers usually offer bar angles ranging from 90 to 96 degrees along with various bar styles, bar twist, and rocker variations to fit many types of horse and mules,” Odgers said. 

Myth: Treeless saddles are more comfortable for the horse. 

The bars of a properly fitting western saddle distribute the rider’s weight and the pull of the cinch over a large area. This results in less pressure (pounds per square inch) than an English saddle, treeless saddle or a bareback rider. “Especially for long rides and heavier riders, a good fitting tree will benefit the horse,” he said.

The best in the business: Butler Professional Farrier School attracts students worldwide 

Norway, Israel, South America, Australia, Korea, Sweden, Iceland, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand. Farrier students from each of these countries have traveled to Crawford, Nebraska, to attend Butler Professional Farrier School, LLC.  

The business is owned and operated by three Butlers, Dr. Doug Butler and two of his seven children, Jake and Pete. They all live on the premises with their families. The school near Crawford is not the only focus of the business; they also produce textbooks, podcasts, DVDs, and anatomical study aids, as well as an online portion of the school. They focus on teaching their students not just how to shoe horses, but also how to run the business of being a farrier—including customer service and the numbers part.  

Butler Professional Farrier School was born in 2006 upon locating and purchasing what they consider the ideal location for their school: a former cutting and horse training facility east of Crawford. 

“We looked at a lot of places before we came here. Coming to this place was very much, we feel like, the design of the heavens. With this place, we can work in all kinds of weather; it is somewhere we could grow some feed for our animals, and we have room for our students,” Doug said. “We knew we wanted to have our own horses. A lot of schools work on dead feet or no feet, they just do theory, or they go out and have a big business where they travel around and do people’s horses. I always thought that was pretty risky, and if I was a horse owner, I wouldn’t particularly like that. Having this place allows us to use our own horses.” 

The facility didn’t need a lot of changes for what the Butlers wanted to do.  

“The barn was all built this way, we just kind of modified it in a few small ways, but not very much, so we can have horses on site,” Jake said. “In the way the building is structured, the students can stay here on site if they want, so they don’t have to commute back and forth. In a lot of ways, it’s kind of handy because there are fewer distractions with being out in the country, so they can focus on their education while they’re here.” 

Outside horses are also welcome to be trimmed and shod, and horse owners need not worry about the quality of the students’ work. They are constantly monitored and are learning from some of the best teachers in the nation. 

“It does take a little bit longer [for students to work on horses]. I try to emphasize that when people call; they usually have to wait. That’s the one disadvantage,” Jake said. “We also give them the option, do you want students to work on them or an instructor? Occasionally we do get a request for an instructor, but most of the people have the students work on them. They are supervised, they’re not left alone and fending for themselves. They’re learning and having that experience, but what a good thing for them to do because they’ll get better, but also they’re being supervised and managed.” 

Working on outside horses replicates what students might actually experience working in the farrier business. One of the sayings of Butler Professional Farrier School, Jake said, laughing, is that they are working on live horses, but some are more lively than others. Students may also have to take into consideration more sore or arthritic horses and how to accommodate their needs. 

Jake and Pete alternate teaching material, both usually teaching throughout the day, and Doug steps in when it suits him. He is semi-retired, Jake said, but still very involved in the business, especially since he lives in the apartment above the barn. 

Class sizes generally range from six to eight, allowing for plenty of one-on-one instruction and hands-on opportunities. The morning begins with classroom work, which often yields homework, then they move into working on horses daily and often forge work as well. 

“We have homework every night. We want them to learn theory; that’s how you learn it, you have to study,” Doug said. “Everyday, they work on a horse in some way, and everyday, they work in the forge and that way, in a very short amount of time, we can cram more into them. That way we don’t waste anybody’s time.” 

Students of Butler Farrier School know they are learning from the very best, since they are being taught by authors of farrier textbooks used in colleges and farrier schools throughout the nation. 

“The instructors here are, in my opinion, just top-notch guys. The textbook that they wrote is used by a lot of these other schools, so I thought, ‘Well, what better than to go to the source,'” said Tyler Lawson, a 2017 Butler Professional Farrier student from Garrett, Wyoming. “I used that same textbook when I was in college for some classes I took.” 

