Show Us Your Pearly Whites

Jan 19, 2017

Renowned equine dentist Peter Beck has long been servicing the dentistry needs of our turf stars, in fact you couldn’t count the number of Group 1 winners he has routinely treated over the years, but champions the likes of Winx down to the local lead pony are all within a day’s work.

New Zealand born and bred, Beck moved to Australia in 1987 to offer the dentistry craft he studiously learnt from his father Bill, who in turn was taught by “old-school trainer” Jim Tonkinson.

“Jim was a real maestro with horses…a natural horseman who did everything from dentistry, to vetting and training. Everyone went to Jim for help back in those days,” explained Beck.

To become a qualified equine dentist these days one must undertake a two-year nationally recognised full time course at Melbourne University with 200 days of practical experience which is what Beck’s colleague, ex-jockey Jason Lee, did almost five years ago.

“Jason and I operate under the Randwick Equine Dentist banner and service many leading stables in Sydney including Snowden Racing, Godolphin, Team Hawkes, Chris Waller, Waterhouse-Bott, James and Anthony Cummings.

“It’s taken a long time to build these relationships but we’re there now and very lucky to work with such clients. I’ve worked with Peter for over 20 years but Jason now looks after the Snowden Racing stable.

“All horse dentists have a different style, some are rigid with their approach however our style is more instinctive based on the personality of the horse, which means Jason and I will adapt the typical steps taken according to the individual animal we’re dealing with.”

In addition to a loose tooth which can irritate a horse or turn them off their feed, horse’s teeth continually grow sharp edges therefore they need to be regularly filed down and shaped with tools to ensure they are comfortable to carry the steel bit (part of the bridle) in their mouth.

“The point in giving a racehorse or performance horse regular maintenance is to keep them comfortable in the mouth when they’re being ridden, and ensure there are no cuts inside the mouth or cheek due to a sharp tooth.

“Obviously you want your horse to be fuelled with as much food as possible too, but if there’s a loose tooth they may feel uncomfortable and not eat as well – just like us humans, so it’s important to keep on top of any loose teeth which need to be pulled out,” explained Beck.

Key tools used by an equine dentist, which at times requires strong upper body strength include: a gag (device to keep the jaw in place while teeth are being treated or filed), dental float (a file of various lengths and angles), forceps and elevators (used to remove baby teeth).

Being an ex-jockey, Lee says it’s more difficult working with horses on the ground because you’re having to read them differently without physically being on their back. Your awareness levels raise.

“It’s amazing how much body language you can pick up when on the back of a horse – from my perspective they’re much easier to read because you can mostly sense when they’re going to make a move.

“But when you’re on the ground, you’ve got to be extremely mindful the way you move your body around a horse, how you look at a horse and approach them. It’s completely different, I found it more challenging when I first started.”

Equine Dentistry Fast Facts:

  • A racehorse has 36 teeth which includes 24 molars & 12 incisors
  • Racehorses are on a 90 day maintenance cycle (this increases when juveniles start losing their teeth)
  • Between 2.5 and 4.5 years of age, is when a racehorse loses their baby teeth and transitions to a full set of adult teeth
  • A routine check-up takes between 15-20 mins per horse
  • Baby teeth are referred to a caps

Behavioural signs that you’re looking for when a racehorse needs dental treatment is when they’re doing something out of their normal behaviour, which could be playing with the bit, playing with their tongue, chewing on things, or spilling feed. This can more often mean that they are trying to get rid of a loose tooth.

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Words & Image: Sarah Peatling

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