by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH
I don't know about you, but that's the sum total of my knowledge of horses. So it's been educational and interesting to talk to hygienists from all over the country who raise, train, compete with, and love horses.
"It makes you a better person"
Horses and hygiene go together, some hygienists believe. "Both have a lot in common," says Michelle Franks of Hazelwood, Mo. "It's all persistence and motivation. You have to be dedicated, strong-willed, and have a lot of drive to be a good hygienist or a good horsewoman. If you use rewards, positive reinforcement, and repetition, you can get a horse — or a child in your dental chair — to do anything you want. All you need is the right attitude and a gentle way of going about it. It's always worked for me."
Franks literally grew up with horses. She had her first Shetland pony at age 10. By the time she was 13 years old, she was raising, training, and selling quarterhorses at her family's 300-acre ranch in Arkansas. As a teen, she competed in barrel racing and cattle cutting, using horses she had trained herself.
After completing four years of pre-med on a basketball scholarship, Franks spent a year in Europe playing professional basketball. "I was afraid I'd regret it if I didn't try, but working in Europe wasn't for me. I'm an American girl, and I wanted to come home."
Back in Missouri with a husband and baby, Franks decided against medical school. She earned a dental hygiene degree from Forest Park College at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and has been practicing for 10 years in periodontal and general dental offices.
"I like kids as patients," she says, "And kids like animals. I have pictures of my horses and dogs in the operatory, and they help get the kids talking. It's a middle ground. The first time a child asked if I brush my horse's teeth, I thought it was a joke. Then it made me wonder about it ... and then I started doing it. My daughter cleans our horse's teeth all the time now, and I've always cleaned my dog's teeth."
Franks doesn't do recreational riding at the moment because of recent knee surgery, but her 11-year-old daughter competes in the hunter class, jumping fences and riding cross-country on a horse Franks trains. Her 14-year-old son, she says, "does the basketball thing."
Like any dedicated hobbyist, Franks wants to spread the word. "Everyone should have a horse," she believes. "It makes you a better person and teaches you responsibility and respect. My children are better, more loving people because they have animals."
"They touch a part of my soul"
The mystical side of horses is what interests hygienist Patricia Anderson of Aptos, Calif. She and her Arabian gelding, Ibn Ecclipse, do competitive trail riding and study Parelli Natural Horsemanship (PNH).
In PNH, Anderson says, "you work through levels of the program toward a relationship with the horse that is based on communication, trust, and respect. The end result is having the horse and rider become calm, athletic, brave, and smart. It creates a partnership."
"Ben," as Anderson calls him, is boarded five minutes from her home on Monterey Bay. Ben's vet recently invited Anderson to a demonstration of a new piece of equipment for equine dental hygiene. "It's like a high-powered Waterpik, and he actually puts chlorhexidine in it. It's a great idea. Horses don't get calculus, but their gums do get bacteria from their feed. Equine dentistry is very important for nutrition and health, just like humans. It makes me want to go brush Ben's teeth!"
But for now, she sticks to human teeth. A hygienist since 1984, Anderson works four days a week. She is a trustee for the CDHA, a board member for her local ADHA component, and an examining member for the California State Dental Hygiene Board Exams.
Anderson and Ben travel all over the country to competitive events of the North American Trail Riders Conference. During the two-day events, horse and rider cover 20 to 25 miles of marked trails over difficult terrain and obstacles. The teams are judged on horsemanship and the horse's soundness, willingness, and calmness.
"It's a fun thing to do with a horse. I ride every chance I get with friends — my husband isn't a rider. I just got back into riding recently, and I'm so glad I did. Horses create a balance in my life and keep me young. They touch a part of the soul that usually lies dormant."
For other horse lovers, Anderson recommends the book, She Flies Without Wings: How Horses Touch a Woman's Soul, by Mary D. Midkiff.
"They get new shoes before I do"
Another horse who touches a hygienist's soul is "Raise-A-Glass-Jet," who competes in rodeos with Juli Holmquist of Reed City, Mich.
"Besides being a willing and hardworking partner in my rodeo endeavors," Holmquist says, "Jet is a great trail buddy who helps me unwind after a full day of calculus removal and patient management."
She is one of four hygienists at Professional Dental Associates in Big Rapids, Mich., and has worked there since graduation 11 years ago. "They have been very supportive of my competing and allow me to have flexible hours during the season. We don't schedule six months ahead, and I usually have my rodeo schedule before Memorial Day, so it works out well. I'm very grateful."
Holmquist and her father got their first horses when she was 9 years old and began trail riding. Her father still rides for fun, and even belongs to a volunteer sheriff's posse.
Holmquist is a rodeo barrel racer, and she has a lot of fun doing it. "We run for money, not for ribbons, and my goal is to break even. As long as I can make my entry fees and gas money back, it's a success."
