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Tom Balding Bits & Spurs

Bits and Pieces from Tom Balding Bits & Spurs

  • Steel Buckles - Tom's Newest Project

    Steel Buckles - Tom's Newest Project

    In 2012 Lyle Lovett approached Tom about making a very unique buckle for his girlfriend April. Tom took this challenge to heart and developed a steel buckle he could tie into the distinctive look of his bits and spurs. He played with different shapes, finishes, and overlay concepts and came up with a squared buckle in his signature brown finish featuring his stainless dots in a progressively smaller corner orientation. Lyle further customized the buckle with a personal message stamped on the backside and presented it to a very happy April. Since then Tom has built different orientations of this steel buckle concept for several customers including a guest ranch. This blog is the step by step walk through of the process it takes to complete these beautiful buckles. Please note that these are broad steps that hold many small steps within. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

    Step one: The name, logo, or initials are determined.

    APRIL 0

    AH 1



    Step two: The overlay is hand cut from sterling silver or alternatively chosen material.

    AH 2


    Step three: The back of the buckle is welded as per the fastening preference.

    AH 3


    Step four: Embellishments (dots, etc) are welded in place and the overlays are soldered on.

    APRIL 1

    AH 4


    Step five: The buckle is smoothed out and high polished.

    APRIL 2

    AH 5

    AH 6


    Step six: The colored finish is applied and baked or cured onto the steel.

    APRIL 3


    Step seven: If applicable the overlay is hand engraved for extra flash.

    APRIL 4


    Step eight: If applicable a message is hand stamped and then filled with red paint to accentuate the letters.

    APRIL 5 (1)


    Step nine: The silver overlay is hand polished and the buckle is ready to wear!

    APRIL 5 (2)

    AH 7


    To see some of the 'buy it now' options we have adapted into our website please click here.

    Thank you for checking out our blog! ~ Tom Balding Team


    So Many Say It Better Then We Do...

    We have been very fortunate to have many articles written about our company. Sometimes we have found others can say it better then we can. We recently had the following article published in Western & English today. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

    We also have many of the articles here on our site:  



    WE-article-1-799x1024 WE-article-2-778x1024 WE-article-3-725x1024


  • Your Questions Answered!

    Your Questions Answered!


    "I have read Amy's article on bits and was wondering (much contention in the household) about the correct fitting of a curb shank bit in the horse's mouth. How tight or loose should it sit. Are there different rules for different types of mounts i.e. soft, heavy, pushy. If you can advise it would be very much appreciated. I am in Australia so email would be your best way of communication. I would also really like to put the answer in Reining Australia's Slider newsletter so if you would like to write an article of any length that would be awesome.


    "Dear Sonya,

    A general rule of thumb when correctly fitting a bit to a horse's mouth snaffle or curb would be to look for one wrinkle in corner of the mouth/lips. Occasionally, a horse that has a very soft mouth may need no wrinkle meaning you loose the bit to one hole or both but it still sits firmly in the corners. The same philosophy maybe used for se cathedral bits or bits with high ports because ideally these bits should be used on a very well broke horse that needs little pressure placed in its mouth for direction or guidance. Some of these bits are often seen in Vaquero or cow horses and again are intended for broke horses that are guided by the rider's seat and legs. The higher port also maybe used to help "set" the horses headed meaning a small amount of pressure is placed on the reins and the horses flexes at the poll, then the withers the croup and has a rounded appearance.

    However, please keep in mind allowing a horse to wear a bit that is to low or to high in its mouth may promote an uncomfortable feeling and the horse may exhibit signs of discomfort such as tossing its head, shaking its head and even trying to place it's tongue over the top of the port or mouthpiece.

    Also, horses prefer different mouthpieces just like we all prefer different shoes. What's comfortable for one person may not feel good for another. We also want to make sure that the bars fit the horse properly (the mouthpiece) and again like a pair of shoes this piece of the bit is not to wide or narrow in the horses mouth.

    I hope this has helped with your questions and please feel free up send pictures and or videos if needed.


    Amy K. McLean, PhD

    Equine Specialist

    North Carolina State University"

  • Is this bit legal?