There was a period of time, Doug said, in which horse numbers in the United States dwindled with the evolution of the automobile. Knowledge of the care of horses, including farrier work, went by the wayside as well. 

“Taking care of them, that knowledge was lost. I went back and resurrected it, so to speak,” he said. “I searched the old books and learned all I could by traveling the country, and I put together a first book in 1965. That was just a very small pamphlet, then I put it into a book, Principles of Horseshoeing in 1974, when I was a student at Cornell. The next edition was in 1985, then this one 2004.” 

Essential Principles of Horseshoeing was added to the library in 2012. That book is also used in the classroom, though it is primarily used with the online portion, which is introduced in the weeks leading up to students’ arrival. “They get some of the vocabulary, terminology, and anatomy started before they actually arrive, so they hit the ground running, so to speak,” said Jake. 

Classes are offered in 12-week intervals, though students may do the first six weeks if that better suits their needs, then return to finish the second six-week session later.  

“We’ve had people come from all over. We had two guys come from Israel and they stayed for the full 12 weeks, which is kind of natural in that aspect. They wouldn’t be able to break it up and come for two different periods at a time,” Jake said. “Usually we leave it up to the individual as to what’s best for them.” 

Doug, Jake, and Pete take a break from classes for a period in the summer to allow for family time, for instance this summer’s celebration is Doug and Marsha’s 50th wedding anniversary. Thanksgiving through New Years is left open for family and holiday celebrations as well. 

Each of the Butlers has worked as a farrier, taught in varying institutions, and acquired degrees that add to their credibility. “They haven’t all been in the same place their whole lives. Each one of them has gone and done their own schooling or gone and shod in different parts of the world, so they have a really well-rounded perspective of the farrier business,” Lawson said. “Dr. Butler has been all over the world and done just about any kind of shoeing you can imagine. Pete went clear to Mongolia for a few years to study their ways of doing things. Having that vast and collective knowledge is wonderful to be able to learn from.” 

Doug holds the highest regard a farrier can: a Fellowship with Worshipful Company of Farriers, an English company established in 1356. 

“They examine people at various levels, the highest is what’s called Fellowship. I have taken that exam and passed it. Only 150 people since 1356 had passed that exam,” Doug said. “Several Americans have gone over and taken it since I have, I was the first. Jacob has also been doing that. You have to be able to make shoes, understand anatomy and explain it, have to be able to give an impromptu speech in front of the examiners on any subject they choose, and have to be able to shoe a horse in any way they suggest. Of course, they’re trying to determine if you really know what you’re talking about so the examination is really difficult. I found it as difficult or more difficult than my PhD exam because it has a practical component.” 

“They’re all very professional and very competent,” student Monte Wisseman said of the Butlers. “They have a lot of life experience to share, a lot of life stories, firsthand experience to share. I would very much recommend this school to anybody.” 


Straight from the horse’s mouth: Exploring the basics of equine dentistry

Putting a file in a horse’s mouth may not be the most intuitive part of horsemanship, but it can be an important part.

“Floating” a horse’s teeth is so named after a similar practice in masonry, when a file is used to level bricks. The idea of floating teeth is to take care of problems that may interfere with your horse’s health. Horses’ teeth grow constantly throughout the lives, around 2-3 millimeters per year, to make up for the grinding-down that happens as they graze.

Most of the horse’s tooth is deep, below the gums, and keeps erupting into the mouth, says Bruce Connally, DVM, who has an equine practice in Berthoud, Colorado. He taught dentistry to veterinary students at Colorado State University and then practiced for a number of years in Wyoming. “The visible teeth are 3 or 4 inches long when the horse is young, but gradually wear down and get shorter and may wear out (and push on out) sometime in the horse’s 20s or 30s, depending on what he has been eating. On pasture or grass hay, teeth wear more evenly than when horses are eating alfalfa hay or cubes,” he says.

Dental care for young horses

Foals have baby, or deciduous, teeth that erupt from the gums at different times and are later shed and replaced by adult, permanent teeth, says Rachel Shutter, DVM, Dakota Hills Veterinary Clinic in Rapid City, South Dakota, who sees a lot of equine patients for dental care.

