From the book The Horse Lover's Bible 

by  Tamsin  Pickeral

The Horse as a Herd Animal

There are two main patterns of socialization associated with equines: territorial behavior, which is commonly exhibited by Grevy's zebra and the African wild ass; and harem or herd behavior, seen in horses, the mountain zebra and the plains zebra.

Territorial animals will protect and defend a large area, allowing females in to mate, but fighting off the intrusion of other breeding males. They tend not to form strong, long-lasting bonds and are often solitary. In contrast, a harem is a strongly knit unit. The stallion defends the mares in his harem, and they will travel together, hunting down better areas for feeding while maintaining the reproductive viability of the group. This form of social organization is particularly effective in areas of poor grazing, because the harem can cover large distances irrespective of territorial constraints.

The harem structure developed over the millennia and remains strong in the modern domesticated horse. This herd instinct shapes behavior in horses and is still relevant even when the horse is removed from the harem.

Why the Herd?

The benefits to the horse of belonging to a herd are a result of three interrelated factors. The first is the instinct to reproduce, which is the most primal of all. By forming harems with one dominant stallion and a small group of mares, a stable reproductive unit is created, which enables the members of the harem to travel extensively in search of food without spending time looking for a suitable mate.

The second factor contributing to the success of the herd is socialization. Horses are naturally outgoing animals and form long-lasting bonds with each other. The primary bond within the group is the sexual attraction between the stallion and mares, but strong bonds of friendship between the mares also exist. Customarily, a horse will develop a special attachment to one or

Trainer's Tip

Horses have excellent memories and will

remember bad experiences and poor training as

clearly as positive handling.

two of its fellow herd members, and will demonstrate affection through grooming — primarily chewing and nibbling along the withers and neck, and secondly across the back, shoulders and haunches. Grooming also involves the removal of parasites from parts that the horse is unable to reach on its own and occasionally can be performed as an apologetic interaction between two herd members following an aggressive exchange.

Finally, the herd provides its members with security. During the middle of the day, when they have the best visual field, horses will often rest; several members of the herd may lay down while at least one member stays on sentry duty. At dusk, which is a particularly vulnerable time as it is then that predators start hunting and the failing light makes it difficult to see, the herd will gather together. They usually remain closely grouped through the night on the move, grazing and watchful.

Herd Structure

The herd is a small unit — a single dominant stallion and between two to six mares with their accompanying young. It is based on a strict hierarchal system: the dominant stallion rules. By having the fortitude to form a harem, he has demonstrated his beneficial genetic situation and ensures the continuation of a strong gene pool through his offspring. After the stallion, the hierarchy tends to defer to age, although this is not a hard and fast rule, and the length of residency within a given herd is also significant.

Size does not seem to be a significant factor affecting aggressiveness, though aggressiveness is significant in determining rank within the herd.

The stallion will defend and protect his entire harem. He assumes the mantle of leader, especially in dangerous situations. Occasionally the dominant mare in the harem will lead the group, though rarely in times of peril. As herd animals, horses rely on "a leader" to direct them and provide a sense of security.

The bonds between the members of the harem hold the group together. Often a horse that is at the bottom of the hierarchy will form a friendship with a more dominant member of the harem, thereby ensuring some degree of protection from other members and a greater chance of access to food and water. Once bonds have been formed and the pecking order established, there is rarely any full-blown violence within a group. Generally, pinned ears, snaking head movements, squealing or lifting a hind leg will be enough to warn off herd members; in many cases the pecking order is maintained by little more than head movements alone.

Once young stallions reach a threatening age they will be ousted from the harem by the dominant stallion. They will then exist on the fringes of the group until they are able to form their own harems. Bachelor groups typically consist of one to three young stallions. Young fillies will often leave their foundation herd during their estrous cycles for a few hours to a few days to mate before returning. As they mature, and generally at between three to five years old, they will leave their foundation herd and enter a new group. When there is no other herd around, it is not unusual for a group of immature stallions and


quick reference 

Horse as a Herd Animal

Herds, consisting of one stallion and several mares with their

young, provide a reproductive unit, security, and socialization.

Herds travel as a group and are constantly mobile.

