You can learn a lot by looking your horse in the mouth.
There was a reason for the old saying, "don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Doing so was considered rude because it was the equivalent of checking the price tag on a modern-day present, as ancient equestrians knew that a horse's mouth and teeth could tell a lot about its age, health and habits, and therefore its value.
Your horse's mouth can still tell you these things today. You just have to know what to look for. Here are three things you can learn from a glimpse inside your horse's mouth.
A horse's age.
The Galvayne's groove is a dark or brownish groove in a horse's upper corner incisor teeth. It first appears at the gum line at about 10 years of age, and each year extends a little farther down the tooth. By age 15 it is usually about halfway down the tooth, and all the way down by age 20. After age 20, it begins to disappear from the tooth, starting at the gum line. By age 25, it is usually gone from the top half of the tooth, and by 30 it has disappeared completely.
Of course, aging a horse by its teeth is never completely accurate. It it typically a better method for aging younger horses (under the age of nine) rather than older ones, and can also be affected by environmental factors, diet, and breed.
A horse's health.
Like all mucous membranes, your horse's gums should be completely pink. Bright red gums can indicate endotoxemia; pale or white signifies anemia, shock, or even internal bleeding; yellow means liver disease; and blue generally means there is a lack of oxygen in the blood, usually due to lung disease.
Even gums that are mostly pink but have a dark red line at the gum-line of the incisor teeth can mean problems. Often called the "toxic line," this can be a sign of toxemia, dehydration, and other abnormal circulatory states. However, redness around the gum line can also mean gingivitis.
A horse's bad habits.
If a horse's upper incisors are very worn or the teeth are very chipped, the horse is probably a cribber. Severe cribbers may wear their teeth down enough to cause an overbite or underbite, and many are damaging to barns and fences as well.
Cribbing can also develop a horse's neck muscles in such a way that it makes it difficult for them to carry their head properly when ridden. While cribbing is not usually harmful to a horse's health, some horse owners believe it makes a horse more prone to colic.
You can learn a lot from your horse's mouth. Gift horse or not -- always look your horse in the mouth!