From Memorial Day through November every year, Holmquist and Jet hit the road nearly every weekend, competing in barrel races in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana through the Mid-States Rodeo Association. In the past 11 days before we talked, she competed in eight rodeos, traveled about 3,000 miles, and worked a full week, though some were half days.
"I load up the truck and trailer, and we go. Sometimes I share rides with other rodeo people to save money, and I usually sleep in the trailer. We have a great time together; rodeo people are so friendly. Even though we compete against each other, there's always help if it's needed. When I pull in, by the time I get out of my truck, there are three girls there to help me unload. My best friends are rodeo racers. They might live four hours away, but I see them every week. I never get tired of it."
Barrel racing is the only event available to women in a rodeo. Holmquist and Jet run a slalom course around 55-gallon metal barrels, going for speed, precision, and style.
"Every dollar we win is worth a point in seasonal standings. This is my third year doing this, and I placed in the top 10 the first two years. Right now I'm in fourth place."
When the season is over, Jet spends the winter resting. "We have a lot of snow up here, but we start some training in February. I'll drive a tractor around the field to pack down a rough track, and we run that to get him in shape. Mostly, though, I just let him be a horse in the winter."
Holmquist and her fiance, who loves to watch her compete, will always have horses, she says. "They're just like my kids. I spoil them. They get new shoes before I do."
"Horse and rider are purely harmonious"
There's a big difference between the dust, sweat, rhinestones, and excitement of a rodeo, and the calm control and formal clothing of Olympic-style dressage.
Dressage (I had to look it up) is defined in Webster's as "the execution by a trained horse of precision movements in response to barely perceptible signals from its rider."
Lucinda Fayrer-Hosken of Athens, Ga., has been involved with horses for more than 30 years, but only began entering dressage competitions five years ago. "I've always admired dressage, because it's the true basis of all equestrian disciplines, even Western riding.
Fayrer-Hosken is a self-taught horse trainer. "Just as in hygiene, there's always continuing education. I go to clinics, take lessons — I've always wanted to learn as much as I can. We're really in a wonderful dressage area, with lots of folks to learn from."
When she went to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and saw the amount of equestrian activity in the area, Fayrer-Hosken decided that northern Georgia was where she wanted to be, so she moved there from North Carolina. Georgia International Horse Park, where the equestrian Olympic events were held, is only 30 miles away. She is also near the Agricultural Center in Perry, Ga., site of other equestrian events.
Fayrer-Hosken and her husband, a veterinarian who specializes in reproduction, live on a farm where she raises and trains dressage horses. "Right now I have two horses I compete with, and two I'm bringing along to sell. That's really what I like most, to start the young ones and see them do well."
One of the horses she competes with is Lyrical Bend, a 6-year-old American Warmblood who holds the curious distinction (certified by Guinness) of being the world's tallest living horse. Bend stands 19 hands, 3/4 inches at the withers, or shoulders (a "hand" is four inches). "His tail," Fayrer-Hosken notes, "is just over 15 hands, which is longer than the average horse is tall. His head is as long as my torso, and I'm six feet tall. He's gorgeous and unusual, very athletic for his size. He truly is an anomaly. Because of his size, he has a presence that's breathtaking. Everyone comes to see Bend work."
Fayrer-Hosken competes in qualifying dressage shows only three times a year. "Because of family obligations, jobs, and the expense, we amateurs have to carefully choose the shows we need to go to in order to qualify for United States Dressage Federation awards. Entering a show with one horse can cost up to $1,000. There is no prize money. The competitions are strictly for personal satisfaction, to measure your harmony with the horse."
She does take her horses to smaller schooling shows, where points are not scored, to gain experience. The 10 dressage classes take many years to work through, and horses compete into their twenties. Because Fayrer-Hosken has young horses, they compete near the bottom, at the training level. "The levels are like building blocks, preparing the horse for the next level. I want to go as far as I possibly can with my time constraints, probably to the sixth level."
Between competitions and training, Fayrer-Hosken works four days a week as a hygienist. "I keep photos of the horses in my operatory, and the patients are so interested. They love to see pictures of the new babies, and it's wonderful for the children. It's one way I can open communication with youngsters immediately."
Her patients are so interested in Fayrer-Hosken's equestrian activities that one of them nominated her to RDH for this story.
"Dressage is one of the most classical, elegant equestrian events," Fayrer-Hosken says. "What's so appealing is that you truly don't compete against other individuals, but against a standard. It's amazing to see the horses working and to watch their control. Horse and rider are purely harmonious, making a beautiful combination. That's what drew me to it in the first place. Competing with a horse is such a wonderful feeling."