Herds have a strict hierarchy. The stallion (or sometimes the dominant mare) assumes a leadership role for the rest of the group.

The "pecking order," once established, is

maintained with threatened aggression, rarely


Horses form long-lasting bonds and

attachments and learn from the behavior of other horses.

Horses will bond with their handler or other
animals in the absence of a herd environment.

Assuming the role of leader when handling/training is vital.

fillies to form. These groups are unstable and usually won't reproduce; the members will leave as soon as a more suitable harem becomes available.

Herds are geographically non-territorial but do tend to return to a home range, an area that has plentiful water, grazing, shelter and security. Such areas will often be shared by several different herds, which will nonetheless maintain a respectful distance from each other. Stallions will often urinate over the top of piles of droppings from mares in their harems to mark them as part of their group and to warn off other stallions.

Removal from the Herd

When we take the horse from its herd, it still has a need both to bond and to follow direction. The domesticated horse will form a strong attachment to you as its handler, which is based on confidence and trust, and will sometimes form bonds with other animals. It is imperative that you assert your leadership role and remain in the dominant position at all times. This should never be achieved through aggression, but through body language, empathy and clear commands.

The horse, especially a young one, will at times challenge your authority, and in many instances this is nothing more than a natural need to reestablish the pecking order. By maintaining the role of leader, you afford the horse the security and assurance that the dominant member of the herd would provide.

The herd instinct in horses can work in your favor when training. As foals, horses learn from the behavior of their mothers and others around them. Drawing on this ability to learn from others, the use of a lead horse when teaching youngsters to jump, for example, is an excellent method of providing confidence. Horses will shape their behavior on the example of those around them, and a calm "nanny" horse accompanying a young horse at its first show, or when hacking out, can be a great help. It works both ways, however, and young horses will develop bad habits if exposed continually to poor behavior in others.

The solitary horse, being removed from its safety net provided by the herd, will develop a sense of "safe area." This can be the stable or barn, and it is where it will gravitate, especially when feeling stressed or threatened. Horses are creatures of habit, and a horse that is regularly turned out during the day and brought in at night will often become noticeably agitated if left out for longer than usual. The onset of dusk is instinctively the most dangerous time for a horse, and a solitary horse left out does not have the security blanket of a herd, and feels threatened. While this behavior can be irritating, if you remain calm, confident and in charge at all times, this will enable your horse to gain in confidence.

Horse Sense

The basic instinct for survival led to the development of five extremely acute senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

The Five Senses

A horse's vision is unique and effective, providing it with a wide visual range designed to detect predators. Similarly the sense of hearing is acute; the mobility of a horse's ears allows it to track sound and pinpoint the area where danger might be lurking. As well as having highly perceptive hearing, horses can hear a much greater range of pitch than humans, and are more susceptible to sudden, loud noises. Horses react strongly to vocal commands, and are able to differentiate the smallest change in tone, pitch and volume.

The horse's top Sip is extremely dexterous; it can be used for grooming and to manipulate objects. Here the horse uses it to scratch a hard-to-reach itch.

Due to the length of its nose, a horse has a "blind spot" directly in front and below it. But this same long nose endows it with a highly refined sense of smell — much greater than that in humans. This helps both to detect predators and also to find suitable food to eat. Horses can smell water from a great distance — an essential asset when living in drought-ridden areas or when searching for water at night. Horses can also smell pheromones, which are vital to the social behavior of stallions and mares within a group. They can differentiate between the smell of droppings from members of their own herd and those of threatening rival bands.

It is interesting to note that the horse's sense of taste is not dissimilar to our own. Horses are able to differentiate between sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes and can judge if something does not taste acceptable to eat. They are able to evaluate what they eat through their sense of smell and then taste, a vital process in the prevention of ingesting toxic matter.




Horses have the ability to hear a greater range of pitch and to differentiate the smallest change in tone, pitch and volume.


Horses have a wide visual field

designed to detect predators.


Much greater and more refined than in humans, a horse's smelling abilities enable it to detect predators and to find suitable food.


The top lip is highly dexterous and the whiskers vital for locating suitable forage.


This sense is similar to our own, in that horses can differentiate between sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes.

