Man perfects equine denistry
Aug. 26, 2014 at 5:57 p.m.
Two reasons to care
• Performance: A horse is controlled by the bit in its mouth. If it's not able to carry a bit well because of sharp points or mouth ulcers, it's likely the horse won't respond as the trainer wants it to. A healthy mouth means the horse can wear the bit well and respond to the owner's commands.
To learn more about horse dental hygiene, read five things to know about a horse's mouth.
Sources: David Warren, Kalyon Sullins Robinson
Thumbing around the mouth of a horse is normal in David Warren's line of work.
He's a horse dentist.
For the past 18 years, Warren, 45, has fixed the oral problems of equines.
"There's not many (horse dentists)," he said. "Regular dentists will do it, but not many just do this."
He said he saw a need to focus on the niche of equine dentistry and went into business for himself in 1996.
Now, he travels throughout the South Central Texas region as well as the occasional visit north to the Waco and Dallas area to meet horses who need his attention.
Warren's truck is now his mobile clinic - full of tools and medicine for each exam, which can last about 30 to 40 minutes as long as there are no major issues.
Fitted into his truck's bed, there are drawers and compartments that hold stainless steel tools that look like something out of a Frankenstein novel.
"This has prongs that fit under the gums to help you grip the tooth," Warren said, pointing at a pair of 19-inch forceps.
Fortunately, it's not often that he has to use them.
During a routine he's executed thousands of times, he'll use a stethoscope to listen to the hearts of all of his equine patients and then run his fingers near the eyes and jawbones of the horses to assess potential issues he might find when he puts his hands and arms in their mouths.
This time, Warren's patient, Denver, a 7-year-old American Quarter Horse mare, has given him nothing to worry about.
A quick shot of sedatives will calm her down, which will also keep her owner, Cathy Sullins, 51, of Victoria, safe from a nervous buck.
"It usually takes a minute or two to kick in," Warren said.
Once it does, Sullins stands close by, stroking Denver's gray coat as her eyelids start to droop.
Warren will prop Denver's heavy head on stand and drops to his knee to prepare to work. He tests the balance of her jaw and then checks the sharp points of her teeth, which can make it painful for a horse to not only eat but also wear a bridle.
"You can see a big difference between the before and after," Kaylon Sullins Robinson, 27, of Lockhart, who is a horse trainer and Sullins' daughter, said about the exam. "There's a big difference in how they carry a bit."
Part of her work as a trainer includes knowing the different kinds of bits available and the uses of each one.
Sullins Robinson said the bits and the horse's dental hygiene are very closely related to how a horse will behave during training.
"Some people will train a horse, so the horse knows the bit," she said. "People need to look more at the bits they use."
It's also important, Sullins added, that people know that a good bit can go bad.
Wear and tear from the horse's teeth is normal because their teeth continue to grow well into their adult years.
That's when Warren can step in and provide routine maintenance and ensure the horse and trainer are working as efficiently as possible given the bits used in training or performances.
"A good bit is one that works for your horse and is kind," Sullins Robinson said.
Prepared with battery-powered floating tools, he can smooth Denver's molars and ensure she can carry a bit with no problem.
His diamond-plated float blades are affixed to long stainless steel rods that help him reach her back teeth and make it more comfortable for her to grind her feed as well as avoid pain when carrying a bit.
With a few whirls and whizzes of his tools, the teeth become smooth, and Sullins will not have to worry whether her mare is uncomfortable.
It's been a little over a year since Denver had a checkup with Warren, and in 12 more months, the sharp points that were dulled down will have grown again.
"If you're not careful, you can cut yourself on them," Sullins said.
Until then, Denver will recover from Warren's sedatives and return to her normal routine free of buzzing tools in her mouth.
"Her exam was pretty average," he said.