The relationship between dentals, mouth conformation and bitting

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Routine dental work is recomended for your horses every 6 - 12 months.

These pictures where taken on a recent dental visit to a racing yard with our vet Catherine Speakman. They are of a thoroughbred mare, Milan Royal.

Her owner/trainer Kevin Hunter had been having trouble bitting her. The horse did not accept a bit at all, always throwing her head and fighting a contact. She has a particularly ‘fleshy’ mouth, with lots of loose tissue over the bars of the mouth right in the area where the bit needs to sit. In some horses this tissue can become trapped between the bit and the lower first premolars (cheek teeth). She also had a relatively small mouth and large tongue compounding the difficulties.

Routine dental work was carried out to remove the sharp enamel points and imbalances that horses develop as a matter of course though normal wear of the teeth as well as ensuring that the first premolars were well rounded so as not to traumatise the loose tissues in the bars of the mouth. Additionally Catherine looked at a variety of different bits and the way that they sat within the shape of the horse’s mouth.

“I find it fascinating to look at how bits sit within different horses’ mouths. So often the way the bit appears from the outside is so completely different from what we see when we actually look inside the horse’s mouth, in conjunction with a dental speculum (gag). This mare was a prime case in point. It became obvious trying a range of bits that some were pinching or squashing the tongue, others with her narrow mouth had the links actually resting directly on the bony bars. The horse showed her discomfort when light pressure was applied, withdrawing her tongue and trying to escape the pressure. Eventually we found a bit that although we’d never have thought would have suited her just looking at her, fit her like a glove. Immediately her tongue was relaxed and she no longer showed any resentment to this bit being in her mouth.”

The owners have since been working the horse with fantastic results.
“The difference in this horse is unbelievable, she was pretty much un-ridable before Catherine’s visit.” Said Kevin, “She wouldn’t take the bridle at all, we tried to run her a couple of times, first of all she shot left, the second time she shot right. She resisted the bit, she would roll her tongue as soon as any contact was taken, shake her head and run away from the pain. We had a major problem.

When Catherine put the gag in her lips where really fleshy, so fleshy that they nearly met in the middle. We then looked at the bit in there and could see that this was causing painful pinching.”

“After the work was completed we gave her a week of work just to be on the safe side. Our jockey got back on board and we had an instant difference, a different horse altogether, I couldn’t believe it! She is working well and is a much happier horse. If we hadn’t got the gag on and tried the different bits that day I’m sure we would never have got to the bottom of it.

She has not yet raced as we are waiting for better ground but the future looks hopeful!”

Fig 1 - French link: I commonly find that the joins in French link mouthpieces are located so that they sit on the bars of the mouth, or cause pressure point on the soft tissues. Especially in small bit sizes the ‘hinge’ is a large part of the mouthpiece and there simply isn’t room for it.

Fig 2 - Nylon ‘happy mouth’ type bit: Again the ‘bulbs’ on this bit didn’t locate correctly in her mouth, causing pressure points. See how the tongue is drawn back to avoid the pressure.

Fig 3 - Contoured straight bar: Immediately the mare accepted this bit, her tongue was relaxed and her demeanour changed. While a very unusual mouthpiece, the curves of this bit simply suited this mare’s anatomy, without the pressure points we’d seen from other bits.

All horses are individuals!! Please call the practice if you would like any advice.