    Is This Bit Legal?

    We are often asked if a bit is legal for a particular association. We don't mind finding out for you! In fact we have accumulated a mini data base of what is legal right now in certain associations and thought we would share it with you. Below you will find answers to all your bit related questions for the NRCHA, NRHA, and AQHA. If we have missed your association please let us know and we will complete the research and get it posted as soon as possible.

    We have many buy it now options on our website for both shank bits or snaffle bits. We hope you are able to find the exact bit you are looking for. However if you have any questions or cannot find a particular bit online please give us a call at 1-307-672-8459.



    NRCHA (taken directly from the 2013 NRCHA rulebook):

    5.2 A spade bit or a bit having the following characteristics must be used in any of the bridle classes. Said characteristics shall be: one with an unbroken bar mouthpiece with one inch or higher port measured from the bottom of the bar to the top of the port. There must be an operable cricket or roller (with single for multiple rings) incorporated within the mouthpiece of the bit. It is legal to have a barrel made of copper or metal, wrapped around the bar space of the bit and is to be considered a part of the mouthpiece. The barrel must be round, smooth, and made up of one continuous, unbroken piece. The minimum diameter, on any part of the bar of the mouthpiece, is 5/16 inch. Bars must be round, oval or egg shaped smooth and unwrapped metal. Latex wrap or any foreign material is not acceptable. Nothing may protrude below the mouthpiece (bar), such as extensions or prongs. The cheeks must be connected at the bottom. The overall length of the bit shall not be longer than 8 1/2 inches measured from the inside bottom of the top of headstall ring to point of pull in the bottom ring. Optional tongue release shall not exceed 3 inches in width.

    5.3 Braces, copper port cover and/or having copper smoothly inlaid in the mouthpiece are optional. The use of bosal, martingale or tie-down is prohibited (bosal permitted in Two Rein class only). No wire, chain or other metal or rawhide device may be used in conjunction with the bit or a part of the leather chin strap. Leather chin strap must be flat, flexible and at least 1/2 inch wide. No metal rivets are allowed to come in contact with the chin, or chin groove of the horse. Metal keepers are not acceptable on the chin strap.


    5.6 Snaffle Bit shall be either “D” or “O” Ring type, no larger than 4 inches in diameter on the inside of the ring. They must have a broken, 2 piece, mouth piece, being a minimum of 5/16 inch in diameter, measured 1 inch in from the inside of the ring on the snaffle bit, with a gradual decrease to center of the snaffle. The mouthpiece should be round, oval or egg-shaped, smooth and unwrapped metal. It may be inlaid, but must be smooth. Latex wrap is not acceptable. These bits must be such that when the reins are pulled no undue leverage is applied, i.e. the inside of the circumference of the ring must be free of rein, curb, or head stall attachments. A leather or other woven material chin strap of any width is to be used. No iron, chain or other material may be used.



    NRHA (taken directly from the 2014 NRCHA rulebook):

    SNAFFLE BIT- References to snaffle bits mean conventional O-ring, egg-butt, or D-ring with a ring no larger than 4” and no smaller than 2”. The inside circumference of the ring must be free of rein, curb or headstall attachments which would provide leverage. The mouthpiece should be round, oval or egg-shaped, smooth and free of wire. It may be inlaid, but smooth and/or latex wrapped. The bars must be a minimum of 5 ⁄16” in diameter, measured 1” in from the cheek with a gradual decrease to center of the snaffle. Optional curb strap is acceptable however curb chains are not acceptable.

