Many of you saw the post a few weeks ago about Floating a Horse. Our vet, Dr. Gene Koo Kang, had come to the farm to float (file down) Buck’s teeth. We had planned to float Leah’s teeth that day as well but backed off when we became concerned her arthritic front legs wouldn’t be able to hold her up while she was under sedation. In order to do the procedure, we decided, some kind of support system would have to be rigged.
So Bob, who loves rigging things, went to work. He found an old piece of leather on the farm and cut slits into it so he could thread cargo straps through it to make a sling. Then he hung the sling from the top bars of our vetting stanchion and cushioned the leather with a saddle pad. Finally, he dragged the whole thing into the soft dirt of the arena to eliminate any risk of Leah slipping on the barn’s concrete floor.
Everything was ready and waiting when Dr. Kang returned to the farm this weekend to vaccinate the herd and hopefully float Leah’s teeth. He thought the contraption looked good, so he and Bob carefully walked Leah into the stanchion and secured the sling under her belly. We had no idea how she would react to the sling, but Leah is a very good horse. She remained calm and cooperative the whole time, even while Bob ratcheted up the cargo straps to tighten the sling around her.
Then came the moment of truth. It was time to sedate Leah. Now, I am sure slings of this nature have been used throughout the equine world before, but we had never seen one used or done it ourselves. We wouldn’t know if the sling would work until Leah was sedated. So Dr. Kang gave her the injection. And we waited to see what would happen.
And do you know what? It worked! As we expected, Leah’s arthritic front legs stopped working just as soon as the sedative hit her. If not for the sling, she would have collapsed inside the vetting stanchion. Instead, she just slumped into the padded sling and seemed about as happy as a horse can seem when it’s hanging from a sling. We were all greatly relieved to see the sling working without causing Leah any worry or pain.
With Leah comfortable and secure, Dr, Kang was able to take a good look at her teeth. It had been a while since her last floating and most of her back molars had sharp points on them. Pointy teeth, like the one in the right foreground of her mouth in the photo, can cause painful sores in a horse’s mouth. Bob noticed a calloused spot on Leah’s tongue, likely caused by one of the points.
Leah hung in there (pun intended, just this once) while Dr. Kang floated the points down with power tools. A chin stand and his assistant, Payton, supported Leah’s head while he worked. If you’ve never held up a horse’s head, it’s hard to appreciate just how heavy they can be. The head and neck of a horse make up about 10% of its body weight. Leah weighs in at about 700 pounds, so her head a good 70 pounds! And she’s a pretty small horse. (Buck’s head/neck probably weigh about 110 pounds).
Because Leah’s teeth had been neglected for a while, her front teeth, or incisors, were horribly overgrown. In fact, her teeth had gotten so long they sometimes stuck out further than her lips when she reached for a carrot. When a horse gets this long in the tooth (not a pun, that’s what that means), it can’t chew its food well enough to release the nutrients. So, even if the horse is eating, it’s not being nourished. For Leah, her overgrown teeth have been making it hard for her to put on weight no matter how much we feed her.
To correct the problem, Dr. Kang used a hand file to file down Leah’s incisors, top and bottom. It’s precision work. He had to get each row of teeth even and the two rows filed down to just the right height in relation to each other so that the top teeth and bottom teeth close over each other in a smooth bite. It took a lot of patience and elbow grease, but when he was finished, Leah’s teeth looked beautiful. Not being so long in the tooth anymore, she might even be able to pass for a younger horse, which I am sure will please her, because she has her eye on Twister and he’s just a three-year old.
An hour after Bob and Dr. Kang led Leah into the stanchion, Shella led her out. She emerged relaxed and not at all traumatized by what had just happened. Shella took advantage of Leah’s relaxed state to give her a quick bath, and then Leah was turned her out in her pasture, where she spent the afternoon grazing in the sunshine, finally able to grind all of the important nutrients out of the spring grass with her newly floated teeth.
And so, I am calling it a job well hung (OK, one more pun. Last one, I promise). For those of you tracking the vineyard, no bud break just yet. Our freezing temperatures overnight seem to have slowed down the buds a bit. I haven’t noticed much change over the past few days. But it’s supposed to warm up to 70 degrees tomorrow. So there is still a good chance we will see green leaves before the end of March. More soon.