Oral his­tory

Foren­sic anal­y­sis re­veals how four long-de­ceased horses en­dured the rav­ages of age at the dawn of mod­ern equine den­tistry.

EQUUS - - EQUUS - By Deb Ben­nett, PhD

Foren­sic anal­y­sis re­veals how four long-de­ceased horses en­dured the rav­ages of age at the dawn of mod­ern equine den­tistry.

Of all the kinds of ev­i­dence that may be present at a crime scene, teeth of­ten prove to be the most telling. Of course, no crimes have been com­mit­ted with the horses we have un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The anal­y­sis I am mak­ing of the re­mains is, how­ever, wholly in the style now called “foren­sic”---an area of sci­ence that has proven to be fas­ci­nat­ing to many peo­ple. Be­cause of the com­plex struc­ture of horse teeth and the many unique changes which may be­fall them, they can be an­a­lyzed to re­veal the age, health sta­tus and life­style of the “dece­dent.”

I hope you have kept last month’s is­sue handy so you can re­fer to the ex­am­ples and ex­pla­na­tions in that ar­ti­cle as you work through the ac­tual “foren­sic analy­ses” that we’re about to per­form here. Un­der ex­am­i­na­tion are the skulls of four fa­mous horses---of in­cred­i­ble value be­cause these in­di­vid­u­als are not anony­mous spec­i­mens but pil­lars of his­tor­i­cal fact. For the full dossier on each, please re­fer to “Bones Speak Vol­umes” (EQUUS 482); here’s a brief sum­mary:

Black Hawk--- Mor­gan, by Sher­man Mor­gan by Justin Mor­gan, out of a partThorou gh­bred mare. Foaled April 1, 1833, in Durham, New Hampshire; died De­cem­ber 1, 1856, aged 23. The most pop­u­lar sire of his era, Black Hawk was the first Amer­i­can stal­lion to com­mand a stud fee of more than $100 and the founder of a ma­jor Mor­gan blood­line.

Ethan Allen--- Mor­gan, by Black Hawk out of Poll, she by Red Robin by Justin Mor­gan, and trac­ing on the distaff side to Bul­rush Mor­gan and Cana­dian horses. Foaled June 18, 1849, in Ti­con­deroga, New York; died Septem­ber 10, 1876, in Lawrence, Kansas, aged 27. A cham­pion at the har­ness track and the most widely ad­mired horse of the Civil War era, Ethan Allen was, in his own right, the founder of a ma­jor Mor­gan blood­line.

Lex­ing­ton--- Amer­i­can Thor­ough­bred, by Bos­ton out of Alice Carneal. Foaled in Kentucky in 1849 or 1850; died July 1, 1875, aged 25. Lex­ing­ton was the most suc­cess­ful Thor­ough­bred sire of all time, and his name ap­pears in the pedi­grees of 75 per­cent of liv­ing Amer­i­can Thor­ough­breds.

Rolf--- Prze­wal­ski’s horse (Mon­go­lian Wild Horse) stal­lion, by Sev­erin out of Rosette. Foaled at the Mu­nich Zoo in Hellabrunn, Ger­many, on June 6, 1951; died May 7, 1981, at the Topeka Zoo in Kansas, aged 30, a longevity record for his sub­species.


As we learned in last month’s short course in equine den­tal anatomy and func­tion, routes for in­fec­tion mul­ti­ply with age and the de­vel­op­ment of mal­oc­clu­sions. As you dive into the par­tic­u­lars for each horse un­der anal­y­sis, you’re go­ing to en­counter shock­ing ex­am­ples of den­tal and skull pathol­ogy, largely due to the fact that ef­fec­tive den­tal treat­ment for horses was al­most en­tirely un­known in this coun­try un­til late in the 19th cen­tury.

Yes, “CSI”-style in­ves­ti­ga­tion is fas­ci­nat­ing, but the knowl­edge you gain by study­ing these fa­mous ex­am­ples will also, I hope, in­spire you to pro­vide reg­u­lar den­tal care for the horses in your own back­yard.


I present Rolf’s case first be­cause it shows prob­lems typ­i­cally faced by old horses who have never re­ceived any den­tal care. Rolf was, for his en­tire life, de­lib­er­ately main­tained in as wild and un­tamed a state as pos­si­ble, so that he would ex­hibit be­hav­iors nat­u­ral to the Prze­wal­ski’s horse sub­species. He was not “broke” to hal­ter nor to han­dle, and he spent his life in zoos in an era be­fore sub­tle and so­phis­ti­cated “trick” train­ing was com­monly used to make vet­eri­nary ex­am­i­na­tion and nec­es­sary treat­ments eas­ier on the an­i­mal and safer for zoo per­son­nel. Thus, ev­ery time Rolf needed to have his hooves trimmed, he had to be tran­quil­ized with a blow­gun dart. Even the sim­plest den­tal main­te­nance would have been out of the ques­tion.

Dur­ing Rolf’s ten­ure there, the Topeka Zoo main­tained off-site pas­turage, and when not on ex­hibit in the main grounds, the stal­lion was turned out on grass with his herd of mares. Nonethe­less, he spent most of the year in a zoo en­clo­sure es­sen­tially sim­i­lar to a dry lot and was fed a mix­ture of al­falfa, brome and ti­mothy hay, with a lit­tle added grain to carry med­i­ca­tions and vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments. I fre­quently saw Rolf at the Topeka Zoo from 1977 on­ward and can per­son­ally at­test that his con­di­tion re­mained good right up to the time of his death at the age of 30 in 1981.

Since there are no good close-up pho­tos of Rolf’s head, I have “re­con­structed” his ap­pear­ance just as if he were a fos­sil or ar­chae­o­log­i­cal spec­i­men dat­ing back to an­cient times. Re­con­struc­tion of life ap­pear­ance is a com­mon ex­er­cise in mu­seum sci­ence as well as in foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion. I have drawn the mus­cles, nerves and blood ves­sels on Rolf’s skull (top),

cre­at­ing a good ba­sis for a por­trait. What isn't ev­i­dent from the out­side

is Rolf’s geri­atric den­ti­tion, with a big “Viking fu­neral ship” mal­oc­clu­sion cre­at­ing an in­ef­fi­cient chew­ing stroke and highly ab­nor­mal bite. The an­te­ri­or­most cheek teeth of the lower jaw on both left and right sides are so over­long that they have not only beaten out their mates in the up­per jaw but pounded the gum, cre­at­ing chronic ab­scess­ing which in turn caused the bone of the up­per jaw to re­sorb to a sig­nif­i­cant ex­tent. Rolf’s su­pe­rior in­cisors have also over­grown their mates be­low to pro­duce an “ac­quired” over­bite and steep in­cisor ta­ble an­gle; note the hor­i­zon­tal ori­en­ta­tion of the lower in­cisors. The old stal­lion’s ca­nines have worn down with age but have not been buffed, and their bases are crusted with brown tar­tar (cal­cu­lus).

POR­TRAIT OF ROLF’S HEAD BASED ON SKULL AND MUS­CLE RESTORA­TIONS Note the shal­low­ness of Rolf’s face at the time of his death, due to the loss of teeth and re­sorp­tion of bone. Com­pare to his youth­ful ap­pear­ance in the por­trait pre­sented in the first in­stall­ment of this se­ries (“Bones Speak Vol­umes,” EQUUS 482). RESTORA­TION OF THE MUS­CLES OF ROLF’S HEAD bone mus­cle nerve glan­du­lar artery vein ten­don

con­nec­tive tis­sue


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