A horse's sense of touch is often considered its weakest sense, and with regard to detecting predators this is probably the case. However, bearing in mind that the area directly in front of the horse is a visual blind spot, the sensitivity of its top lip and whiskers is vital for locating suitable forage. The horse's top lip is highly dexterous and is aided by its whiskers. Horses will use this lip to groom themselves and each other, and are able to remove small parasites and manipulate objects with it.

Horses are naturally sensitive through their bodies, a factor that we use to our advantage (and occasionally to their disadvantage) through our training.

The Sixth Sense

No mention of the natural horse is complete without a reference to the sixth sense, the most unscientific of terms. It is widely recognized that horses are perceptive to our moods and will react accordingly — especially to fear. When training, horses will often anticipate a transition before it is asked for, which can be both advantageous and disastrous when in the middle of a dressage test! They invariably will change their behavior patterns before the onset of bad weather, usually becoming agitated and nervous.

So what is the sixth sense? In many cases horses react the way they do because their senses are so much more acute than ours. This allows them to smell the subtle changes in our bodies brought about by fear. When riding we may believe we haven't asked for a transition, but just by thinking it our weight alters fractionally in preparation. This is what the horse responds to, picking up the most minute of changes. They are also highly sensitive to changes in electrical potential, which explains their reaction to the onset of poor weather. Living on the open plains, as they did thousands of years ago, storms could have dire effects on the safety of the herd. By evolving sensitivity to the change in weather patterns, the horse stood a better chance of securing shelter before a storm hit.

The horse's vision is very different from that of humans and understanding the way it sees and perceives the world around it can help us to understand why it reacts to things the way it does.

Memory and Intelligence

Horses developed extraordinary memories as a matter of necessity; in the past, this was vital for detecting the presence of a predator or unseen danger. How often have you seen horses in the same manege become suddenly spooked when a jump wing has been moved, or someone has left a jacket lying on the ground? Horses immediately realize when their familiar territory has undergone a change — even by the smallest margin — and to them, first and foremost, change signifies danger. Horses have excellent homing abilities and are able to locate and return to a familiar area, whether that be a watering hole in the middle of the plains, or the home barn. Their memory is a wonderful if fragile tool in training. The horse will remember poor experiences and bad technique as readily as it will respond to intelligent, sensitive application of the aids. It is worth noting at this point that horses are creatures of immediate response. If the horse does something well, it must be praised immediately, and vice versa for poor behavior. Waiting until the end of a session or the completion of a transition, movement or task to praise or reprimand is pointless. The horse will only associate the praise/reprimand with the immediate action.

Horses are often said to be stupid, which is clearly not the case. Were they stupid, they would not have flourished and become the adaptable and successful species that they are.


The horse's vision is very different from that found in humans. The side placing of the eyes give the horse a huge visual field.

A horse is able to see between 320 degrees to 350 degrees around it, with its only blind spots being directly in front of its nose, and a few yards behind it. This panoramic field of vision clearly aided the horse in the wild, allowing it to watch for predators. Even with its head down when grazing, the horse is still able to watch for would-be attackers.

The length of the horse's nose and the distance between its eyes and the end of its nose mean that the horse is unable to see directly beneath it without turning its head slightly. When jumping, as the horse takes off, it is actually unable to see the fence, and instead relies on the image of the fence seen several strides before takeoff. It is not unusual to see a horse cock its head slightly while jumping, allowing it to view the fence beneath it.

Horses' eyes are among the largest eyes of all mammals — bigger even than those of elephants! For years, the size of the eye was believed to imply that the horse saw objects bigger than they were. This is not the case. The large eye actually means that the horse is better able to process visual information in poor light, which dispels another myth — that horses can't see in the dark! In fact, they have semi-nocturnal vision and are able to see far better in the dark than humans. However, it is thought that their night vision lacks clarity, so while horses can determine large shapes and forms, they cannot make out detail.

Trainer's Tip

It is a bad idea to ride wearing jewelry, not only from a safety point of view but also because the sound of jangling bracelets to the acute ears of a horse can be highly distracting when riding and schooling.

