Flabby Cheeks Of The Oral Cavity Of Horses

Overview
The chewing motion is unique to each horse and is affected by oral pain.
Tip
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Flabby Cheeks is the description of excessive tissue that lays in front of the first lower cheek teeth of horses. It is one of the three major reasons for bit difficulties and bit rejection as well as one of the primary causes of difficult floating in horses.[/alert]Definition: Excessive tissue, filled with fat, that covers the bars (the lower jaw space between the incisors and the cheek teeth just in front of the first lower cheek teeth). See the pictures.

When a space occupying mass (the bit or double bits) is placed on the bars in the inter-dental space, the excessive tissue is pinched against the sharp edges of the first lower cheek teeth. In many horses with adverse bit reactions (bit objection or bit rejection), the primary cause is their reaction to the “flabby cheeks” being forced against the razor edges of the first lower cheek teeth. Removing this sharp edge resolves many bit issues.

Take a look at this picture and you will begin to see what flabby cheeks are.

Annotated - excessive cheek tissue. This horse could not be floated without pain medication.

Annotated – excessive cheek tissue. This horse could not be floated without pain medication.

I have observed that about half the horses I see have flabby cheeks leaving half the horses I see without a problem here. This is genetic. In addition, horses under 5 years of age are free of this condition.

In the remaining half, about half of these don’t seem to be bothered by this excessive tissue. In other words, about 75% of the horses I see either don’t have flabby cheeks or they don’t have a problem with them on the bit or in floating the mandibular 6’s.

It is the remaining 25% of horses floated that respond favorably to rounding and smoothing the edges of the lower 6’s. There is, however, a small percentage of these that are intolerant of any floating in this area. These horses require potent sedation and analgesia to even approach this area with a float blade.

The following video helps to explain flabby cheeks.


Floating and rounding the first lower cheek teeth is only one of three parts of improving the bit response. The second part is to use of the thinnest bit possible. Contrary to what has been thought, the thinner diameter bit is a smaller mass and therefore doesn’t displace as much flabby tissue caudally into the sharp tooth. Most horses respond favorably to reducing the diameter of the bit.

The third part following the smoothing and rounding of the teeth and the advice of using a smaller diameter bit is to ride more from the seat and less with the hands. “Get your hands out of the mouth,” is what I tell owners with horses with flabby cheeks. Some riders are sensitive to this advice. However, it is required of them to improve their riding if they want a super sensitive horse to start liking the riding process.

Many of the horses rescued from the killer trucks are very smart horses, but they have given up on humans listening to them. After all, how long would you last if you kept saying, “Ouch, that hurts,” but no one listened to you? Maybe you would react strongly and even be put in jail from your actions. After the first lower cheek teeth are smoothed and rounded, they respond with relief almost beyond your imagination.

Here is an example of what took place between me and a new client’s horse. She was nervous because the last person to float this horse created a battle ending horribly for the horse and dentist. The owner was afraid that no one would be able to work on this horse.

Placing my hand in the mouth immediately indicated the flabby cheeks. While I was palpating the teeth, the owner said that when she placed the bit in the mouth, he would hyper flex at the poll, open his mouth, and try to spit the bit out. Riding the horse with a nose band was impossible (this pushed the bit back against the sensitive area with little escape room for the flabby cheeks).

I palpated the excessive tissue and gently rolled it over the lower first cheek teeth alerting the horse that I recognized the problem. He was extremely intelligent and confident. I invited the owner in to feel the areas which not only explained the problem to her, but it reinforced to the horse the understanding that I knew.

I worked only on the lower right cheek tooth smoothing out all the edges, then I let go of his head. He dropped it to the ground and his eye went distant as he quickly discovered the relief. The owner stood with her mouth open in disbelief. I said, “That’s just part of one tooth, and look at his relief.” Then I did the same to the left lower cheek tooth.

The horse remained motionless for the remainder of the float. It was a stark contrast to the previous fight he had with the former dentist. When I was done, he leaned his head against my leg and rested while licking. The owner said he hadn’t done that for anyone in the years she had owned him. He went right back to eating with strong, propulsive jaw movements. He also came to the stall window when I walked by on the way back to my truck. He let me rub his forehead, another action foreign to the observations of this owner.

This is how important the lower first cheek teeth are in horses with flabby cheeks. And few dentists are good at it. For example, a vet had used sedation, a speculum, and head suspension to perform dentistry on a horse less than two weeks prior to me seeing the horse for poor bit performance. The vet had done a very good job, but she had incompletely smoothed the lower first cheek teeth as well as the cheek edge of the last upper left cheek tooth. They said the mare was showing in 2 days so drugs were not an option, but warned me of her difficult nature.

Again, the mare immediately knew that I knew of her issue with her flabby cheeks. With our mutual understanding, I carefully addressed the sharp edges of the lower 6’s. With her new found respect for me, she allowed me to finish off the upper back cheek tooth. The whole job took about 5 minutes but it resolved the issue enough for her to win Grand Champion of her jumping class against international competition in Wellington, FL.

Summary: Completely smoothing the edges of the first lower cheek teeth in horses with sensitive flabby cheeks is so important in competition horses. While there are other areas of concern, this area is very important, especially in dressage horses using a double bridle.

50% of the horses have flabby cheeks. Not all horses “get it” or understand the process, so the use of analgesia and sedation is necessary to smooth these teeth. These horses will NOT stop fighting the floating process or the bit until the pain is gone.

Remember to use a thinner bit and to keep your hands out of the horse’s mouth. The horse will love you for the improvement you will bring to the training.


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Discussion:

Flabby Cheeks is the description of excessive tissue that lays in front of the first lower cheek teeth of horses. It is one of the three major reasons for bit difficulties and bit rejection as well as one of the primary causes of difficult floating in horses.[/alert]Definition: Excessive tissue, filled with fat, that covers the bars (the lower jaw space between the incisors and the cheek teeth just in front of the first lower cheek teeth). See the pictures.

When a space occupying mass (the bit or double bits) is placed on the bars in the inter-dental space, the excessive tissue is pinched against the sharp edges of the first lower cheek teeth. In many horses with adverse bit reactions (bit objection or bit rejection), the primary cause is their reaction to the “flabby cheeks” being forced against the razor edges of the first lower cheek teeth. Removing this sharp edge resolves many bit issues.

Take a look at this picture and you will begin to see what flabby cheeks are.

Discussion to follow. If you want me to move this up on the schedule, let me know.
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