When it comes to the care of his teeth Bill Beck prefers to let MacLeans freshmint and the toothbrush do the job - he is not a big fan of the dentists chair and hasn't faced the drill for many years. But when it comes to the horse dentistry business which he took over four years ago when his son Peter departed for Austalia it is another story.
The 50-year-old works seven days a week most of the year around the harness and galloping stables of the South Island and his unusual trade also takes him to the Feilding stables of Maurice Campbell every three months. "People give me some bloody strange looks when
I tell them I'm a horses dentist. A lot say they have never heard of the job."
Bill packs a bag of tools into his Pontiac Le Mans which include a wide range of rasps, tweezers and teeth pulling devices. When visiting a stable he checks the teeth of each horse and generally pulls out caps from those aged between 2 and a half and 4 and a half and files down sharp teeth. Horses have no nerves in their teeth apart fron their wolf teeth and rarely need tranquilising. Generally it takes between 10 and 20 minutes to do each horse depending on the state of it's teeth and the facilities available.
Most racing stables get their teams checked every six months and Bill is on the road a great deal. It is well known that horses with bad teeth don't race kindly. He recalled a recent case when a young trotter had been going along well but suddenly started hanging and breaking for no apparent reason. Bill was called in and ended up pulling eight teeth with the horse recovering quickly and qualifing two weeks later.
Still working a team of six thoroughbreds at Riccarton, Bill's schedule last week was pretty typical. On Monday he was attending to ponies and hacks at Rangiora, Tuesday at Riccarton, Wednesday at the Mid-Canterbury stables of Jim Ferguson and Mike Heenan, Thursday at Tim Butt's West Melton stable, Friday back to Ashburton to galloping stables, Saturday out to Oxford for more ponies and hacks and the same at Leeston on Sunday.
"You don't get much time off. When Peter (who is working as a horse dentist based in Newcastle) went to Australia I was just filling in until he got back and I never expected to get so busy. I learned the trade from him and Jimmy Tomkinson but like anything the more you do the more you know."
Credit: Gary Birkett writing in HRWeekly 17Jul91