    BIT - References to a bit means the use of a curb bit that has a solid or broken mouthpiece, has shanks and acts with leverage. All curb bits must be free of mechanical device and should be considered a standard western bit. A standard western bit includes:

    • 8 1⁄2” maximum length shank to be measured as indicated in the judge’s guide. Shanks may be fixed or loose
    • Concerning mouthpieces, bars must be round, oval or egg-shaped, smooth and free of wire of 5⁄16” to ¾” in diameter, measured 1” from the cheek. They may be inlaid, but must be smooth or latex wrapped. Nothing may protrude more than 1⁄8” below the mouthpiece (bar)
    • The port must be no higher then 3 1⁄2” maximum, with rollers and covers acceptable. Broken mouthpieces, half breeds, and spades are standard.
    • Slip or gag bits, donuts or flat polo mouthpieces are not acceptable

    CURB - When a curb bit is used, a curb strap or curb chain is required, which must be at least ½” in width, lie flat against the jaw, and be free of barbs, wire, and/or twists





    AQHA (taken directly from the 2014 AQHA rulebook):

    WESTERN - Snaffle bits in western performance classes mean the conventional O-ring, egg-butt or D-ring with a ring no larger than 4” in diameter (100 mm). The inside circumference of the ring must be free of rein, curb or headstall attachments which would provide leverage. The mouthpiece should be round, oval or egg-shaped, smooth and unwrapped metal. It may be inlaid, but smooth or latex-wrapped. The bars must be a minimum of 5/16” (8 mm) in diameter, measured one inch (25 mm) in from the cheek with a gradual decrease to center of the snaffle. The mouthpiece may be two or three pieces. A three-piece, connecting ring of 1 1/4” (32 mm) or less in diameter, or a connecting flat bar of 3/8” to 3/4”(10 mm to 20 mm) measured top to bottom, with a maximum length of 2” (50 mm), which lies flat in the horse’s mouth, is acceptable. Optional leather strap attached below the reins on a snaffle bit is acceptable.

    Bit in western performance classes means the use of a curb bit that has a solid or broken mouthpiece, has shanks and acts with leverage. All curb bits must be free of mechanical device and should be considered a standard western bits

    The description of a legal, standard western bit includes:

    • 8 1/2” (215 mm) maximum length shank to be measured as indicated in the diagram on the previous page. Shanks may be fixed or loose
    • concerning mouthpieces, bars must be round, oval or egg shaped, smooth and unwrapped metal of 5/16” to 3/4” (8 mm to 20 mm) in diameter, measured 1” (25 mm) from the cheek. However, wire on the sway bars (above the bars and attaching to the spade) of a traditional spade bit is acceptable. They may be inlaid, but must be smooth or latex wrapped. Nothing may protrude below the mouthpiece (bar), such as extensions or prongs, including upward prongs on solid mouthpieces. The mouthpiece may be two or three pieces. A three-piece, connecting ring of 1 1/4” (32 mm) or less in diameter, or a connecting flat bar of 3/8” to 3/4” (10mm to 20 mm) measured top to bottom with a maximum length of 2” (50 mm), which lies flat in the horse’s mouth, is acceptable;
    • the port must be no higher than 3 1/2” (90 mm) maximum, with rollers and covers acceptable. Broken mouthpieces, halfbreeds and spades are standard;
    • donut and flat polo mouthpieces are not acceptable;
    • a curb bit must be used with a curb strap or curb chain properly attached so as to make contact with horse’s chin;
    • slip or gag bit is permitted in speed events



    ENGLISH - In all English classes, an English snaffle (no shank), kimberwick, pelham and/or full bridle (with two reins), all with cavesson nosebands and plain leather brow bands must be used.

    In reference to mouthpieces, nothing may protrude below the mouthpiece (bar). Solid and broken mouthpieces must be between 5/16” to 3/4” (8 mm to 20 mm) in diameter, measured 1” (25 mm) from the cheek and may have a port no higher than 1 1/2” (40 mm). They may be inlaid, synthetic wrapped, including rubber or plastic or incased, but must be smooth. On broken mouthpieces only, connecting rings of 1 1/4” (32 mm) or less in diameter or connecting flat bar of 3/8” to 3/4” (10 mm to 20 mm) measured top to bottom with a maximum length of 2” (50 mm), which lie flat in the horse’s mouth, are acceptable. Snaffle bit rings may be no larger than 4” (100 mm) in diameter. Any bit having a fixed rein requires use of a curb chain. Smooth round, oval or egg-shaped, slow twist, corkscrew, single twisted wire, double twisted wire mouthpieces and straight bar or solid mouthpieces are allowed.


