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The Horse’s Mouth

Peak Performance Equine Specializes in Dental Work

Writer / Lois Tomaszewski
Photography Provided

Peak Performance Equine

Many people know the adage stating that one should never look a gift horse in the mouth – meaning don’t look for fault when someone bestows a gift on you. If you do look in that horse’s mouth and find it needs some dental work, Myron Hershberger, the owner of Peak Performance Equine, can help.

Hershberger has been around horses for years, buying and selling horses with his father, and taking care of the horses his family uses daily. Equine dentistry was always something he had been interested in, and four years ago he added education credentials to his hands-on learning. He graduated from the Midwest Equine Dental Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, with 12 other students.

Horse teeth and human teeth have the same function, to break down food so it can be digested. Hershberger says there are some distinct differences that make equine dental work an important task for horse owners to schedule annually.

“Human teeth erupt from the gum and stop growing,” he explains. “Horse teeth keep erupting until they are gone.”

Peak Performance EquineTeeth in a horse’s mouth function a lot like human teeth, with incisors to nip grass and cheek teeth to grind and break down food into digestible pieces. Instead of an up-and-down motion that humans use, a horse’s teeth move at a slant when chewing. When these teeth become uneven, it can be painful for the horse, and it can also impact behavior. As Hershberger says, “a horse’s teeth have to slide.”

Some of the signs that a horse may be having dental problems are often observed when they are in harness. Head tossing, bit fighting or balking, for example, may show up when driving. Other signs can be observed during feedings, such as sloppy eating or weight loss.

“There are all kinds of indicators,” Hershberger says. “It is recommended that a horse’s teeth be taken care of once a year.”

Uneven teeth can be a health concern for the horse. When the reins are pulled, it can cause the bit to apply pressure unevenly. This can cause a migraine because of the pressure it puts on the joints and the head.

He suggests that the cost of routine dental work is made up by the savings obtained by allowing the horse to eat correctly. Better utilization of the teeth means that grain or feed is not wasted.

“If they can’t crush grain properly, they won’t digest as much,” Hershberger explains.

That means the diet may need to be supplemented with more feed or nutritional supplements to keep the horse healthy and performing.

Peak Performance Equine services include complete dental floats – a term that describes the process of reducing the sharpness of teeth to ensure a balanced mouth – as well as wolf-tooth extraction, cap or baby-teeth removal, incisor reduction, and hook and ramp removal. Wolf teeth should be extracted before beginning training, Hershberger advises.

He charges $20 for a barn call. Wolf-teeth removal is $40, and removal of wolf and cap teeth with a complete float is $80 for horses and $60 for ponies.

Peak Performance EquineEquine dentistry is becoming an important part of horse care. Teeth can change in as little as six months to a year.

“In the last five years, people are starting to see what a difference it does make,” Hershberger says. “They are starting to see results.”

While horse owners can tend to their horses’ teeth, Hershberger cautions that it can be difficult to do it properly and without impacting the horse. Before being trained, he floated his own horses’ teeth.

The tool used resembles a rasp with sharp blades to easily level off the hard surfaces of the teeth. There is a proper way to do this to ensure that it does not do any damage, Hershberger says.

“You have to have the right motion,” Hershberger explains. “If you take too much of the tooth off, you can kill the tooth and it will have to come out.”

Hershberger, who has lived in Nappanee all his life, wants his customers to be satisfied with his work.

“I want the teeth done right,” he says.

Peak Performance Equine is located at 24519 County Road 54 in Nappanee. Contact Hershberger at 574-773-0622 in the afternoon or evening.

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