In Focus

A horse's eyes focus very differently from our own. Described simply, the retina in a horse's eye has a single horizontal strip of densely concentrated light-sensitive cells, while above and below this strip, the concentration of these cells is greatly reduced. This means that objects that are on the same horizontal plane as the sensitive part of the retina will be seen in great detail, while objects that fall to either side of this plane will lack clarity. When a horse moves its head up and down, some images will come into sharp focus, and others will become unfocused. This sudden


quick reference 

Vision and Hearing

Horses can have up to a 350-degree field of vision.

Horses have two blind spots, one directly beneath their noses, and the other directly behind them.

Horses' eyes focus differently from our own; when they move their heads up and down, this allows them to bring objects into focus.

Horses can see some color, but are not able to discern green from gray - they are partially color blind.

Horses have better night vision than humans but their depth perception is less clear than our own.

Horses have acute hearing and their ability to respond well to vocal communications is an invaluable training tool.

focusing on images explains why horses suddenly spook at objects that they have clearly been able to see for some time.

Due to the side positioning of a horse's eyes, it will have a limited amount of binocular vision — that is the field of vision that both eyes see together. This makes a horse's depth perception less accurate than that found in humans and predators with forward-facing eyes.

It is interesting to watch a horse's reaction on seeing white painted lines on the road for the first time. I have seen horses, who are used to cattle guards, who simply will not be persuaded to cross a series of lines painted on the road. They see the lines, believe them to be a cattle guard, and are unable to ascertain that there is no depth underneath them.

Color Perception

The necessity for a horse to see color is limited, which is not to say that they do not see color — they do, just not all colors. The retina is packed with two kinds of photosensitive cells: rod cells and cone cells.

Rod cells determine brightness and darkness, while cone cells distinguish change in intensity and color. People who have full-color vision have three types of cone cells; studies on horses suggest that they have only two types of cone cells. This means they have limited color perception, somewhat similar to color blindness in humans. Studies show that horses are able to distinguish blue and red from gray, but not green.

Trainer's Tip

Horses, like humans, can start to lose the acuity of their hearing with age. However, if the horse does start to develop impaired hearing it is advisable to have it checked by a vet to ascertain there is no other cause for the deafness, such as ear infection or infestation of mites or ticks.

Hearing and Vocalization

A horse's hearing, like its vision, is very different from that of humans.Their ears are receptive to a much wider range of pitch and tone.

Horses have mobile ears that are able to track noise. The ears can move through 180 degrees, which allows the horse to pinpoint the direction that a noise is coming from, this being vital in the wild to ascertain in which direction danger lies. Their honed sense of hearing also allows herds to communicate and stay together, especially in situations where different herds might mix, such as at watering holes or good feeding areas.

A foal and its mother will keep in contact through vocalizing, and the range and pitch of that vocalization can be easily read — from fear and alarm to soothing.

Due to the range of the horse's hearing, it is able to hear sounds inaudible to the human ear, which can account for sudden spooking. A horse is also particularly sensitive to pitch and tone, which is an important consideration in training. This sensitivity means that vocal encouragement and commands can be used as vital training tools, but can just as easily be misused. A horse that is working well and listening will invariably have one ear cocked to the rider or ground trainer while the other is forward — listening both to the handler and the world at large.

Flight, Freeze and Fight

Flee first, think later — this is a basic premise for the horse and stems from its lowly position in the food chain. In the wild, a horse's predators were numerous and unrelenting, and many of them fleet of foot as well. Horses, as single-toed animals, developed the capability of short bursts of sudden great speed, which allowed them to outrun virtually all of their would-be attackers, providing the horses saw them first. So, in order to survive, the horse developed a rapid flight response to danger, or suspected danger. This instinct is still very evident, whether observing the domesticated horse suddenly startled in a field, or when riding a young or nervous horse.

There are occasions, however, when the "freeze" reaction occurs. If a horse sees something unexpected or frightening, it will sometimes become rooted to the spot. Its head will rise, nostrils flare and muscles tense; at this point it is reading the situation and will generally wheel and flee after a matter of seconds. If a horse of yours reacts similarly, calmly reassure it and allow it a moment to assess the danger before quietly asking it to move on. In this way, a horse will gain confidence in itself and in its rider.