    NCHA (taken directly from the 2014 NCHA rulebook):

    Dress & Equipment Requirements (as per Rule 16)
    Horses must be ridden with a bridle having a bit in the mouth or with a hackamore. A bridle shall have no nose band or bosal and hackamores shall be of rope or braided rawhide with no metal parts. A judge must be able to freely pass two fingers between the hackamore and muzzle completely around the horse's nose. Choke ropes, tie downs, wire around the horse's neck, nose, or brow band, tight nose band, quirt, bat or mechanical device giving the rider undue control over a horse will not be permitted in the arena where an NCHA approved or sponsored event is being held. Wire of any kind and on any part of the curb device is not permissible. Breast collar may be used, no portion of which may pass over the horse's neck. Chaps and spurs may be worn. Chinks (any leggings not reaching the boot) are not permitted attire in the Contest Arena. Any time a contestant is guilty of an infraction of this rule or any part therein, he shall be disqualified. A judge has the right to have a contestant report to him if he is suspicious of any infraction of Rule 16.
    Horses in the Snaffle Bit class may be ridden with a bridle having a snaffle bit only and shall have no noseband. Twisted wire snaffles shall not be used. Snaffle bits are to be a minimum of 10mm (3/8”) and have a smooth single jointed mouth piece. Bosals and Hackamores may be used. They shall be of rope or braided rawhide and have no metal parts.
    We currently have an email into NCHA to get better details regarding what makes a bit legal vs illegal. We should have this information posted soon!
  • Native American Jewelry

    Native American Jewelry

    Did you know that we carefully hand select every piece of Native American Jewelry we have in our gift shop from a buyer that scours the country for the highest quality out there? I guess you could say all of our Native American Jewelry is double hand-picked, the best of the best, vetted, top notch, fitting for royalty, or otherwise thoroughly examined before entering our show room.

    Because each item is one of a kind, and usually does not stay in the store for very long, we are not able to put everything up on our website. So stop in and check out what we have that day or let us know what you are looking for and we can send you images of the items we have that match. Each handcrafted piece of jewelry is truly a work of art from many talented Native American jewelry makers across the western states. As a true testament to the quality of the pieces; a fair number of them end up going home with the office staff!

    If there is a particular style or piece you are looking for and we don't have it in the shop we can take down the information and keep our eye out for it during our purchase days, and hopefully get you exactly what you are looking for. You, our customers, are always the most important aspect of everything we do, so please feel free to make requests!

    We hope to see you soon!



    Here is a little history on Native American Jewelry:

  • Equine behavioral problems and suggested remedies

    Equine Behavioral Problems And Suggested Remedies

    Equine behavior is an evolving science. There’s been an increased interest from researchers, especially from Europe and Australia, in how we train and manage equine in relation to their behavior. Many behavioral problems such as cribbing (wind sucking), stall weaving, or flank biting are vices, or the more current term, stereotypies that man has created based on observation. A stereotypy is an abnormal behavior that serves no function or purpose to an animal. 

    Equine are designed to graze for long periods of time, such as 16-17 hours per day.  Due to the increase in urban growth, specific restraints, and jobs we expect horses to perform, we have begun to limit the amount of time a horse spends outside including the amount of time they spend “grazing” or consuming forage. Most horses are on a strict feeding schedule that revolves around help, management, and people’s jobs therefore the animal that is use to grazing for a long period of time is now restricted to consuming one, or possibly two, large meals twice a day at very specific times.  Feeding horses on a strict routine often increases anxiety and unwanted behaviors like pawing or walking continuously in their stall. Then we reward the horses for such behavior by giving them food. Essentially, we have taught our horses if they paw they will be fed. However, there is no simple answer for the change in how we keep horses.  Most owners do not have access to enough land enabling continuous grazing. However, if they did, it is likely they would still keep their horses up at some point to observe them or to keep them in shape for competition. 

