Friday, August 23, 2013

A Tooth-Rasping, Bone-Cracking, Foot-Filing Sort of Day

"I  have a funny feeling about this."
We are into our second week of horse ownership, and it was time to have a well-baby checkup for the 1,100-pound (give or take a few hundred pounds) baby.

The veterinarian who gave Avi his pre-purchase checkup--a quick look-over to make sure he didn't have any significant problems that hadn't come to light--gave us succinct advice about finding the perfect horse.

Basically, that there was no such thing as a perfect horse.

"I tell people that if they want a good horse, don't get a horse," he said gruffly, "but that if you're determined to get a horse anyway, get this one." (Meaning, of course, not our particular horse, but whatever horse he's examining at the time.)

We already knew that, like any off-the-track Thoroughbred, Avi's joints had probably endured a lot of pummeling (racehorses are being ridden when they're still babies and they work hard; a two-year-old Thoroughbred has already gone through training and is being raced at an age when youngsters of other horse breeds are just getting acquainted with saddles and such; it's bound to take a toll on young bones). A huge percentage of them also suffer from gastric ulcers, due to stress. So it was likely that, despite his excellent care, Avi might have them, too.

And we knew that he had what's known as a "lazy flapper" or "roaring"--a condition in which one of two flaps in the windpipe doesn't stay properly in place and gets sucked into the horse's airstream, which as you might guess seriously limits its respiratory efficiency and endurance. Avi had "tie-back" surgery to nail that little flapper in place, but it didn't take, thus bringing an early end to his racing career.

We'd also been told he's a real tenderfoot. He's got four feet of different sizes and sensitive soles. It's a good thing he doesn't have to shop for shoes at Macy's.

Part of Avi's going-over included chiropractic work. This is what chiropractics looks like when it's done to a horse:


I am being somewhat misleading here because it was just funny to witness what looks like somebody doing to a horse what we always tell children not to do to cats and dogs. The vet explained that she was working on decompressing the horse's spine; she also applied pressure with hands, forearms, and elbows to various points on his neck, spine, and shoulders, and worked on his head and legs.

Avi seemed to enjoy the attention and was visibly relaxed. He was even more relaxed after he was given a sedative to prepare him for some dental work.

"Whoa. Where am I? Who am I? WHAT am I?"
Be glad that you are human (as I assume you are, if you are reading this). Because when you go to the dentist, you do not need to have your head in a sling and a gigantic mouth speculum inserted between your jaws and strapped to your head. (This explains the sedation.)


You also do not need to have an electric file thrust into your mouth--a file so loud that the dentist has to wear protective earmuffs to spare her hearing.


Equine dentistry is not for the faint of heart. It's a vigorous workout. The vet wore knee guards as she spent much of her time braced against the floor as she rasped, or "floated," Avi's teeth (horses get sharp points on their teeth over time, which makes eating painful and also wastes hay, as they dribble and drop a lot of it when chewing hurts).

Finally all the dental work was done, and all that remained was to let the horse fully regain consciousness before allowing him to have access to hay and grass again.

"I have no idea what just happened."

Less than 24 hours later, the farrier arrived to trim Avi's soup-tureen front feet and replace both front shoes, one of which had already been lost.

This meant more filing--but nothing that required sedation. Getting shod was no big deal for Avi because he'd been through it umpteen times already.



Modern-day farriers have wonderful modern-day tools at their disposal, but their craft is inherently much the same as it ever was. There is still the ringing of iron on an anvil, the roar of flame, the dull tapping of nails, and the sizzle and burning-hair stench of hot metal applied to hoof.


And, at the end of it all, a horse cantering around his pasture, testing out his new shoes. No more sore right front sole!