Introduction

Equine welfare is the basis for good horsemanship and the pleasure it brings with it. Any further development in the area should be based on this presumption and to facilitate that, rider‘s knowledge of equine biology is a key factor.

The aim of this web site is to make good quality material on the subject of equine mouth and teeth, as well as on suitable bits and bridles and the use of those, accessible to the general rider. Important aspects of equine behaviour and training methods focusing on equine welfare are touched upon. The material is suited for anyone riding Icelandic horses, professionals and pastime riders alike.

Since 2002, the health of horses competing at all major meets in Iceland has been monitored systematically, including mouth inspection. It has been revealed that up to 40% of the competing horses show some degree of injuries in this sensitive area of their body.  This is not acceptable.

With only few exceptions, all mouth lacerations of Icelandic horses in competition are caused by pressure which can be traced to the bridle (bits or noseband) and/or to the constant forces applied through the reins. Teeth related problems, for instance wolf teeth, fractures and various malfunctions, can be an underlying factor.  Damages caused by the horse chewing the bits are frequent, and there are examples of individuals suffering from toothache as a result. 

The findings of those health checks at competitions are in accordance with recent research showing that inappropriate equipment and/or its incorrect use, along with the ignorance of equine oral biology, is the major reason for the frequent mouth damages found in horses. Teeth damage is often caused by the same. A lack of knowledge regarding the nature and structure of the teeth often leads to improper handling which in turn can result in irreparable damage of the health and durability of the horse. 

In the past, diverse equipment has been developed and used to facilitate communication between  horse and rider, the objective being the rider’s control over the horse. It is not by coincidence that typically this control is conveyed through the mouth, as this part of the body is very soft and sensitive. Unsuitable equipment is frequently used by riders of the Icelandic horse. In particular this applies to the bits: the length and thickness but also the material. Nosebands can cause prolonged pressure on the mucosa, leading to mouth sores. When choosing the equipment, riders must take the variability between horses into account. This is particularly important at the initial stages of training, especially if the horse is young and thus immature and vulnerable.

In recent decades there has been considerable development in the riding and training of Icelandic horses, resulting in better treatment. At the same time, there has been increased demand for better form and greater results, in particular for horses used in shows and competitions, which probably has lead to the high rate of oral injuries.

To be able to fully explore the individual horse’s abilities, and for  animal welfare reasons, it is of vital importance that riders understand the structure and function of the mouth and teeth, as well as the effects of different bits, nosebands etc., on those organs and on the horse itself. This will assist in minimising the risk of using unsuitable tack  and the misuse of equipment and thus enhance  preventing mouth injuries. 

Foals and young horses have got deciduous teeth. The crowns of those are similar to those of the adult teeth but their roots are short and do not develop. The deciduous teeth are shed and replaced with permanent ones during the age span of 2.5 to 4-5 years. The completion of the dentition is in most horses over by the age of 5, although in some cases the canines may be hidden until the horse is 7 or even 8.