A horse's "fight" response to danger will be exhibited in the wild where there is no room for flight. Left with no alternative, a horse will turn and act aggressiveJy. In domesticated horses we repress the flight instinct, and in some cases this can cause the fight instinct to become stimulated, and aggressive behavior, although unusual, can be triggered. In situations such as this, the horse's behavior is a reflection of a lack of confidence - in itself, its surroundings and its handler. By working with a horse and establishing ground rules, your hierarchy and trust, aggressive behavior borne of insecurity can be overcome.

The startled horse raises its head and is poised for flight. If it has been chewing, it will stop to aid its hearing and pinpoint the danger, while its raised head will afford it a greater visual field. A horse's sense of smell, too, will be on high alert for any signs of predators. If it considers the situation to be dangerous, it will flee, quickly removing itself from the supposed danger.


The makeup and structure of the horse's digestive tract is highly specialized and evolved specifically to suit the needs of a prey animal, constantly on the move and foraging on rough, fibrous matter.

Trickle Feeders

Horses in their natural state will graze for up to 18 hours a day, taking a few small mouthfuls of grass before moving onto the next patch. This is known as "trickle feeding," and means that the digestive tract is constantly moving food through. Grass and feed is sought out by the dexterous and sensitive upper lip, chopped with the incisors and then chewed. The horse's jaw is extremely mobile; chewing is very important to the whole digestive process, both in stimulating salivation and in the initial breaking down of the feed matter. Horses that bolt their feed or are unable to chew properly will not be able to utilize their feed efficiently. Horses are naturally grazers, and eat with their heads down. Studies have shown that by eating in this way the integrity of their teeth remains optimal. Horses eating from a raised head position, i.e., from a haynet, will not wear their teeth as evenly.

The feed matter, mixed with saliva, is swallowed and moves down the esophagus to the stomach. Relative to its size, the horse's stomach is small, and has a capacity of 2-5 gallons (8-19 I). The stomach itself is relatively inelastic, and its muscular makeup makes it virtually impossible for vomiting or gastric reflux. Unlike predators that eat a big meal then rest and

Trainer's Tip

Continual trickle feeding is the most natural for

the horse; try and allow your horse as much

time at pasture as possible or, alternatively

ensure that it has a constant supply of good-quality

hay in front of it.


quick reference 


A horse's digestive tract is designed for small quantities of food on a virtually continuous basis.

Horses can graze for 18 hours a day.

Horses have small stomachs compared to their size.

Horses are not ruminants; unlike many grass eating mammals, they do not chew the cud.

Horses are unable to vomit; in severe cases, if the stomach becomes too distended, it will rupture.

Food can take up to 60 hours to pass the entire length of the digestive tract.

Always introduce new foods slowly, preferably taking up to a month and mixing them with the old feed.

Horses do not have gallbladders but do have cecums.

digest, the horse, being a trickle feeder, thrives on a steady intake of small quantities of forage; in this way, the stomach is never completely full, or totally empty.

Little but Often

In simple terms, the speed with which the stomach empties depends on the volume of matter entering it. The greater the volume, the faster it empties, and the secondary effect of this is that the food passes quickly through the intestines, thus diminishing the actual nutritional value that the horse receives from its food. This is a significant fact when determining feeding routines, and explains the cardinal rule of feeding — "little but often." By feeding small amounts at regular intervals, the horse will benefit from a much more efficient digestive process, which, in turn, increases the nutritional value absorbed.

Bacterial fermentation of the feed matter starts in the first section of the horse's stomach. The matter then passes to the second section, where it mixes with the acidic gastric juices. It then enters the small intestine, where the digestive process really kicks off.

There is nothing small about the small intestine; it measure approximately 65 feet (20 m) in length and is the major organ of digestion. Here digestive enzymes break down proteins, fats, starches and sugars. Bile, which acts on fats and alkalizes the feed matter, is continually secreted through the intestines because, unlike humans, horses do not have gallbladders. The feed matter passes through the small intestine relatively quickly and can reach the cecum within an hour.

