Equine dentistry makes a lot of horse sense to Raglan West resident Jess Warner — but she reckons everyone looks at her like she’s “talking nonsense” when she reveals her new career.
Jess had just dealt to the sharp enamel points in the mouth of a 24-year-old stallion belonging to an accomplished local equestrian, and at the same time extracted a couple of “wolf teeth” from a two-year-old filly at the same stables, when the Chronicle caught up with her last week.
And then there was some dental work to be done on other locals’ horses up Wainui Road and out Riria Kereopa Memorial Drive where a well known horse-trainer regularly exercises her trotters and pacers on the beach.
The work’s certainly not horsing around, Jess confirms — it’s serious stuff, and physically challenging.
Sometimes she’s elbow-deep inside the mouths of big horses, working with floats or rasps — the tools of the trade — as the horse’s mouth is held wide open by a fixed metal speculum.
“I thought I’m never going to be able to do this, I can’t even find the teeth!” Jess confesses of her first attempts at equine dentistry as a student on a specialised six-month course at Te Kowhai.
She’s been riding and working with horses for 20-odd years, in her native Scotland and in Australia, but when she looked to build on her zoology degree and love of horses it was the NZ Equine Dentistry School — which recently transferred from Pukekohe to Te Kowhai — which caught her eye.
That brought Jess to Raglan, where she works part-time in the local pub while also travelling to stud and even polo farms as part of the NZQA-registered certificate course.
Jess has since discovered not only teeth inside horses’ mouths, but also that accessing them is all about practice and technique — and keeping herself calm. “They relax when you know what you’re doing, and every day you get better (at the job). Every day is a challenge for me.”
Horses’ general wellbeing can be really affected by their teeth, she explains. And it makes “so much sense” to her that pain from the mouth — often aggravated by the wearing of a bit — can create all sorts of other ailments in the horse’s body.
Added to that is the fact horses graze 18 hours a day on hay and different grains which tend to wear down their teeth, often leading to nutrition problems. And unlike humans they can’t actually do without their teeth, Jess points out.
So what’s the most satisfying part of the job? It’s simply to see a horse happier and more comfortable, Jess says. So great is their reliance on their teeth that just half an hour’s work can make all the difference.