"I like the challenge of the pattern"
Hygienist Melissa Conover of Old Bridge, N.J., agrees. "I like the challenge of the pattern," she says. "I started riding lessons in eighth grade, and I've been competing since high school."
Conover doesn't specialize. She competes in Western, English, and saddle-seat riding, in both equitation and pleasure classes. The words Western, English, and saddle seat refer to the types of saddles and bridles used.
In equitation, Conover says, rider and horse are judged on their riding and on how the horse completes the pattern. Pleasure judging depends more on how the horse moves.
Working in a ring, Conover and her registered appaloosa horses complete patterns around cones. "We make turns, circles, figure eights. Judges might ask us to do different things, like go from cone to cone at a trot, turn left, jog a circle, or do a back or side pass."
She competes in the spring and fall, usually doing eight to 10 shows a year all over the Northeast. Some years she attends a national competition in Oklahoma. In 2001, she was the high point winner for bareback equitation, and placed second nationally in saddle-seat competition.
She will miss the 2002 nationals because of school. "I'm working on dental school now," she says. "I received my associate's degree from Middlesex County College in 1997, following in my mother's footsteps. She's a graduate of the first dental hygiene class there. My bachelor's degree in public health is from Rutgers University."
Conover had been working full-time at two offices in central New Jersey, but will cut back to three-and-a-half days for school. "I really like how my job is flexible, so I can take a day off if I need to. I feel lucky to have a career I enjoy that also allows me to pursue my other interests. The flexibility of hygiene has been a great benefit to me."
"This is my passion"
All the way across the country in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is another horse trainer/hygienist, Susan Sullivan. "I buy young thoroughbreds off the racetrack that haven't done well — they're inexpensive. I pick up those I think have talent, train them for three-day eventing, and sell them at a profit."
It's a nice hobby with the usual ups and downs, but Sullivan has had a couple of spectacular successes. "I bought one horse from a family's backyard. He was neglected, but there was something about him. I paid $1,500 and trained him for three years. He was just phenomenal. I finally sold him for $22,000. I bought another from Dwight Yoakum, the singer. It was a racehorse that had done poorly, and I spent $1,000. A year later I sold him for $5,500 to a little girl who wins everything she enters with him."
Sullivan keeps her operation small, working with only two or three horses at a time, because neither her husband nor her two sons are involved with horses. "I have to be highly organized or the guilt of taking time away from my children would eat me alive. It's a big priority to get a good balance, but at the same time, I have a passion and follow my dream. I think that's a good example for the boys."
Sullivan has practiced hygiene in the same dental office for 25 years. She currently works two days a week, leaving five days for the horses. Besides training, she competes in three-day eventing, a sort of triathalon for horses that includes dressage, cross-country endurance over hill and dale, and stadium jumping.
One of her most exciting horse experiences didn't happen in a competition, though.
"A girlfriend and I went fox hunting in England and Ireland. We went galloping with groups over ditches and fields. The horses were enormous; it was like riding elephants. They blow the horn and off you go, tearing down an asphalt road with hounds all around you, jumping stone walls, chickens flying.
"Talk about a wild experience — I've never been so scared in my life. We had a ball.
"This is my passion. I feel so lucky to do this. I'm 50; I shouldn't even be riding these young horses. Having to stay in shape for this keeps me young, and makes me an interesting and energetic individual. It's good for my kids to see that I'm not afraid of getting out there, working hard, and sacrificing to go after what I want."
Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in Calcutta, Ohio.About the cover
Tonya Willis, RDH, resides in Kentucky — considered by many to be the horse capital of the world. Her husband, Paul, trains Kentucky Mountain saddle horses, and her parents also raise and show the breed.
"These horses have been bred in the rolling hills of Kentucky for many years," Willis explains, adding that her father is the current president of the Kentucky Mountain Horse Association. "In the last 10 years, they have been recognized and have their own registry.
"These horses are very versatile. They are sure-footed for trail riding, yet stylish enough to be in the show ring. These horses can be any height, ranging from 13 hands to 16 hands tall.
"The most desired color in this breed is chocolate with a blonde mane and tail. These horse are getting very popular because of the smooth ride you get from them. There is no bouncing in the saddle when you ride these horses. People from all over the country travel to Kentucky to purchase these horses for their good temperament and smooth ride." Somewhere in the middle of numerous weekend shows for Kentucky Mountain saddle horses is a dental hygiene career.
"As a dental hygienist, I have a flexible schedule," Willis says. "This allows me the time to practice with the horses. We usually have a horse show every weekend."
She says her employers in Stanton — which is about 45 minutes away from Lexington — are "very understanding" about her participation in the horse shows.
