The true cost of a pretty face: ‘designer’ breeding means ponies suffer

  • Breeding “designer” equine features is causing severe pain to horses and ponies whose mouths do not have enough room for their teeth, an equine dental technician has warned.

    Vikki Fowler, who is also a qualified vet, said she is seeing an increasing number of ponies suffering because without enough space to grow in the correct manner, their teeth are erupting behind their jaws – and even into their facial tissue.

    Vikki said that as breeders strive to produce more dished faces, ponies are being born with smaller mouths – but the same number of teeth.

    “I’m seeing it more and more,” Vikki told H&H. “In a few breeds: Welsh section As, miniatures and Arabs, also in a few warmbloods.

    “It’s because of people wanting to breed pretty faces.”

    Vikki posted pictures online of a six-year-old Welsh mare who may have to be put down as a result of her issues.

    “Last time I saw her, one of her caps [baby teeth] was stuck because the adult tooth couldn’t push it out,” she said.

    “I took the cap out but there still wasn’t space for the adult tooth. It’s twisted, erupted into her palate and the root is sticking out the side of her face; it’s made a lump under her eye.

    “Luckily, it appears to have pushed the major artery to the side rather than severing it.”

    But the pony has a worse problem, Vikki said.

    She explained that when she saw this mare aged four and a half, all four of her very back molars were yet to appear in the mouth.

    “This time, the owner had said she’d lost some weight, and I found one of the missing teeth had erupted behind her mouth,” she said. “Rather than coming into the oral cavity like it should, it’s created its own place to sit behind it.

    “There’s no sign of the opposing tooth so that one will just keep growing and it’s totally inaccessible; you can’t get in to remove it.”

    Vikki said the normal method of tooth removal will not work, due to the location, and nor would “hammering it out”, which is also “quite violent” and carries the risk of breaking the pony’s jaw and teeth.

    “The other option is taking it out of the side of her face,” she said. “But the tooth’s likely to be 8-10cm long so they’d have to make a very big incision, cut the muscle, and there are major blood vessels, important nerves and the salivary duct in that area.

    “They’d have to open her entire face and the owners aren’t very keen on having to put her through that.

    “If you can’t get the tooth out or control its growth, the only outcome would be to put the pony to sleep.

    “I’ll send the X-rays round to see if I can find someone with any other ideas but it’s not looking good.”

    Vikki has already treated another Welsh section A who had to be put down with similar issues.

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    “The owners [of the mare] are devastated and just want people to be educated,” she added.

    “This is entirely down to this froggy-faced conformation they’re breeding.”

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    This week’s pony special, out on 7 June, features Britain’s naughtiest ponies and how you can find the dream smaller equine. We also look at the pros and cons of equine treadmills, talk to showing producer Aimee Devane and have reports from the H&H Festival of Eventing, Tattersalls Horse Trials, racing at Epsom and much, much more.

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