The cecum is a long dead-ended pouch. Matter enters and leaves the cecum through the same opening, and here microbes continue to break down the feed matter, especially the more fibrous matter, such as hay and grass. The cecum has a similar function to the rumen in a cow. The microbial population in the cecum is fairly specific as to what it can break down, which is why the introduction of new feeds should be done very slowly, in order to allow the microbial culture to reestablish itself.

The feed matter will remain in the cecum for approximately seven hours before passing into the large intestine, or the colon. The final digestive processes occur here, and they can take up to 50 hours. Water, vitamins and fatty acids are absorbed and the eventual waste products form into balls of fecal matter, which are then passed from the rectum.

If feeding hay from a haynet make sure the holes are small and the net is tied nice and high. 

Grazing is more natural and is the most beneficial for a horse's digestive system and teeth. However some horses will "gorge" on grass and will have to have their grazing limited. 


Being confident about looking in a horse's mouth and assessing its teeth is a great advantage; it enables you to ascertain that a horse is the age it is said to be, and it allows you to regularly monitor the shape and state of wear of the teeth.

Just like its hooves, a horse's teeth grow constantly throughout its life. In the natural environment, horses wear their teeth at a fairly constant and efficient rate. The modern horse, however, is basically kept on a very different diet to the one it evolved on, and consequently teeth do not wear as evenly as they need to. Interestingly, there is a marked difference in the wear on the dentition of horses depending upon where they live. In some places, the grass has a high water content and is very soft and nonabrasive; in certain areas of the western United States, however, the grass is very tough, and becomes "sun cured," with a high nutritional value. The teeth of horses there are subject to greater wear through grazing; this leads to a slower rate of growth, less likelihood of sharp points developing and invariably less frequent attention from the equine dental technician.

Adult males have 40 teeth — 24 molars, 12 incisors and 4 tusks — and there can be wolf teeth on both upper and lower jaws, but these are not always present.

Adult females have 36 teeth — 24 molars and 12 incisors — and they may or may not have wolf teeth.

Trainer's Tip

When looking at a horse to buy, gently feel inside the corner of its mouth with your finger. If the skin either feels very thick, or is broken, cracked or sore, it would indicate that the horse has a hard mouth and pulls against the bit, or that it has been ridden excessively aggressively.


Opening the Mouth

Not all horses appreciate having their mouths opened, so always treat the exercise with caution. Never stand directly in front of a horse, and be careful that the horse does not throw its head and hit you in the face.

When looking at the teeth you must look at both sides of the jaw. If the tongue is in the way gently move it to one side.

You also must look at the front teeth — the slope, how they meet, and the coloration.


Assessing the Teeth

Before thinking about aging the horse, quickly assess the teeth themselves. The following are useful questions to ask yourself when evaluating the horse. "Do the teeth appear even? Are there any rough edges on the outsides? Does the horse appear to have any sores or wounds in its mouth? Are there great chunks of wadded feed at the back of the mouth and what does the horse's breath smell like?" Chunks of wadded half-chewed feed at the back of the horse's mouth can indicate a problem with the teeth, and foul-smelling breath generally indicates a severe problem with the teeth and/or gums.


Teeth as a Guide to Aging

Aging a horse by its teeth is difficult. The best way to become accomplished at it is by looking at as many different horses as possible with someone who knows their actual ages.

Horses, like humans, have temporary or "milk" teeth that are replaced with permanent teeth. By the age of nine months, foals will generally have a

Trainer's Tip

The surface of milk teeth are white and often

have grooves in them. Milk teeth are smaller

than permanent teeth and have a more upright

angle to them.


Table. The top of the tooth or grinding surface.

Crown. The section of tooth above the gum.

Neck. The part of the tooth in the gum.

Milk teeth. Similar to humans, horses have milk teeth before their permanent teeth erupt.

Wolf teeth. Premolars.

Infundibulum or mark. A dark mark, actually a small hole, which runs partway down the (permanent) tooth.

Dental star. A dark brown horizontal line between the front of the incisors and the mark, which appears at around 6 years.

Hook. A small jag of tooth that first appears on the corner of the upper incisors at 6 or 7 years.

Galvayne's groove. A dark line that appears
on the upper corner incisors at 10 years.

full set of temporary teeth — six incisors on the top and bottom jaw and three premolars on each side of the top and bottom jaw — for a total of 12 incisors and 12 premolars.

