EQUUS - - Medical Front -

It stands to rea­son that a horse would per­form bet­ter un­der sad­dle after mal­oc­clu­sions or other den­tal prob­lems were cor­rected, but sci­en­tific proof of this ef­fect con­tin­ues to be elu­sive.

Work­ing at the Swiss In­sti­tute of Equine Medicine in Bern, re­searchers ex­am­ined 38 Franches-Mon­tagnes stal­lions owned by the Na­tional Stud and as­signed each a den­tal mal­oc­clu­sion score. The horses were then rid­den twice over a seven-day pe­riod: first by their reg­u­lar rider as a warm-up and then by a pro­fes­sional rider who eval­u­ated their per­for­mance on a 27-point scale based on a survey ask­ing ques­tions such as “Is the horse re­laxed on the bit?” A lower score in­di­cated bet­ter “ride­abil­ity.”

Next, the horses were di­vided into two groups that were as­signed to one of two pro­to­cols: Half of the horses re­ceived den­tal treat­ment to ad­dress the mal­oc­clu­sions dis­cov­ered in the ini­tial exam, while the other half of the horses were given “sham” treat­ments that did not cor­rect any den­tal mis­align­ments. The first group’s treat­ment con­sisted pri­mar­ily of bal­anc­ing the den­tal ar­cades and sec­on­dar­ily of cre­at­ing a more “com­fort­able” mouth, which in­volves the re­duc­tion of sharp enamel points, and cre­at­ing a so-called bit seat, which is “a round­ing of the sec­ond pre­mo­lars to op­ti­mize com­fort for the car­ry­ing of the bit and not al­low­ing pinch­ing be­tween the bit and the teeth,” says Se­bastien Moine, Med.Vet., CEqD.

After their den­tal pro­ce­dures, the horses were given five days of rest and then were rid­den three more times by the pro­fes­sional rider over the next two months. After each ride, the horses were again scored on the orig­i­nal 27-point scale.

The re­sult­ing data showed no cor­re­la­tion be­tween den­tal mal­oc­clu­sions and ride­abil­ity be­fore the treat­ments, and no change in ride­abil­ity scores after the treat­ments, even when the ini­tial mal­oc­clu­sions were con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant. This, says Moine, was a sur­prise.

“I was ex­pect­ing a cor­re­la­tion since I have been build­ing my cus­tomer pool for den­tal work be­cause of the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects on rid­ing, not only for dres­sage rid­ers, but also on horses used as plea­sure and as jump­ing horses,” he says. “I have been treat­ing horses for the Swiss jump­ing team for the last decade.” Moine worked as a pro­fes­sional trainer dur­ing and after fin­ish­ing vet­eri­nary school, ex­pe­ri­ence that led him to be­lieve that den­tistry can in­flu­ence a horse’s un­der-sad­dle per­for­mance.

“I saw den­tistry be­ing badly per­formed. So I went on to study den­tistry so I could do it cor­rectly and ben­e­fit the horses’ health and com­fort,” he says. “I have been do­ing den­tistry full time ever since. The pos­i­tive change in some horses has been my mo­ti­va­tion.”

That said, find­ing data to back up these ob­ser­va­tions has proven dif­fi­cult. The first chal­lenge, says Moine, is the in­con­sis­tent re­sponse

to den­tal treat­ment among horses. “It all de­pends on the horse,” he says. “Some show ma­jor im­prove­ment after mi­nor changes have been made, and oth­ers don’t show any change in at­ti­tude or per­for­mance even after ma­jor work has been done---ev­ery in­di­vid­ual is dif­fer­ent in show­ing com­fort and pain.”

In his most re­cent study, Moine sus­pects that the lim­its of the pro­fes­sional rider used for the horses’ per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion may have ham­pered data col­lec­tion: “The rider was not fa­mil­iar at all with these horses and with the spe­cial traits of the breed.” He adds that in his study, it may not have been the best ap­proach to have an ex­ter­nal pro­fes­sional rider iden­tify changes, not­ing that a horse’s reg­u­lar rider may have per­ceived changes dif­fer­ently after the den­tal work was per­formed.

Even with­out clear sci­en­tific ev­i­dence, Moine rec­om­mends den­tal ex­ams at least once per year for all horses, with more fre­quent ex­ams for those with known mal­oc­clu­sions or other den­tal is­sues.

Ref­er­ence: “Eval­u­a­tion of the ef­fects of per­for­mance den­tistry on equine ride­abil­ity: a ran­dom­ized, blinded, con­trolled trial,” Vet­eri­nary Quar­terly, May 2017

OPEN WIDE: Re­searchers are work­ing to quan­tify the ben­e­fits of float­ing and other den­tal work.

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