Drs. Rodney Stevens and Sandra Crum-Stevens also treat the Willis family members. "My son, Austin (shown in the photograph) had his first exam and cleaning at age three. He now says he is going to be a dentist," says Willis, who graduated from Lexington Community College. "I have anothing but good things to say when it comes to dental hygiene as a career. I would encourage anyone who is interested in the dental field to choose dental hygiene. It's almost as fun as showing horses!"For the love of it
From rodeos to horseback riding to showing to patriotic drill teams, these women are a few more examples of the love between horses and hygienists. We share their stories with you here ...
Stacy Deaville is a dental hygienist in Norman, Okla. She is involved in a local riding club that performs at statewide rodeos. The Capital Hill Round-up Club performs a freedom flag drill and a 7th cavalry routine that stirs the heart with its patriotic theme. Deaville and her mother, who is also in the riding club, don authentic-looking costumes and tote era-replica flags, swords, and bugles at local rodeos and events. An avid animal-lover, Deaville has worked in Dr. Stephen Weichbrodt's dental practice since 1995.
Rosemary Holcomb is a dental hygienist who is currently providing contract hygiene services for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma at the W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah. She is proud to have been in the first graduating class of the University of Oklahoma's Dental Hygiene Program in 1973. The dental hygiene profession allows Holcomb to enjoy her hobbies of horseback riding and camping with horses, traveling, sightseeing, and reading. She and her husband raise horses and sheep on their farm in Ft. Gibson. Holcomb poses with her favorite horse, Jackie.
Debby Sanguinetti has been a dental hygienist for Drs. Albertoni & Corso in Oakdale, Calif., for 30 years. Born in the "Cowboy Capitol of the World," she has shown horses all her life and now concentrates solely on reined cow horses on a national level with the National Reined Cow Horse Assoc. These versatile horses perform intricate reining patterns, as well as working cattle at high speeds. Sanguinetti has won many championships at the nonprofessional level. She and her husband live on a ranch in Farmington.Equine Dentistry
Lucinda Fayrer-Hosken of Athens, Ga., thought it natural to combine her interest in horses with her interest in dentistry. In 1995 she attended the World Wide School of Equine Dentistry, then based in Lincoln, Neb.
"Equine dentistry is a medical field in and of itself, and is very complex," she says. "A horse with a painful mouth cannot perform well, and general health is threatened."
The American Association of Equine Practitioners has guidelines for equine dentistry, stating that sedation for dentistry should be done by veterinarians. A person can be certified in equine dentistry, but Fayrer-Hosken believes there are only about a hundred Master Equine Dentists (Meq D) worldwide, most of them in the United States. Some are veterinarians; some are not. Blacksmiths, she says, do not normally do dentistry.
"Horses have a great many dental issues, the most common being sharp buccal surfaces on the upper arcade and sharp lingual surfaces on the lower arcade. At the school, I learned to float teeth, extract wolf teeth (evolutionary remnants similar to wisdom teeth), remove retained primary teeth, clip overly large canine teeth, and cut molars, which can cause malocclusion."
Like humans, she says, horses have a more refined diet and different eating habits than their ancestors. Show horses in particular are kept inside to reduce the risk of injury and to maintain their coats, and they're fed a concentrated ration in an elevated position.
Because the horse doesn't have its mandible forward in a natural grazing position, and because their refined diets aren't as abrasive as natural grass forage, sharp, lacerating edges develop on their teeth. That's why they have to be rasped off, or "floated," regularly. Most horses require mild standing sedation for floating.
A horse's dentition, as you might imagine, is quite different from a human's. At birth, all deciduous premolars are in place. Central incisors erupt at six to eight days, followed by lateral incisors at six to eight weeks. Next are wolf teeth/corner incisors at six months, and first and second molars at one to two years.
At two-and-a-half years, central incisors and first deciduous premolars are shed. At three years, permanent third molars erupt and second premolars are shed. At three-and-a-half years, laterals and third premolars are shed, and at four-and-a-half years, the corner incisors are shed and canines erupt in males. Females have 18 teeth and males have 20, excluding wolf teeth. By five years, all of the permanent teeth are present and begin wearing, which they do throughout life.
"The tooth continually erupts to maintain a grinding surface," Fayrer-Hosken says. "The teeth are incredibly long to do this throughout the horse's life."
Extracting a tooth is considered major surgery and should be done under veterinary supervision. Teeth sometimes need to be cut or clipped because of malocclusion. This can be done with molar cutters (large, long-handled cutting instruments) or power tools made especially for the purpose.
"First molars are usually the first to show problems if a horse reaches an advanced enough age. An aged horse can lose the upper first molars, causing the lower first molars to super-erupt into soft tissue and bone. These sweet old-timers will often pack food into these pockets to try to alleviate the discomfort. Just as in elephants, very old horses with tooth problems literally starve to death."