Chewing on the bit

I had a someone contact me the other day with a question on chewing on the bit:

She was asking why her horse was chewing at the bit and whether she should go from the snaffle to a shank. I explained that I would lean toward the wolf teeth first before I would think about what sort of bit was being used.

Wolf teeth, not to be confused with Canine teeth – Canine teeth are usually found only in the mouths of male horses, including stallions and geldings. Also referred to as ‘tusks’, ‘tushes’ or ‘bridle teeth’, the lower canine teeth normally erupt at age four, with the upper canine teeth following at age five.

 Canine teeth appear in the mouth for the purpose of fighting — as stallions compete for mares during breeding season. However, they also play a role in chewing, whereas wolf teeth do not. Interestingly, canine teeth do appear in up to 20% of mares, but they are usually very small.

What to do if your horse has wolf teeth

It makes sense to remove these potentially troublesome teeth before you attempt any serious work with your young horse. You don’t want your horse to associate any discomfort or pain in his mouth with being worked. Horses can develop bad habits such chewing on the bit or head shaking, lunging their head and neck down toward the ground and twisting their heads through having long term pain, associating that pain with being ridden, creating anxiety in the horse which can go on for years before it is diagnosed as never having their wolf teeth extracted. These bad habits and anxiety can take a long time to retrain those bad habits out of the horses mind. Wolf teeth are on the bars of the mouth and where the bit may settle. For this reason alone, they may need to be removed.

Wolf teeth can cause a young horse to fight the bit or even the pressure of a hackamore. Any pressure on the horse’s cheeks is capable of rubbing on these teeth. Wolf teeth tend to be pointed, so they can cause some discomfort.
Wolf teeth show up right in front of the second premolars. An individual horse may have none, one, two, or four wolf teeth. Generally, a horse with wolf teeth will have just two – both located on the upper jaw. Wolf teeth may be found in the mouths of both sexes, but the key difference is they no longer serve a purpose. Wolf teeth are the vestiges of evolution, which is why they’re often called ‘vestigial’ or ‘remnant’ teeth.

The proximity of the bit to the wolf teeth often results in discomfort and pain. Wolf teeth erupt at an earlier age than canines— around six to eight months. Rarely, wolf teeth may show up as late as two to three years of age, but most yearlings obviously either have them or not. A few horses never have a problem with their wolf teeth, but many horses do. Since wolf teeth do not serve any good purpose, removing them makes good sense. They can often be blind — meaning they haven’t erupted through the gum, these “blind” teeth are actually worse than the erupted wolf teeth. They can even be floating with no root attachment. For these reasons, extraction is often recommended for wolf teeth. Wolf teeth are small, peg-like teeth, which sit just in front of the first cheek teeth. Most times in my 30 odd years of training they would hide just under the surface and annoy the horse when bitted up. I would always get my dentist in before my young horses were brought in to be broken in. I would only mouth them approximately 6 months into their training, not until they had a fair idea of how to carry a rider on their backs and most of the leg and hand cues then I would think about mouthing them.

Wolf Teeth

With the wolf teeth removed it is also easier to put in a proper bit seat.

A small wolf tooth, (top of photo)

If you have an adult horse who consistently fights the bit or acts uncomfortable, it is worth having your equine dentist do a thorough exam.

Have your horses teeth examined at least once a year.

No wolf tooth does any good and may do harm, so extract them all.

Certainly, if your horse is performing well, has no problems, and a wolf tooth finding is just an incidental, you may not want to put him through the procedure to remove the teeth. Their presence should be noted though, and if problems do show up, such as head tossing, avoiding the bit, etc, wolf teeth removal should be considered.

In my experience, 9 times out of 10, having these little booger’s removed was the answer to having a safe, happy, willing horse.

Good example how a horses mouth can be overlooked, just imagine!

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I am a retired professional horse trainer, active Certified rider coach, I coach riders and their horses throughout Australia and New Zealand, I am the author of the book From Go To Whoa - Training Your Own Horse, I am also a Certified Nutritionist and a professional Keto Coach. I am a keen fisher woman and I love the gym where I weight train 4 days a week. I travel Australia full time now with my husband and our Jack Russell Doug, booking and holding clinics and lessons throughout the country for many remote horse riders as well as not so remote. I love coaching riders and their horses along with helping people with nutrition and the ketogenic diet.

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