Shutter recommends a dental check at 2 to 3 years old because a lot of changes happen in a horse’s mouth at 2 to 2.5 years old. “At that time we can start recognizing any pathologies that we might be able to fix. It’s a lot easier to prevent some of these problems than to try to deal with them later. If I don’t see the horse for a dental check until 18 years down the road, at that point there’s not much I can do to fix a problem that started many years earlier,” she says.

The training that happens at 2 to 3 years old also puts more demands on their mouth and dental problems can turn into training problems.

If the young horse is fighting the bit, or not wanting to turn a certain direction, or showing discomfort in a bridle, it is important to think about what might be happening in the mouth. “There are many changes that could be a cause of discomfort. There may be a cap (baby tooth) that is still retained that needs to come off, for instance,” says Shutter.

“People used to rip caps off as soon as they found them,” said Connally. “But now we realize that if we pull the cap off too soon this can damage the enamel on the incoming permanent tooth. Today we don’t pull caps as aggressively as in the past, but there are some that do make the horse uncomfortable and those need to come off,” he says.

The horse’s baby teeth, which are softer and often wear more quickly and unevenly than permanent teeth, sometimes develop sharp areas that can cause discomfort in the soft tissue around them. Usually baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth by age 5, said Connally.

Tooth bumps (enlargements at the middle area of the bottom jaw) are another thing people worry about, thinking the lumps are infections or some other problem. These enlargements are due to impaction of the bottom molars as those permanent teeth are coming in, when the horse is about 3. “Most of the time these resolve; those bumps go away by the time the horse is 4 or 5,” Connally says.

Wolf teeth can be another issue in a young horse, but most of the time wolf teeth are too far back to cause trouble. They can be a problem when they are pointed in toward the tongue or out toward the cheeks, making the horse uncomfortable. “These are just the first deciduous premolars, and smaller than the other teeth. Wolf teeth get blamed for a lot of problems with a bit, though most bit problems are due to the rider’s hands rather than the bit itself. It is worth checking them. Most horses shed wolf teeth by the time they are 3, but some don’t, and if they cause a problem, they need to be removed,” Connally says.

Potential problems in horses’ teeth

A horse chews by moving the lower jaw in a circular pattern, almost like a figure eight, says Shutter. The bottom jaw is narrower than the top, so the teeth sometimes develop points on the outside edge of the top teeth and the inside edge of the bottom teeth. Since the teeth are naturally slanted, these points can dig into the cheek or tongue and cause sores.

The most common pathologies, besides points on the teeth, are hooks or ramps on the first or last set of cheek teeth–on the first set of premolars and on the back molars. The average horse’s jaws are slightly mismatched in length, so the front part of the tooth or the back part of the tooth continues to grow because it is not being worn by the opposing tooth. It starts to hook over the top or bottom tooth. When these hooks get very long, they prevent proper chewing motion, Shutter says.

When a horse gets old, there might be no more tooth below the gum to keep erupting. “It may happen at age 20, or 30; every horse ages at a different rate. Depending on how the horse ages, and what it was eating during its lifetime, teeth may start to fall out. The first one to come out is usually the 9, which is the oldest permanent tooth in the horse—that came in as a yearling,” she says. This tooth is in the middle of the check teeth.

When a horse loses a tooth the opposite side doesn’t have anything to grind against, and the teeth on either side of the gap start moving toward each other. Feed can get packed into those spaces, which can cause a gum infection and potential for abscess.

“A tooth abscess may result in a nasty discharge from one nostril, break out through the skin below the eye to drain out. These situations need veterinary attention,” Connally says.

For mares especially, the canine teeth (bridle teeth, just behind the incisors) can sometimes cause trouble. Many mares don’t have canine teeth, but some do, and in some mares those teeth are small and just under the gum surface and don’t fully erupt and can cause pain. “In geldings or stallions those teeth usually come in,” Connally said, “but in the mares that have canine teeth just sitting under the surface there may be some tenderness. I’ve had to cut the gingiva off the top of some of those just so those bumps aren’t causing discomfort.”

Other problems that can occur include a wave mouth, which happens when the teeth are different levels, often because the teeth erupt at different times, says Shutter.

