Q: I have a weird question that came to me when I read an article on tooth grinding. My mare doesn’t grind her teeth, but sometimes when I ride her she makes an odd noise. It’s like her jaw is so relaxed that as her head bobs, her teeth lightly come together and they make that muffled “thunk-thunk” noise. She does this with the bit and without. Do you think this noise indicates distress in any way? Christy Juranic; Milan, New York

A: Honestly, I am not sure what the “thunk-thunk” noise is, but here are a few thoughts about possible causes, along with some questions to get you and your veterinarian started.

The first thing to do is to check your mare’s mouth for any abnormality that may result in different head carriage or mouth movement while tacked up. A thorough dental exam under sedation may help. Could this be a respiratory noise? An endoscopic0 examination of the upper airways might be informative.

History is also important. How old is your mare? How long has the noise been present? Has she had any injuries to or infections in her mouth or neck? Has she had any dental, chiropractic or other work done in the head region recently? Is her throatlatch thin, thick or normal in appearance? Is her jaw and neck musculature normal? Does she have any trouble eating? Does she salivate excessively? Does she loll her tongue?

Have you had anyone observe you while riding to get another perspective on what is happening when she makes the noise? Does it occur during relaxed riding or when you are setting her head or doing other training maneuvers? Does she seem anxious or irritated when the noise occurs?

So far I have mostly asked questions, but if all of them get a favorable response, then perhaps she is just a happy, functionally noisy mare. Along with all of the readers, I would be interested to hear what turns up.

Jim Latham, DVM
Pagosa Springs, Colorado