Oral Cavity – Flabby Cheeks

“Flabby cheeks” is a term I made to describe the excessive fatty tissue inside the horse’s mouth on the bars and just in front of the first lower cheek teeth, where the bit lays. Half the horses I see have this extra fat, and half have no problem with it. The result is that approximately 25% of all horses are affected by a bit placed in this area. The range of discomfort is from very mild to explosive.

The problem comes from the bit, when pulled back in the mouth, pushing the excess fat tissue against the sharp point of the first lower cheek tooth. The result of bit discomfort is a behavioral change. This discomfort shows in many ways: objection to placing the bit into the mouth or removing it when done, tossing the head, heavy in hand, extremely light in hand, over-response to bit actions, or any other activity other than a calm response to bit pressure.

There are three solutions to this problem:

  1. Use the smallest diameter bit possible as this is less mass to move the fat.
  2. Round the front of the first cheek tooth into the shape of a tug boat’s bow (a bit seat).
  3. Improve the rider’s hands on the reins.

In my dentistry practice, some horses allow me to float anywhere in the mouth except the first lower cheek teeth, where the only solution is to administer pain medication.

Images, if any, for this topic are in a gallery located at the bottom of this page.

This video is 9-seconds long, briefly showing how to check for flabby cheeks. This shows the “outside view,” but the images below show the “inside view.” I suggest you place a stick of sufficient diameter and strength between the teeth of the side you are feeling before you do this the first time. The smooth stick enters the mouth from the opposite side you will feel. It goes across the tongue and then enters the space between the teeth on the opposite side of where it enters the mouth.

Standing in front of the horse and facing the horse, pretend your thumb is one-half of a bit. Place the thumb of your right hand at right angles to the horse into the horse’s left side at the corner of the lip (as if it was a bit). Press down on the bar and slowly move your thumb down and back towards the cheek teeth. If there is excessive fat on the bar, the thumb will compress it between the thumb, bar and the first cheek tooth. Be careful not to let your thumb go between the upper and lower first cheek teeth – you will be severely bruised and cut and even lose your nail. Go slow and carefully, or use a stick to prevent this damage.

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