Surrounded by curious elementary schoolers, Ashley Dillow smiled at the slew of questions coming from all directions, about horses, their teeth and the large horse skull sitting before the group.
“Are these actually the real teeth?” one boy asked, reaching to gently touch the jawline of the skull.
“Yes, this was an Amish horse. A vet that I’ve worked with, worked with a lot of Amish horses, and she saved me this skull,” said Dillow, who runs Aspire Equine Dentistry in Boonsboro.
Standing Tuesday morning under the shade of the Equine Expo Showcase tent on the infield of the Frederick Fairgrounds, Dillow said she doesn’t usually have such a big audience, but it was fun to share her knowledge and interesting facts with all the passers-by.
“I’m basically just explaining to them why horses need their teeth done, because a lot of people don’t know and it seems crazy to them,” Dillow said, explaining that, while some aspects of horse care are readily apparent to owners, many people don’t tend to look a horse, gift or otherwise, in the mouth. “With a horse’s hooves, a farrier, who trims the horse’s hooves and puts shoes on, they’re out, like, every six weeks. You can look at your horse’s feet and know, ‘OK, they need to be done,’ but you can’t see your horse’s teeth every day.”
While many of those who stopped by Tuesday didn’t have much experience with horses, even some of the more knowledgeable visitors seemed surprised to hear about the importance of dental care for a healthy horse.
Amelia, an 8-year-old New Midway Elementary School student who stopped by with one of the school groups, said she owns her own horse, an 11-year-old American paint horse named Breezy, but, while Amelia goes to the dentist regularly, she was not sure the last time Breezy got a checkup.
“I’ve never seen her teeth get cleaned, but she eats perfectly fine, she eats fine and her teeth look fine,” Amelia said.
Still, the third-grader said she might check with her mom after hearing about equine dentistry from Dillow.
“Dental care is extremely important and it also helps with the horse’s performance, so show horses need to feel comfortable with their headset and the way they carry their bodies to perform, so it makes a big difference,” Dillow said of her role in horse care. “So dental care starts at a young age and it stays important throughout their life to make sure they’re eating well and are at a good weight and able to perform like they’re supposed to.”
Children weren’t the only visitors who stopped by Dillow’s tent. Maureen Boskin made her way to the fair from Baltimore County and was excited to see the horse dentistry demonstration on the schedule.
Boskin also owns horses and has worked with them for 65 years, so she had a lot of specific questions for Dillow, particularly when Dillow was discussing the differences between using electrically powered tools and hand floats to file and adjust horse teeth. A traditionalist, Boskin said she has shied away from using power tools in the past, but after seeing Dillow demonstrate how much vibration and potential discomfort for the horse could be reduced by using a powered tool versus a hand float, Boskin admitted she was coming around.
“She may change my mind on this,” Boskin said. “But that’s why I’m listening to this presentation, because you can always learn more. I’m glad we stopped by.”