How To Tell a Horses Age

teeth checkup

As the old saying goes, you can tell a horse’s age by its teeth, but is that true?  You can get a general idea of their age but it is not 100% accurate. 

 When a horse is young, this is more accurate but as they get older, many factors can affect their teeth so it makes it more difficult.

Can You Tell The Age Of The Horse By Its Teeth?

A horse’s teeth are not like the rings of a tree that show each year’s growth.  Things like diet, vices, genetics, grazing conditions and basic maintenance all play a part in how the teeth are aging.  Although you can get an approximate age of a horse by their teeth, you have to know exactly what to look for in regards to their teeth.

If you want to use a horse’s teeth to tell the approximate age, there are four major ways to do so, which include:

  • The occurrence of permanent teeth
  • Angle of incidence
  • Disappearance of cups
  • The shape of the surface of the teeth

Although you can use a horse’s teeth for their approximate age, the only way to know their exact age is to have proof of their date of birth.  This is sometimes hard to get unless you purchase a horse from a breeder that keeps accurate records of all their horses.

Several university agricultural extensions have detailed fact sheets with diagrams, which show a horse’s teeth at every stage of their life.  You can take this and compare the actual teeth to the pictures to find their approximate age.

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horse laughter

Stages Of a Horse’s Teeth

1. Baby

A foal gets their first deciduous or milk teeth shortly after they are born.  By the time they are nine months old, their final deciduous teeth are grown in.  When the horse is between two and three years old, they will get their first permanent teeth.  It would not be unusual for an owner to find a shed tooth on the ground or in the feeder.  

The deciduous teeth are shed gradually.  By the time the horse reaches the age of five, all their permanent teeth are grown in.  The deciduous teeth are shorter and paler in color than their permanent teeth.

2. Adult

The new permanent teeth are quite concave on the surface.  These “cups” along with the shape, grove, and angle on the outer vertical surface will gradually grow out.  These are called the Galyvane Grove and are the indicators of how old a horse could be.  As the horse wears its teeth by grazing, these concave surfaces will be worn flatter.

By the time they are 11 years old, the teeth will be worn flat.  How quickly this happens will depend on the type of grazing that is available.  If they graze on grass on sandy ground, the horse will wear their teeth flatter than ones that only eat hay that has been grown on clay type soil

Around the age of 10, the grove will start to appear at the gum line and continue to grow out so that eventually it will reach the entire length of the tooth.  By the age of 15, the grove will be halfway down the tooth, and by the time they reach their mid-20s, the grove will begin to disappear from the gum line.  If the horse lives long enough, the grove will completely disappear as the tooth wears away naturally.

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3. Senior

The angle of the teeth increases as the horse ages; the milk teeth are straight and short as are the newly erupted permanent teeth.  This is where the saying long in the tooth comes from.  As the angle increases so do the length from the chewing surface to the gum line.  The teeth also change in shape as the horse ages from oval to more angular.

The color of the teeth will probably be quite stained and yellowed and at some time after they hit their late 20s, they may start to lose their teeth.  A domestic horse may outlive the lifespan of their teeth.  The horse’s health may suffer if they lose too many teeth because they will be less able to chew tougher grasses and hays.  They will probably require a diet that is tailored for older horses.

 Care Of a Horse’s Teeth

A horse’s teeth grow throughout most of their lifespan.  They may not wear evenly so if this happens, you will need to take your horse to be checked by an equine dentist or veterinarian once a year or sooner if the horse seems to be having problems.  

Your horse may need to be floated, which means that their teeth will need to have the sharp edges or hooks that might form on the edges of the teeth filed off.  These sharp edges or hooks will prevent your horse from wearing a hackamore or holding a bit comfortably or properly chewing.

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Extra Horse Teeth

Some horses may grow tushes or canines and wolf teeth.  These are the extra teeth that grow in the toothless bar of a horse’s mouth.  They grow between the back and front teeth.  If they cause discomfort or interfere with the bit, these teeth may have to be removed.  These teeth will usually come in by the time they are five years of age.  Some have them and some do not so these extra teeth may not be a problem.

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  • A horse has two sets of teeth; a temporary set and a permanent set.
  • The temporary incisors generally erupt in pairs at 8 days, 8 weeks, and 8 months of age.
  • An experienced horse person or veterinarian can be pretty accurate on judging a horse’s age by their teeth up to the horse is 12 years of age.
  • The average lifespan of a horse is over 25 years but it is not uncommon for a horse to live into its 30s.
  • Horse’s teeth erupt through the surface of their gums almost all its life until their tooth itself is completely worn down.