Do you have a horse who refuses to turn one way or the other? Does your horse consistently fall off the lead behind after a reluctant lead exchange? Will your horse work fine in a halter or hackamore, but won't accept a snaffle? Do you know a horse who carries his chin too high or tucks his head until his chin is on his chest? All of these evasions are typical characteristics of wolf teeth.
Many riders will swear that their horse couldn't have a wolf tooth, because they have already been extracted. Not every extraction goes well and some wolf teeth are missed (everyone misses one now and then, including me). There can even be wolf teeth that never erupted through the gum tissue. I have found many of these un-erupted wolf teeth in international horses, horses who have been fighting their riders for years. Extract the tooth and the resistance is over. Broken wolf teeth are among the most painful and will often cause the horse to react violently to the bit and rein pressure.
The classic position for a wolf tooth is directly in front of the first upper molar, but being the wild card of the mouth, the position and number can vary. From a purely un-scientific study, conducted by me, relying on anecdotal observations, the stallion stamps the wolf tooth formations upon the foal. If the stallion has two large wolf teeth, chances are each one of his foals will have two large wolf teeth. That conclusion comes from observing hundreds of foals from certain stallions over many years.
The rarest formation is to have wolf teeth on the lower jaw. Lower wolf teeth elicit even more pronounced evasions from the horse and they are often overlooked because dentists rarely look for lower wolf teeth.
All too often, people confuse canines on the male horse (and occasionally on the mare) for wolf teeth. Wolf teeth are not sexually exclusive. The canines are large teeth easily visible between the incisors and molars. These are usually reduced by the dentist for safety reasons. They have no purpose for the modern domestic horse; they are thought to have been used for fighting and displays of aggression in wild horses. They have large roots with a distal curvature. The root is more than twice as large as the body of the tooth; extraction is generally performed only after the tooth and surrounding bone are broken, usually as the result of an accident like grabbing a cross tie chain and pulling back.
The problem with wolf teeth seems to arise when the teeth are hit with a bit, thus causing pain. If a horse has a wolf tooth on the 'near side,' he will usually give you back your left rein and come in hard to your right rein. A good rider is all too often judged on how he can compensate to overcome a dental problem.
Comprehensive dental work that includes extraction of those pesky wolf teeth allows a horse and rider to work on realizing their potential rather than training to compensate for wolf teeth. One of the easiest ways to check for a wolf tooth is to work the horse with a hackamore or Bitless Bridle and see if the problem disappears.
Always remember to sit in the middle with a leg on each side, a deep seat, and a far away look. That's the way John Wayne did it and it worked well for him.
Steve Sampson is a natural horseman, a dual citizen of the US and Canada, and has made his living from horses for over 40 years. He lives in rural Southern California with his beloved Catahoulas and horses and services an international equine dental business. His first book, on horses and people, is scheduled for publication later this year. Contact Dr. Sampson at email@example.com
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