Learn the equestrian sport of polo

Equine Teeth

Equine teeth with Galvayne's Groove

Caring for a Polo Pony's Teeth

Routine dental care is important to the development of healthy polo ponies. A healthy mouth helps prevent digestive problems such as colic and weight loss.

The performance and temperament of a polo pony is affected by the quality of its teeth as they relate to the bit.

Signs of Equine Dental Disease

Idle Horse Under Saddle
Loss of food when chewing
Inefficient chewing
Excessive salivation
Weight loss/rough hair
Foul odor - mouth/nostrils
Head tilted
Head shaking
Cheek sensitivity
Pain when drinking water
Bleeding mouth
Poor performance
Sensitivity to bit
Head throwing
Bracing against bit Tail wringing
Refusal to stop/turn
Unwilling to collect
Poor head carriage


arcades rows of teeth
bars the open, or interdental, spaces on the jaws between the incisors and cheek teeth where the bit sits
small pointed teeth that grow in the interdental space near the corner incisors, they are also called "tusks"
cap a remnant of a deciduous tooth that can persist atop a permanent tooth
deciduous teeth which shed at a natural stage of life, like human "baby" teeth
floating filing down sharp edges on a horse's molars using a long handled rasp called a "float"
a stained vertical furrow that first appears at the gum line of the upper incisors when a horse is about 10 years old
hook a point or peak on a tooth's chewing surface that is developed through abnormal wear
incisors the six front top teeth and the six front bottom teeth, used for cutting and nipping rather than grinding
molars the 24 grinding teeth located along the jaws, used for crushing feed, they are also called cheek teeth
occlusion surface contact of normally aligned opposing teeth
one of up to four rudimentary teeth in front of the first molars

Equine Dentition and Age

At approximately 5 years of age when all the permanent teeth have erupted, a horse is said to have a "full mouth".

At 11 or 12 years of age when the cups are absent from all lower and upper incisors a horse is said to be "smooth mouthed".

So, by checking for the presence or absence of cups in the incisors, it is possible to estimate age between 6 and 12 years.

When a horse is older than 12 years, it is difficult to estimate age and accuracy decreases.

However, In the nineteenth century, Sydney Galvayne, claimed that the groove which appears on the upper corner incisors of a horse can be used to determine its age. The phenomenon has come to be known as "Galvayne's Groove" and belief in it's practicality persists today:

  • 9 to 10 years - Groove appears at gum margin
  • 15 years - Groove is half-way down labial surface of incisor
  • 20 years - Groove extends entire length of labial surface of incisor
  • 25 years - Groove disappears from upper 1/2 of tooth
  • 30 years - Groove disappears completely from the tooth

"Bishoping" is the practice of drilling new cups in aged incisors, then burning or dying these artificial funnel-shaped hollows to resemble the dark cups found in a young horse's mouth.


Jack Easley, DVM, an equine practitioner in Shelbyville, Kentucky, believes that aging horses using Galvayne's formula is, at best, an educated guess and not an exact science.