Frequency of dental care

“I see a lot of horses that had no dental checkups until their late teens or older. Many owners don’t start to think about teeth until the horse starts losing weight (unable to chew feed properly, or not eating enough because of a painful mouth) or dropping feed out of the mouth. I urge people to get their horses checked at least once a year, at an earlier date, so we can prevent the weight loss and painful eating, rather than just trying to fix something that’s already going downhill,” says Shutter.

Middle-aged horses, which are past the “young horse” problems and not yet to the “old horse” problems often are fine with a check every other year, but others need to be seen every six months.

“Very few, in my experience, need to be floated every year, but we still need to check,” says Connally.

Some equine dentists suggest floating teeth more than once a year. Unless there is a specific problem they are trying to address and it’s a short-term situation, get a second opinion or find a new dentist. “Only in unusual circumstances would a horse need this many treatments. If they are floating horses that often, those horses will run out of teeth too soon, before they run out of years. This could shorten the horse’s functional life,” Connally says.

Cost and Qualifications

The cost for dental care varies around the country and from one veterinary or dental practice to another. “In my practice, a float will be $130 to $150, which includes sedation. In some regions the total cost may be double or even triple that amount,” says Connally.

In the past, many people floated teeth without sedation. “You can do some things without sedating the horse, but the owner should expect that the horse will be sedated, with a speculum to hold the mouth open so the practitioner can do a thorough job. This will cost more than a dental exam/work without sedation. Depending on what we have to do inside the mouth, it will take about 30 to 50 minutes,” he says.

It can sometimes be a challenge to find a reputable practitioner. “Word of mouth is still how a lot of people find equine professionals.

Connally says to be wary of equine dentists who want to float teeth more than once a year, without showing you a specific problem they are addressing or who do a brief check and a couple swipes with the float without sedating the horse.

“The equine dentists who want you to have the horse done twice a year are often the ones who don’t have any other way of making a living and all they do is float teeth,” he says.

Some equine dentists don’t use sedation, which makes it difficult to really see what’s happening in the mouth, Connally said.

Not all states require equine dentists to be licensed veterinarians, but some do. Vet schools are starting to put more emphasis on equine dental work, and there is a board certification for veterinarians in equine dentistry.

However, non-veterinarians can’t legally sedate the horse, and there’s also the issue of insurance, said Shutter.

“If something were to go wrong while they are working on your horse, there is no malpractice insurance and no veterinarian backing them up. Sometimes even with the sedation, we still struggle, so I don’t think a person can do a very good job without using pharmaceuticals. I encourage horse owners to do some research before they decide where to take their horse, making sure that the person doing the job is comfortable doing dental work–and also making sure everything is legal,” says Shutter.

However she also suggests keeping in mind that not all veterinarians are comfortable with equine dentistry. “Just like any other type of medicine, each veterinarian has his/her own comfort level in what they want to do or are good at. Some veterinarians don’t like to do dental work. When you are calling around to different veterinary clinics, check to see what they prefer doing,” she says.



TELLING A HORSE’S AGE – “Aging horses by examining the incisors is moderately accurate, until about age 9 or 10—by looking at when the different permanent teeth come in, and observing the wear on them. After about age 10 it becomes harder to tell the age,” Connally says.

Even in young horses the wear can vary, and this can be deceptive when trying to determine age. If a horse is eating sand with his feed, the teeth wear faster and he will appear to be older.

From birth to 6 months, baby teeth come in, including the first three molars. The first molar appears at 6 to 8 days and the next at 6 to 8 months. The foal has three front teeth at 6 to 8 months, and the first three molars. The first three molars (teeth number 6, 7, and 8) shed their caps at ages 2 1/2, 3 and 3 1/2. The canine teeth (bridle teeth) come in at 4 to 4 1/2 years.

The next three molars (teeth number 9, 10 and 11) start coming in before the first three shed their caps. The number 9 tooth comes in at a year of age; the 10 appears at 2 years and the 11 at 3 years. By that time the horse has all the cheek teeth, but these are not all permanent. The baby teeth come out in the order they came in, as they are replaced by the permanent teeth erupting.