    In many European stables, and even some race horse farms, horses are fed three to four times throughout the day to try and decrease stereotypies such as cribbing, stall walking or even pawing for a meal.  All diets are also weighed out so the horse is not being over or under fed which can also lead to behavioral problems. Keeping in mind not all horses display abnormal behavior but those that do are generally derived from having limited turn out, limited fiber sources, and may have stressful or demanding work out regimes. Most of today’s performance horses at some point in their career will likely develop ulcers due to exercising at a trot or canter for most of their exercise regime.  Gastric Ulcers can be very painful for horses and also create some of the unwanted behaviors such as cribbing, agitation and stall walking.  Granted proactive horsemen will allow horses to have turn out time.

    Some horsemen will even supply an anxious or nervous horse with a companion animal to decrease anxiety such as a goat or miniature donkey.  This is seen quite often for horses that are on the road traveling and in new environments for most of the year.  Other conditions that may lead to abnormal behavior are related directly to the horse’s health.  A good horseman will recognize abnormal behavior in a timely manner, such as: a horse lying down constantly, looking at its flanks, not eating its food, consuming little to no water, or a decrease in the horse’s performance.  A leading cause in decreased performance, and abnormal behavior, in performance horses is usually linked with the high incidence of gastric ulcers.  Many horsemen will have their horses scoped for ulcers and or treat with a calcium bicarbonate product; assuming their horse already has ulcers. Many owners or trainers will allow horses to consume forages higher in calcium or will supply more hay to stabled horses, which has the benefit of making them less susceptible to developing gastric ulcers. 

    Other factors that can contribute to ill behavior are related to equipment that horses are subjected to and how that equipment is used.  Much research has gone into measuring pressure applied to a horse’s back in relation to how a rider sits on it, where weight is or isn’t being distributed, as well as how the saddle fits.   A horse with a sore back may develop habits such as becoming “cold back” meaning it maybe hard to get on at first, and even raise its back and offer to buck.  If horses are in enough pain they may bite at the rider as they go to mount and or even throw them off when riding.  A more stoic horse will still continue to perform under pain but eventually its performance may decrease and even develop abnormalities within its gaits to overcome pain. 

    Another area where a horse may experience pain from equipment being improperly used is from the bit and bridle. Problems that can arise from improper use of a bridle and bit include: the headstall and bit don’t properly fit,  the curb strap/chain is adjusted to tight, or the bit is to large or small for the horse’s mouth.  When such problems arise with the headstall not properly fitting, a horse maybe more reluctant to let one bridle him and toss his head way in the air.  He may also refuse to open his mouth.  In severe cases the horse may even rear up and if he learns to rear to avoid being bridled, or when bridled, and it causes the person to get off, then the horse has learned to rear up to escape the situation.  Other behavioral problems with bridling a horse maybe due to a dental condition such as a young horse that needs to have the caps removed from its teeth or the horse may have teeth called wolf teeth. Horses that have wolf teeth, which lie in the bars of the horse’s mouth where the bit should comfortable sit, would cause a horse to rear and resist pressure being placed on its mouth.  A horse may also exhibit abnormal or resistant behavior when being ridden due to an inexperience rider giving mixed cues or never releasing pressure being applied with their hands and or legs.

    Equine behavior is essential to proper training, riding, and care of your horse. Part of being a responsible horseman is being able to recognize the signs of a horse displaying abnormal behavior.  Behavioral problems can be as serious as life threatening colic to something as simply as loosing the curb strap by one notch. Listen to what your horse is telling you and try to respond. Most equine behavioral problems can be solved by adequate turn out, supplying enough forage several times per day, using equipment that fits your horse and knowing how to use the equipment.


    Dr. Amy McLean



    This article is sponsored by Tom Balding Bits and Spurs ( All photos are provided by Tom Balding Bits and Spurs and are intended for the sole use in this article.

  • Back to Basics ~ The function of a Bit

    Back to Basics ~ The Function Of A Bit

    History has shown that horses were first controlled by rope or rawhide being placed over the bridge of their nose and pressure was exerted on the nose to gain control. Later, the idea of placing antler or bone inside the horse’s mouth became a new mechanism of controlling this large animal.  Over time as civilization developed and people had access to other materials the idea of the bit, resembling bits that we know today, was born.  The Romans were the first to develop something similar to a snaffle bit, rings on the side with various mouth pieces, some broken and others not.  Some bits also included rings that either went over the nose of the horse, similar to a combination bit today that exerts pressure on both the nose, the bars, corner of the mouth and the chin. Other “ring” bits, commonly used by the Spanish later on, had a ring that went under the chin.  As horsemanship started gaining in popularity during the Renaissance period, methods of controlling and equipping horses with tack began to take on a new and more humane approach.  Also, during this time period the idea of using a bit or “biting up” on a horse became popular in hopes the horse would be even more responsive to the bit after lunging him with his head placed in a frame with reins attached to the bit and then to a girth.

