Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Feeding Practices, Equine Dental Health - and Whiskers?

In the past twenty years I have only had one horse I've raised require dental floating. I have had rescues and "rehome" horses needing work but, when my vet or dental professional has checked my horses it's always been "They're fine, we'll check again next visit".
I was reminded of this seeing the recent article from Kentucky Equine Research (KER) - Feeding Practices May Impact Horse Dental Health which explains how many modern diets and horse keeping practices can affect our horses' teeth.
I'm fortunate in Arizona to not have the lush green pasture often prized by many horse owners. As some owners with "easy keeper" horses discover, this beautiful pasture can be far from ideal for their horses' health and they find themselves ripping out grass to make "Paddock Paradise" tracks and dry lots.
My Arizona "Pasture"
My horses get to "graze" on mesquite, chaparral, prickly pear cactus and other desert bounty in addition to their main diet of ground-fed Bermuda hay with Timothy pellets added for variety.  When it's windy I place their hay in nets at a fairly low level and with extreme weather, they eat directly from floor mats in the barn. They've gotten quite good at ferreting out the stray clump of grass that shows up during rainy season and don't seem to have problems with the annual mesquite bean crop - likely because they ease into them as they ripen with daily access so don't gorge like a horse with limited turnout might.

Along with good dental health, I haven't had sand issues from ground feeding, either.  I attribute this to always having hay available so their gut is never empty, feeding a substantial amount of (molasses-free) beet pulp daily with their supplements which supplies some pectin and mucilage, and never clipping muzzle hair.  I don't advocate direct ground feeding for show horses which may be clipped as they are lacking vibrissae - the essential, extremely sensitive whiskers which allow the horse to feel tiny differences - such as separating a flake of food from a grain of sand.  Because of the importance of the facial vibrissae to the horse, including for protection from eye trauma, trimming equine facial whiskers has been outlawed in Germany. See the fascinating discussion of sensory perception in the horse at the link below.

Warm regards,
Patti in Sunny, Warm Vail AZ


KER article: Feeding Practices May Impact Horse Dental Health

Vibrissae - general in mammals:

Vibrissae - importance to perception in the horse