When estimating age in older horses, it depends on how the teeth have worn. At age 8 all the lower cups are full. By age 10 the cups are worn away and the mouth is smooth. At 10 Galvayne’s groove appears at the top of the corner incisor, and by age 15 has worked its way halfway down the tooth. It is all the way to the bottom by age 20, and then starts receding back up. That can be a clue to a horse’s age, unless a dentist has worked on the teeth and taken some of that tooth off.

First, do no harm: How to help your horse (and your vet) when your horse gets hurt

When Dr. Gary McEntyre of Airway Veterinary Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colo., gets a call from a frantic horse owner, he asks for vital signs from the get-go.

“What’s the pulse? What’s the temperature? That gives you a start on diagnosis,” Dr. McEntyre says. So it’s helpful if the horse owner has a stethoscope and thermometer on hand, and knows how to use them.

He adds that it’s especially important to take those vitals before administering treatment. Banamine, for example, is a useful painkiller — but it can mask a horse’s symptoms by lowering their body temperature and slowing their heartbeat, making a horse’s condition seem more stable than it may actually be.

Horse owners are likely to see a myriad of different ailments and injuries in their lifetimes.

Two veterinarians, Dr. McEntyre of Colorado and Dr. Drew Hummel of Owyhee Vet Clinic in Homedale, Idaho, weigh in on how to handle some of the more common problems they field questions on.

Wound Care

Dr. McEntyre starts with a couple basic rules for wound care. “Wash it, clean it up. Use a disinfectant, like Betadine. Then you want to get a wrap on it and keep it moist.” Suturing a wound becomes much harder if a wound dries out, he adds.

Antibacterial ointments, salves and sprays can help keep infection at bay and keep a wound moist. Use them directly on the wound, and then dress open wounds with cotton dressings and bandaging tape.

Bandages should be snug, but not too tight. A lot of bandaging tape, like Vetrap, has wrinkles. Dr. Hummel suggests pulling the tape until the wrinkles nearly disappear, then laying it on.

Wounds over a joint tend to be more serious, and are often worth a call to the vet.

“When a horse sets up a joint infection in their leg, they go profoundly lame — like three-legged lame,” Dr. Hummel explains. A vet will often be more aggressive with antibiotic use from the get-go when treating a wound over a joint.

Most wound care involves simply keeping the wound clean. However, for some wounds that can’t be sutured, the body can get a little carried away with healing itself.

In vet-speak it’s called exuberant granulation tissue, but most horse owners just know it as proud flesh — or, more importantly, something to avoid.

Granulation tissue is important for healing wounds that aren’t covered by skin, but when granulation tissue grows beyond the edges of the wound, it becomes proud flesh. It often looks reddish and lumpy.

Dr. David Ramey, an equine practitioner who also writes extensively about horse health, says on his blog that once the wound is filled up with granulation tissue, keeping a bandage on it will help prevent proud flesh from forming. A corticosteroid ointment can also help because it keeps granulation tissue from growing, but can slow the healing process, so consult with your vet before taking this step.

Ramey says a good rule of thumb is to put anything you want on a wound, as long as you wouldn’t mind putting it in your eye, so for the most part stick to keeping it clean with water and applying vet-approved ointments.

Dr. McEntyre says horse owners should especially keep an eye out for proud flesh when tending leg injuries below a horse’s knees or hocks.

“There’s not much soft tissue to cover up those areas,” he adds, which makes them hot spots for proud flesh growth.

Treatment involves cutting excess granulation tissue from the wound.

Dr. McEntyre says he typically tries to debulk proud flesh until it’s back to skin level, usually a job for a veterinarian. Then the healing process resumes.

Left untreated, residual scarring from proud flesh can impede movement, especially if the original injury was over a joint.

Treat lower-leg wounds judiciously by cleaning them, preventing infection, and using bandages appropriately. When in doubt, call your veterinarian.

Hoof Injuries

Puncture wounds in the foot, like stepping on a nail or a fence staple, can be serious.

If a nail is lodged all the way into a horse’s foot, Dr. Hummel suggests leaving it and having a vet do the removal. “If it’s going to cause the horse more trauma if they put down their foot, then take it out,” he adds.

Dr. McEntyre says the next step is to protect the hoof from infection. “You should try to flush the wound with Betadine or iodine if you have it,” he says.