    So, how does a bit work and where is pressure placed on the horse’s mouth, nose, or chin? The concept of Equitation took the idea of riding horses past just the tack and equipment, so one could learn to ride their horse with other aides as well as with the help of tools like the bit.  The idea behind equitation, dressage or horsemanship is to get the most out of your horse through effectively communicating with him.  Obviously, one of the ways that riders for centuries have corresponded with their horse is through their hands, which are linked to the bit. Various bits are designed for certain functions and levels of training.  For example, a snaffle bit considered to be one of the first bits you would introduce to a horse after training in a bosal or hackamore, applies direct pressure on the corner of the lips or mouth of the horse as well as pressure on the tongue and bars (inside the horse’s mouth).  As one’s horse learns to respond to the pressure by moving to the right or left, stopping or backing, or even flexing at the poll, the rider must use other aides to effectively send the message. A rider must also know when to release the pressure so the horse can be rewarding to responding to the form of communication.

    As a horse progresses in training, generally a horse trainer or rider will change bits that are in accordance to the level of training of their horse.  Once a horse has learned the basics of stopping, turning, and flexing at the poll in a snaffle; then one may move onto a bit called a curb or shank bit.  It’s also important to consider the mouthpiece.  The mouthpiece can create different responses from the horse. The snaffle bit will generally be broken in the middle with either a smooth mouthpiece or possible twist of various degrees. The idea again is to not solely rely on the bit to communicate with your horse but all of your aides.

    Once your horse is in a shank or “curb” bit then your horse should easily guide off of your hands, seat, legs, and even body position.  At this point a rider and horse should not rely heavily on the direct communication from the hands through the reins to the bit.  A shank or curb bit can have a variety of mouthpieces that are solid, broken or even with a port in the middle. The port can vary in height and be solid or broken.  A shank or curb bit can also have a curb or chin strap that’s placed under the horse’s jaw and attached to the shank also known as the purchases.  Again, a rider has a lot of options when choosing a bit for their horse.  One should consider purchasing a bit that’s made of palatable metals such as cooper or sweet iron that will promote saliva production in the horse’s mouth.  Generally, this will help make the horse more comfortable with the bit.  Also, the bit needs to fit the horse, a bit suitable for a pony will obviously be smaller than one suitable for a draft.  Also, consider how the bit is placed in your horse’s mouth.  Generally, most horses are comfortable with one wrinkle in their check.  The same is true for how the curb chain is adjusted. The idea behind the curb is to apply light pressure when the rider applies pressure or contact to the reins and this may also help with setting the horse’s head (causing flexion at the poll), stopping or backing.  Keep in mind a shank or curb bit is not intended or made to be used harshly! These bits are for well-trained horses that know their job and respond readily and quickly to the rider’s subtle aides and ques.  A shank bit overall can be used to apply even more pressure than the direct contact applied by a snaffle but all bits can be harmful in the wrong hands!

    For the best results when choosing a bit, consider the level of training your horse has had, choose the appropriate bit according to the size of your horse’s mouth, make sure the bit and curb chain are appropriately adjusted, not to tight or not to loose. Also, consider getting a bit that’s made from a malleable metal that also promotes salvia production.  Last but not least remember what works on one horse may not work on all horses, so try different bits and work with a bit maker that can help design or select the best bit for your and your horse!

    Dr. Amy McLean, PhD





    Spur Shank Offset Options

    Did you know that you can order your spurs with an offset shank? Just mention the degree of offset you are looking for when placing your order with our friendly staff by phone or email. If you are ordering off of our website just follow up with an email indicating you would like an offset shank and the degree of offset you would like.

