Most people know Chris Warren as “The Real Tooth Fairy,” the equine dentist able to work magic, notably due to his extraordinary horsemanship skills. Chris, and his team work with their equine patients with such serenity, and skill that only rarely do they use sedation. We witnessed his skills in action, with a notoriously tricky patient – the editor’s own horse Reckless.
By Nadia Aslam. Photos Therese Alhaug
I must preface with the fact that the Irish horse Reckless is an older chap (25), and set in his ways – so much so that he usually requires a lot of sedation. But with Chris; all it took was ten minutes of getting to know each other. And voila – what was once a horse that always required sedation – was now standing calmly to have his teeth done!
Chris has spent much of his life surrounded by equines, starting off at the age of eight on a scrappy little pony, he worked his way up through the ranks of Pony Club; going on to have a successful twelve-year career as a national hunt jockey.
At the height of his racing career, he rode in both the Grand National, and The Gold Cup; until, tragedy struck, and an accident cut short his dream career.
Unsure of what to do next, Chris credits Kevin Bacon – the Australian Showjumper – as his inspiration, and for helping to teach him a lot of what he knows about horsemanship. This is what ultimately led him to find his genuine passion – Equine Dentistry.
“We do pride ourselves being able to work with equines that are, perhaps, seen as difficult by others, and we are usually able to work with them sedation-free.”
You’ll find Chris travelling the country, and in fact – the world, providing owners with the ultimate in equine dentistry care, with superior knowledge and compassion. But he’s not doing it alone, Chris works together with two other equine dentists, Duncan Gipson, and David Ward.
Chris and Duncan have been working together for twenty years, and David joined the dream team six years ago. They all have backgrounds in equestrianism, and it’s their prowess for horsemanship that has led them to hold the reputation as Equine Dentists of the elite.
We spoke with Chris and asked him about the importance of a healthy mouth, how he deals with tricky patients, and to find out just how he and his team can work sedation-free.
WHY IS EQUINE DENTISTRY SO IMPORTANT?
– There are three key areas vital to the overall health, performance, and longevity of a horse; these are – the hoof, the stomach, and the mouth. The saying “No foot, no horse” is known far and wide, and it can, of course, be easier to spot problems with the hoof – as it’s outwardly visible – you usually see when something goes wrong. But, it doesn’t make the other two areas any less important – it just means that it’s your job as an owner to be astute, and watch for any changes. When it comes to problems with the mouth, this will affect not only your horse’s performance, but also his eating, drinking, and behaviour. We’ve seen equines with severe behaviour issues become calm, and happy after some remedial work – which just goes to show how serious of an issue dental problems can be.
DO YOU CREDIT HORSEMANSHIP AS HOW YOU’RE ABLE TO WORK SEDATION FREE?
– Yes. As a team, we’re all skilled horsemen – and proud of it. Our first passion is horses, and that’s why we’re in the business that we’re in. No matter whether you’re a rider, a groom, or a dentist – it’s important to have horsemanship skills. It takes a certain type of person to truly have a feel for each horse that they come across; it’s difficult to explain, I think that it’s something that you’re born with, or you aren’t. One of the key methods that we work by, and that everyone can apply – is to take your time. Horses don’t like to be rushed, or have people rushing around them; their instinct is to pick up on the feelings of those around them. It seems obvious that by being stressed around a horse, they will assume that whatever is happening – is worthy of being stressed about. For many busy owners, it’s a struggle to take that extra five minutes, but I believe that the shortest way is always the longest way. It sounds counterintuitive, but what I mean by that is – if you try to take a shortcut, be it with day to day yard chores, or examining a horse’s mouth – it will ultimately take longer.
The best approach is always to do it right in the first place!
“One of the key methods that we work by, and that everyone can apply – is to take your time. Horses don’t like to be rushed, or have people rushing around them; their instinct is to pick up on the feelings of those around them.”
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD HORSES BEGIN TO SEE THE DENTIST?
– It’s always a good idea to start them young, that way it’s not something scary, and foreign to them. Having said that, if you’ve got a yearling with no apparent dental issues who is eating, and drinking well, I’d say leave them be for now. Once they start getting to an age that they’re going to be bitted – it’s important to get started with their dental care.
HOW DO I TEACH MY HORSE TO ACCEPT WORKING WITH THE DENTIST?
– We are lucky enough to do most of our work with professional competition yards; we’re working with animals that on a daily basis. They’re used to having work done from a young age and stand there quite happily for their twice annually exams, and treatment. When working with a new horse, we encourage owners to ensure that their horses have good ground manners.
Examining a horse that stands still when told, and is accustomed to having their face handled makes our job a lot easier; so the main thing that an owner can do is – practice good horsemanship on a daily basis!
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A DIFFICULT PATIENT?
– I must say, we have rarely worked with a horse that has been impossible.
It comes down to having great clients, the experience of working with all types of horse, and of course – a feel for what approach will fit with each. We do pride ourselves being able to work with equines that are, perhaps, seen as difficult by others, and we are usually able to work with them sedation-free. Having said that – it’s crucial to note that our foremost concern is the safety, and welfare of ourselves, and the horses that we work with. If we’re working with a horse that has suffered from abuse in the past, we would never stress the patient by insisting on trying to work sedation-free. Not only can that scare the horse, but this could make him lash out – purely through fear – and injure myself, Duncan, David, or his owner. In this kind of scenario, we will call a vet to administer sedation. And talk with the horse’s owner about how they can work with their horse, to get them accustomed to the handling that they will receive next time, at which point we will try again – re-evaluating whether sedation is necessary.
WHAT CAN OWNERS DO TO MAKE IT AN EASIER PROCESS?
– Horse owners are fantastic; they know their horses inside out, and in fact – I’d go as far as to say that some of them know their horses better than their wives or husbands! Whenever we start working with a new horse, we do need a few things from the owner. First of all, for the horse to be in a clean stable for us to work from. Then we need some background info on the horse, including: If any eating or digestion problems are present. You may be surprised to hear that many digestive issues aren’t actually to do with the gut, but in fact due to a change in the way that the horse consumes his food from pain in the mouth.Whether the horse has any vices, these can affect our safety – and in the case of crib-biting for example – the integrity of the teeth.And any behavioural changes. Finally, we want the owner to understand that we will always put their horse’s health and well-being as priority number one!
WHERE DO YOU WORK THROUGHOUT THE WORLD?
– As well as working in our native England, we started operating in Norway over sixteen years ago, and today have a substantial portion of our business there. We’ve been lucky with our clients in Norway, they’re fantastic, and because we’re there intermittently; they’re very organised in catching us while we’re there and fitting to our schedule.
WHAT TYPE OF CLIENT DO YOU ENJOY WORKING WITH THE MOST?
– Professional yards are one of my favourite types of clients to work with; there’s just something about the level of care that their horses receive. A professional yards business is their horses, and therefore – their care, health, and happiness reign supreme. I know that they’re going to keep an eye on absolutely everything to do with each horse and give me a full report next time that I’m up there. And the same works the other way, we provide each of our client’s with a report on each horse that we work with, as keeping accurate medical records are vital for the best care long term.
The proof is in the pudding, and with top clients including; Scott Brash, Tina Cook, Dane Rawlins, Peter Charles, William Funnell, Shane Breen, and Fiona Bigwood to name but a few – It’s safe to say that Chris, Duncan, and David are exceptional at what they do.
It was a pleasure to interview Chris, and hear first-hand his passion for good horsemanship, and the welfare of these majestic animals. His knowledge of equine dentistry is unsurpassable, and his enthusiasm contagious. I would happily entrust any of my horses to his care, and I think that’s the truest test!