Leith persisted in his search. Unearthing information about equine dentition was harder than playing a guitar, which he had done throughout the ’60s in a variety of bands. He still plays today, mainly working in small Swiss venues performing blues, country music and vintage rock ‘n’ roll.
As a young man he had jammed with the Strangers at the Villawood Migrant Hostel, famous for spawning groups like AC/DC and the Easybeats; and he later played with the Delawares. “I remember we recorded Barry Gibb’s Bad Girl – we sang the background vocals and the Bee Gees did the handclapping.”
Leith also toured Asia and Vietnam entertaining American and Australian troops, and played in Europe and the States. He again visited America in the early ’90s, but the attraction, this time, was a dental academy not a music gig.
“I’d been given a pamphlet which was an overview of what happens in a horse’s mouth. I wrote to the man who’d prepared it and heard nothing for 18 months. I then received a letter telling me he was setting up a school in Nebraska. I went there to study in 1992. The Academy of Equine Dentistry became the biggest of its kind in the world and is now based in Idaho.”
The staff found the eager Australian interesting and picked his brains as much as he did theirs. He had worked with simple tools, had an ability to “read” a horse’s mouth and could instinctively analyse many problems. Leith was asked to lecture at the Academy, a request he found overwhelming at first. “But the principal said that the best way to learn was to teach.”
His horizons widened, he travelled extensively, worked on horses all over the world, wrote and presented a post-graduate course for the University of Zürich, created TAFE units and formed an Australian chapter of the World Wide Association of Equine Dentists (WWAED).
(Only equine dentists can belong to this independent association and all members must conform to its strict Code of Conduct and Standards of Practice. Its inaugural meeting was held in Nebraska in 1991 to formulate a cohesive body of professional horse dentists who could provide the highest level of care and treatment and advanced dental procedures).
Several years ago, he conducted studies on brumbies from the coastal area of south-east Queensland. The results were extensively outlined by equine herbalist Victoria Ferguson in Speaking the Language of Horses – Without Whispering, which can be found on her website.
These coastal brumbies were between 9 to 15 years old but nearly all molars were in an advanced state of demineralisation. This was attributed to the introduced grasses such as buffel, kikuyu and setaria, which deplete the phosphorous and calcium causing secondary hyperparathyroidism commonly known as “bighead”.
“We horse people have created the problems and we should recognise and compensate for them,” says Leith. He is just as concerned about many competition horses as he is about those in the wild; and dismayed by an overuse of power tools in equine dentistry, which has become the norm in American and European yards.