Newsletter August 2016
Dear Horse lover,
For my birthday, I was treated to a new experience: I got to walk a llama! The weather was a little drizzly, but I was most excited when I was paired up with this beautiful boy called Freddie. I discovered llamas to be wonderful animals and although they have an amazing apatite they eat slices of carrots off your hand in the softest fashion. Walking a llama is much like walking a horse, but llamas are more gentle and I personally found them easier to lead. Although that may have been due to all the training they receive from the team. Have a look for yourself at llamapark.co.uk.
Now, back to horses. In this newsletter I discuss dental health in horses with respect to 'sharp edges' and 'hooks' and how roughage can help prevent such problems.
In the next mailing, trainer Johanna Dunn from Ireland will tell us about Natural Horsemanship and what it brings.
Have a wonderful time,
Roughage and healthy teeth
Alexandra Wesker – Independent horse nutritionist, Natural Feeding for Horses
Horses are plant eaters. Grasses and other plants are high in fibre, which makes them tough and difficult to retrieve nutrients from. To retrieve most nutrients from plants, it is important to chew them properly – grind them into fine particles in order for digestive juices and bacteria to get most out of them.
Horses chew by making a lateral, or sideways, movement. In contrast, us humans chew by lowering and lifting our lower jaw and can hardly make a sideways movement with the jaw closed, because our lower jaw 'slots' into the upper jaw. Horses have rough grinding surfaces on their molars (see illustration), serving to tear and crush fibrous plant material in the sideways movement.
The surface of horse molars is very suitable for grinding roughage
Grinding the tough plants wears down the molars’ surfaces. In contrast to human teeth, horse teeth continue to grow, thereby compensating for the wear. The wear and growth of teeth should be in equilibrium. If teeth and molars are not worn down appropriately, deformities can occur and problems can arise.
For example, ‘sharp edges’ are commonly seen on horse teeth and can be a result of a too small chewing motion. In order to wear down the entire surface of the molar, chewing movements need to large. If instead chewing movements are small, only part of the surface wears down. With the continued growth, the less worn down part of the molars soon sticks out from the rest of the surface (see illustration).
Hooks developing on the side of molars (image from the book 'Natural Feeding for Horses')
The part that sticks out is the sharp edge, which can become sharp enough to cut into tongue or cheek and is therefore painful and damaging. On the molars in the very back of a horse's mouth these edges can develop into big 'hooks', which progressively decrease jaw movement further.
Hooks can also form if the lower jaw is misaligned with the upper jaw while chewing. This happens most frequently by feeding from a strung-up hay net or trough instead of from ground level. When fed away from ground level the lower jaw pulls back with respect to the upper jaw. You can try this for yourself: close your mouth and turn your face towards the ceiling and you will feel the lower jaw pull back. You can imagine that if horses chew with the head up high like this, the back molars of the lower jaw and front molars of the upper jaw do not wear down as much. This results in hooks in those respective locations (see illustration).
Hooks developing on the back molars of upper jaw and front molars of lower jaw (image from the book 'Natural Feeding for Horses')
Prevention of sharp edges and hooks can be supported by feeding horses plenty of roughage and feeding it from ground level. The more fibrous the feed, the larger the chewing movement needs to be. So chewing movements for fibrous roughage are big, whereas chewing movements for less fibrous material such as concentrates are small. In its turn, by feeding from ground level the upper and lower jaw are naturally aligned. By feeding roughage from ground level, the entire grinding surface of the molars wears down evenly.
Problems often show as excess salivation when a horse has a bit in his/her mouth, refusing the bit or when a horse becomes a 'messy eater', dropping feed from inside the mouth. It may be that your horse does not show any of these signs, but still suffers from a painful dentition. I recommend to make regular appointments with a qualified equine dentist.
Feeding adequate amounts of roughage helps to prevent sharp edges and hooks on horse teeth. Roughage is not a cure, nor a guarantee against the development of sharp edges and hooks, but feeding inadequate amounts is likely to result in problems.
Natural Feeding for Horses
Two images used in the above text come from Alexandra's book 'Natural Feeding for Horses'. Well-researched and well-written, the book gives reliable, understandable arguments for feeding more naturally.
As the first book of its kind, Natural Feeding for Horses introduces a feeding system that guides you in assessing your horse's requirements, comparing them to your roughage and making horse feeding more natural. The feeding system allows you to feed for health and well-being and supplement only when needed.
Alexandra is an independent horse nutrition consultant living in England, UK.
In the next mailing:
- Trainer Johanna Dunn will tell us about Natural Horsemanship