    "What are the benefits of an offset spur shank" you ask. Great question! If you have a hard time touching the horse with a straight shank an offset shank will allow a more direct contact with less effort. The harder it is for you to reach the horse with a straight shank the more you will want to increase the degree of the angle on the offset. We recommend not exceeding a 15 degree offset to keep the motion needed to create contact from becoming awkward.

    We have customers who have injuries that make it hard to turn their foot when riding. We have put the offset on just one spur or both depending on the need to allow them the ability to ride in comfort.

    If you have any questions about spur shank offsets please let us know. If you want to add to this blog post please leave a comment below and we will include the information in the content for other readers to see.





    Hand Engraving Process

    All of our engraved sterling silver is individually hand engraved. It takes great talent to create the miniature masterpieces. We use hand engraved silver on our bits, spurs, jewelry, and accessories.

    Check out the photos and video below to see firsthand the detail and process. Please note the video is not our engraving but our process is the same.




    To view video:

  • "Equine Dental Care for Performance Horses" ~ ARTICLE BY AMY MCLEAN

    Equine Dental Care for Performance Horses

    Have you had your horse’s teeth floated lately? Most veterinarians will recommend having your horse’s teeth floated at least once a year.  Some horses may require their teeth be floated more often especially if your horse works for a living.  Floating refers to filing the sharp points off the molars and some times the incisor teeth.  The incisors are the teeth located in the front often used to tell the age of the horse and the molars are found in the back along the top and bottom jaw.  When a horse chews grass or hay, the jaws (mandibles) move side to side and during this movement sharp points can develop along the arcade of teeth in both the incisors and molars.  Generally, most horses’ top jaw will tend to be slightly longer than the under jaw but a severe difference may create additional problems especially in regards to the horse chewing or masticating it’s food and even issues with where the bit may sit when riding a horse with such genetic deformities as being parrot or monkey mouth.1  Monkey mouth is where the under jaw is longer than the top.  The every day wear and tear of how the mandibles move may create discomfort in your horse that could lead to weight loss or poor performance when riding them.

    Having your horse’s teeth floated can help improve the mobility of the jaw which in return may help your horse better accept the bit as well as masticate its food.  A study conducted in Europe found that mobility of the horse’s mandible (jaw) improved after the teeth were floated. 1 They also found that larger draft and warmblood breeds had increased flexion at the poll after having their teeth floated.1 In general your veterinarian or equine dentist should be able to develop what’s called a bit seat, by rounding off the first four cheek teeth to prevent interferences with the bit but this “bit seat” maybe specialized according to your horse’s job.2

    Floating can be accomplished using hand held tools or electric tools.1,2  Dentists that use electric tools appreciate the fact they can get a more even surface and possibly decrease the amount of stress on the horse because the tools are faster than the typical hand held devices.  However, it’s important that when power tools are being used that they are cooled often to prevent over heating and damage to the horse’s mouth.2  A horse that is only being kept for maintenance or as a companion animal will not have the need for a “bit seat” but should still have their teeth done on a regular basis at least once a year.  If you have a performance horse it’s not a bad idea to have your horse’s teeth checked more often such as every 3-4 months especially if you are showing a young horse.  Some trainers or professional may also require that a young horse have his teeth checked prior to beginning training to eliminate any dental issues. In conclusion, have your horse’s teeth floated at least once a year if your horse is not working for a living and if your horse is a performance horse (show, rodeo, endurance, ranch horse, etc.) consider a professional checking their teeth more often.  Also, consider looking at how the bit sits in your horse’s mouth and if your tack (example: headstall) is properly fitted to your horse.


    By Amy K. McLean, PhD

    Animal Science, University of Wyoming



    1Carmalt, J.L. H.G. Townsend, and A.L. Allen.  2003.  Effect of dental floating on the rostrocaudal mobility of the mandible of horses.  Jrnl Am. Vet. Med. Assoc.  223: 5, 666-9.

    2 Scoggins, R.D.  2001.  Bits, Bitting, and Dentistry.  Proceedings of AAEP (47). 138-41.





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