...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.
Here’s where the old saying comes in about that Gift Horse. I have, indeed, been to barns where horses are for sale and the owner says, “He’s 12.”
Things that make you go, “Hmmm.”
As previously discussed, aging the animal up to 5 years of age is relatively easy. With a close eye and lots of experience, age can be told on the animal up to 30 years, give or take a couple.
Using clues such as the presence or appearance of “Galvayne’s Groove,” the disappearance of the dental cups, and changes in the tooth appearance, along with the incisive arcade, can all help give some reasonable accuracy for age. (1)
The hollow depressions present in the new foal’s teeth are called “Dental Cups.”(2) These hollows become stained, through usage and the action of bacteria with retained particles of food. As the animal ages and uses its teeth, the edges of these Dental Cups begin to wear down. The depressions become shallow, and eventually are worn away completely, ceasing to exist as cups. A white surface remains, along with a central “pit” that is small and dark, known as the “Dental Star.” (3)
The age can be determined on the horse by noting the order of disappearance of cups from the animal’s incisor teeth. It is important to remember that lower incisor teeth wear down approximately 3 years before the upper incisors.
Changes in the shape of teeth are also an important indicator, and this is coupled with the disappearance of the cups.
“An overall guide for determining the age of the horse goes as follows:
“6 years: The lower central incisors are worn smooth, with shallow cups in the laterals.
7 years: The lower lateral incisors are also worn smooth. The central and lateral incisors
begin to assume a more oval appearance.
8 years: The lower corner incisors are now worn smooth.
9 years: The upper central incisors are smooth, with shallow cups in the laterals.
10 years: The upper lateral incisors are now worn smooth. The central and lateral incisors appear somewhat oval.
11 years: The cups of all incisors are worn smooth. Thus, at 11 years of age, a horse is referred to as “Smooth-mouthed.” (referring to the incisors.)
15 years: The lower incisors appear shorter than the uppers when viewed from the front. All teeth show a distinct dark round dental star in their centers.
21 years: The angle of the jaw is distinctly oblique. There is a considerable space between the teeth. The lower incisors may be worn nearly to the gums.” (4)
As the horse ages, the jaw and tooth angle juts outward, thus creating the oblique angular appearance..
“Galvayne’s Groove” appears between the ages of 10 and 12 on the horse, and remember, it can only ever be seen on the two upper corner incisors on the animal. (5)
It is a distinct groove that first starts out at the gum line and begins to crawl downward on the tooth, year by year, as the tooth grows and wears.
When the horse is 15 years old, Galvayne’s Groove is half way down the tooth from the gum, and at age 20, Galvayne’s Groove and its distinct line is present for the entire length of the tooth. Then it begins to recede, again from the top gum line.
You can notice the missing part of the line on an older horse as Galvayne’s Groove is receding, since at this time, the line is only present on the lower half of the tooth; the horse would be approximately 25 years in age at this time.
Galvayne’s Groove is completely gone by the time the horse reaches 30 years in age, a great way to judge how old the horse is.(6) As the incisors protrude outward on the front jaw line, they take on a very angular appearance. Instead of a baseball-shaped mouth, it appears more like a football shape. The teeth are long and skinny, if they are there at all. You might hear a horseman say, “The horse is long in the tooth.”
Depending on the appearance and location of the Galvayne’s Groove, you can fairly accurately determine the age of the animal. The groove is distinct, noticeable and usually somewhat stained in appearance.
That horse that was supposed to 12 years old was more like 27 or 28 years old and that’s why it always pays to look in the animal’s mouth when looking to buy.
We will look at specific teething problems in future articles of “Horsin’ Around.”
That’s all for now. Enjoy the beautiful Spring flowers, they seem especially fragrant this year.
Until next time, here are the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”
1-6: “Horse Owner’s Veterinary Handbook,” by James M Giffin, MD and Tom Gore, DVM