At approximately 2 and 1/2 years of age, a horse loses its temporary central incisors. These are replaced with permanent teeth; it also gets two permanent molars on both sides of the upper and lower jaws.

At approximately 3 and 1/2 years, the temporary lateral incisors are replaced with permanent teeth and the horse will now have four permanent molars on both sides of each jaw.

At approximately 4 years, the four tusks start to appear in males, and the last permanent molars erupt. A horse will now have six permanent molars on each jaw.

By 4 and 1/2 to 5 years, the horse should have a full set of permanent teeth.

From 5 to 6 years the corner incisors are full length and begin to wear against each other.

At approximately 6 years, the infundibulum has gone from the central incisor tables, is getting smaller on the lateral incisor tables, and will be just appearing on the corner incisor tables. The dental star will now start to appear on the central and lateral incisor tables.

At approximately 7 years, the hook appears on the top of the corner incisors; horses also get a hook at 11 years, so consider the slope and angle of the teeth as well. In the 7-year-old horse, the teeth should be fairly upright; by 11 years, they will be more sloping and longer. At 7 years, the tables will be quite oval in shape.

At approximately 8 years, the hook will have disappeared and the tables will become triangular in shape. From now on, it becomes increasingly difficult to accurately age a horse by its teeth alone, and you also should consider the horse's external appearance.

By 9 years, the infundibulum will have disappeared from all the teeth.

At approximately 10 years, Galvayne's groove will start to appear on the upper corner incisors and work its way down the crown.

Trainer's Tip

Wolf teeth are, in fact, the first premolars. If small

and sharp-pointed, they can cause discomfort in

some animals while they are being ridden but

before removing wolf teeth, a vet should be

satisfied that a problem exists. As a general rule of

thumb, the bigger the wolf tooth the less likely it is

to cause a problem. Wolf teeth are usually extracted

under heavy sedation and only a veterinary

surgeon can legally carry out the procedure.

At 11 years a hook will appear on the upper corner incisors.

By 15 years, Galvayne's groove will be approximately halfway down the tooth, and the tables will start to become more rounded.

By 20 years, the teeth will be sloped at quite an angle and Galvayne's groove will have reached the bottom of the tooth.

Between 20 and 30 years, Galvayne's groove will have disappeared.

Poor Conformation of the Jaw

Any conformation abnormality of the jaw is highly undesirable as it contributes to problems with eating and digestion.

Parrot mouth conformation is when the top jaw is longer than the bottom. This means that the incisors do not meet and so the "plucking" ability of the horse is compromised. It also means that the last molar on the lower jaw protrudes up behind the last molar on the top jaw. The tooth then grows excessively long because it has nothing to grind against and wear it down.

Sow mouth (undershot jaw) refers to the lower jaw being longer than the upper jaw, which causes similar problems to the parrot mouth horse. Both these conditions can be effectively maintained by regular trips to the equine dental technician, but they are to be avoided if possible.

Routine Care of the Teeth

It is vital that your horse has its teeth checked every six months to a year by a professional. If there are any mouth problems, they will affect the horse's health and attitude to work.

The Equine Dental Technician

By law, equine dental technicians are not allowed to remove teeth, perform any kind of dental surgery or administer sedatives. If your horse requires this attention, it must be done by a veterinary surgeon. Unlike human teeth, equine teeth continue to grow throughout a horse's life, and are worn down through eating.

After "plucking" or cutting forage with the incisors, food is moved back into the mouth and chewed with a grinding action by a horse's molars. However, the upper jaw is slightly wider than the lower jaw, so there is invariably uneven wear on the teeth. This can result in sharp points forming on the inside of the cheek teeth on the lower jaw, and on the outside of the cheek teeth on the upper jaw. These sharp ridges will affect a horse's grinding ability, and also can lacerate the sides of the cheek and the tongue.

The equine dental technician removes any sharp edges by floating (rasping) the teeth. He or she also will check to see if there are any abnormalities with the teeth, especially relevant with young horses who may experience problems with their permanent teeth coming through, and with very old horses whose teeth require special attention to keep them in good order.