Throwing a shoe is another cause of hoof injury. “Some can become very lame, very fast,” Dr. Hummel says. He suggest carrying an extra hoof boot if you’re planning to be in the backcountry for long stretches at a time.


Colic is the cause of some of the most fraught calls to veterinarians — but it’s also an ambiguous term to most horse owners, who associate colic with a twisted gut.

“Colic is simply abdominal pain. It doesn’t always mean an intestinal problem,” Dr. Hummel says.

“Horses will go off feed, off water,” Dr. Hummel explains. “They may look at their abdomen, or stretch all the way out like they’re trying to pee. They’ll check their sides. They’ll roll.” Those are general symptoms of discomfort.

Dr. Hummel advises using an analgesic like Banamine to ease the pain, and taking the horse off feed for at least 12-24 hours. “All the gas and feed needs to move through them without more food in there,” he says, but notes that horses should always have access to water.

Dr. McEntyre suggests keeping a horse up and walking, while mulling questions like, “Is the horse in more pain? Or does he seem to be feeling better? When did this start? Have I changed his feed lately?” That knowledge can all be helpful in the event a vet is called.

For equine first-aid trainer Theresa Allen, choke is a less common ailment that hits uncommonly close to home. She describes it like this:

“You can see [a horse] trying to cough something up. They’re straining their neck. Their mouths are open, but they can’t vomit. Sometimes you can actually see a lump on the left side of the neck — like if they’ve swallowed an apple whole, for example,” Allen explains.

A couple weeks after teaching a first-aid clinic, Allen heard from one of her students who ran a boarding barn. One of the boarders was distraught her horse was colicing. She called the manager right away, who recognized it immediately as choke. They were able to pass what the horse was choking on, saving the barn a vet call and preventing further distress to horse and owner.

Losing a horse isn’t always preventable, but preparedness and a basic grasp of equine first aid can help prevent small injuries from ballooning into big ones.


  • non-stick wound dressings
  • cotton dressings
  • antiseptic solution (like iodine or Betadine)
  • wound spray or salve (like Vetricyn or Nitrofurazone ointment)
  • bandaging tape (like Vetrap, or even an Ace bandage)
  • diapers or maxi-pads for wound dressings
  • a pair of blunt-tipped scissors for changing dressings
  • plastic gloves
  • thermometer
  • stethoscope

Other items to consider: Banamine paste for pain relief and anti-inflammation; an oral antibiotic like SMZ tablets or Sulfa pills; rehydration salts; and sutures, if you’re comfortable using them and will be away from vet care.

Dr. Drew Hummel suggests keeping a basic first aid kit in your saddlebags, with a more comprehensive one at the barn or in the trailer.

Every horse owner has a different level of comfort and expertise treating equine injuries. When in doubt, seek advice from a trusted veterinarian.



Pulse. Feel for an arterial pulse under your horse’s jawbone. When you find the rhythm, set a timer for 60 seconds. Count the number of pulses. Knowing what’s normal for your horse before illness or injury will help you know when something’s wrong. You can also locate a pulse using a stethoscope, with practice.

Respirations. Place a hand on your horse’s ribcage or belly. Count the number of inhalations for one minute. Respiration rate can vary depending on a horse’s activity or stress level, but generally, 8-15 breaths per minute is normal.

Temperature. A normal temperature in an adult horse is typically in the 99-101-degree F range. Temperatures taken rectally are the most accurate. Gently insert a thermometer into the horse’s rectum and wait for a reading.

Mucous membranes. When you lift the upper lip of a healthy horse, it should appear moist and soft pink — about the same color of your thumbnail. Push your thumb against the horse’s gum until it turns white, then release. It should take 1-2 seconds for the gums to return to their original color. This is called capillary refill, and it can be helpful in assessing circulation. Training your horse to accept having its mouth handled will be helpful before performing this test.

Gut sounds. Use a stethoscope to listen to the area around a horse’s barrel, behind the ribs. Gurgling and rumbling noises are normal. The absence of gut sounds can be indicative of a problem. (Fun fact: By their scientific name, gut sounds are aptly called borborygmi, pronounced BOR-burr-ig-MY, which has the ring of a gut sound when you say it out loud.)