We’re back with another edition of our Grill the Equestrian series. Earlier this month we booked our trusty equine dentist Mark Kane to come out and give the troublesome twosome their 6 month check-up. We’ve both used a few dentists in the time that we’ve had Coco and Dante and we can honestly say that Mark has been the best by far, so we figured it was about time we gave him a grilling! From wolf teeth to difficult horses, we’ve got the dish on what it’s really like spending your days with your arms half way down a horse’s throat!
What made you decide to become an equine dentist?
I wouldn’t say I was sure I wanted to be an Equine Dentist straight away but what I was 100 percent sure of was that I wanted to work with horses. Unfortunately I wasn’t book smart enough for veterinary and my older brother Patrick was already a farrier ( a job I was way too tall for anyway ) so the rest kind of figured itself out
What kind of training is involved to get qualified? What’s the process?
There’s all sorts of different schools/courses with different training methods all over the world I flew to America and studied in the American School of Equine Dentistry, we travelled from farm to farm and ranch to ranch and it was a wonderful hands on experience. Dr. Raymond Hyde and Jim Koostra are both fantastic dentists and teachers.
What is your favourite part of the job?
This is a toughie!! I love watching horses who I’ve worked on be successful in their respective fields. I’ve watched horses win championship races at Cheltenham and horses win classes at the RDS, but I think what I love most is treating a horse who isn’t in good shape dental wise, knowing that immediately after I close their mouth and walk away, they’re feeling 100 percent happier.
What is the hardest part of your job?
It used to be getting paid but after a few years of business I’ve smartened up to that! It can be hard juggling clientele sometimes, some people need you in a hurry for one reason or other, and even though you want to keep everyone happy, at the end of the day you’re running a business and it doesn’t pay to drive to Cavan on a Monday to treat one horse when you’re due there on Friday anyway, but I must say, all my clients now are very understanding like that.
What’s the worst thing that has happened to you when dealing with a difficult horse?
I’ve had plenty of bangs, kicks and bites, comes with the territory. One day I was working on a big 4yo sports horse in Kildare, he was nervous but we were getting along fine. Someone dropped a wheelbarrow outside the stable next to him and it made a loud bang, the horse spooked and caught me in the head with a front foot, thankfully he had no shoes on but I was pretty sore and dazed and that was the end of my work day.
What is one of the most interesting things you’ve learned?
I’ve learned that you can’t MAKE a horse do anything, they are half tonne animals and they’re an awful lot stronger than I am. Sure you can be assertive and show the horse you won’t be pushed around but fighting with a horse, there is only going to be one winner. I find talking nicely and whistling at them helps keep them calm! Works on my other half at home too 😀 😀
What is one of the most common issues you see in the horses you treat?
Plain old sharp points!! Due to the fact horses teeth grow at a consistent and constant level and the upper arcades of teeth overhang the lower, this leads to the upper rows growing sharp points on the buccal (outside ) side of the teeth and the lower rows getting sharp on the lingual (inside) side of the teeth. The first thing most dental techs will do to balance a mouth will be to remove these points.
What would be your top tip for horse owners?
My top tip for horse owners is routine. Every horse needs to be treated a MINIMUM of once a year, if your dental tech recommends every 6 months then it’s essential to follow their instruction. If a horse is having proper dental treatment regularly there should never be an issue
What kind of behaviours should owners look out for that indicate a visit from the dentist may be required? Are there any behaviours that wouldn’t necessarily indicate a tooth issue?
Head tossing, refusing to accept bit, dropping feed, pulling, there is any amount of signs, but again like above, if everything is treated in routine there should never be a real issue. Sadly sometimes by the time a tough bugger of a horse shows you something is wrong, something could be VERY very wrong. Biting! I have had calls to look at horses teeth because they keep biting their owners but I think that’s a very different issue 😀
Wolf Teeth! What is the story with them and what should owners look out for?
Wolf teeth operate very similarly to wisdom teeth in humans. They are useless and can cause bitting problems, they would have been used for fighting in the past but have become obsolete. Some wolf teeth cause no problems but most owners choose to have them removed as a matter of precaution, other times horses will react violently to a bit when wolf teeth are present. Interestingly I have seen an increase in “blind” wolf teeth (teeth that are present but have failed to grow through the gum), these can be extremely painful and I can only put the rise of these cases down to evolution.
What are the consequences of a bad dentist job? Can this cause other physical problems with your horse?
A bad dentist job can have all sorts of consequences, sometimes enough work isn’t done and issues like sharp points, waves, hooks , ridges, are just ignored which puts pressure on a horses TMJ joint. Other times far too much is done, over rounding of the horses chewing surface (called doming) making it difficult for them to break down their food or in extreme cases even killing the tooth.
Would you have any recommendations for helping owners figure out what size/kind of bit they should use with their horse?
I always advise to start off with a plain snaffle, simpler the better, and work your way up as you need to. Its easy to notice a bit too large as it’ll be sliding everywhere in their mouth, but too small a bit will pinch their cheeks causing painful lesions so watch out for those.
Do you think you’d be cut out to do dentistry in humans or do you prefer working with patients who can’t speak back?
100 percent not 😀 if a horse kicks or bites me I can curse at them in retaliation, that wouldn’t go down well in a human dentists office 😀
Lastly, and it may be a stupid question, but should we as horse owners be brushing our horse’s teeth?
No that’s not necessary, just make sure your dental tech brushes them for you at least once a year 😀
And there you have the ins and outs of being an equine dentist. We’ll be honest, it’s not a job we’d fancy doing ourselves so we’re grateful to have Mark on-hand to make sure Coco and Dante are kept happy.
If you’re in the market for a new dentist, check out Mark’s facebook page: Mark Kane Equine Dentist. He’s based in Co. Meath but travels all around Ireland and also makes trips to the UK so be sure to get in touch.
Hope you all found this as interesting as we did!
Until next time,
Orla & Darielle