Tag Archives: Equine Dental Care

Mission Accomplished, We Slung A Horse!

Bob rigging the sling to the vetting stanchion.
Bob rigging Leah’s sling together with a hunk of leather and three cargo straps.

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.

Dr. Kang adjusts the sling around Leah for an even, comfortable fit while Blue looks on.
Dr. Kang adjusts the sling around Leah for an even, comfortable fit while Blue looks on.

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.

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Bob ratchets down the straps to tighten the sling around Leah’s belly.

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.

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Bob tries to distract Leah but she seems to know Dr. Kang is back there preparing to give her an injection.

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.

The reason for the sling.  Leah's knees collapsed as soon as the sedative took effect.
The reason for the sling. Leah’s front legs buckled as soon as she went to sleep.

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.

Dr. Kang inspects Leah's teeth.  The sharp point in the upper right of her mouth is one of the molars that needs filing.
Dr. Kang inspects Leah’s teeth. The sharp point in the upper right of her mouth is one of the molars in need of filing.

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.

Dr. Kang uses a power tool fitted with a file to smooth out the sharp points on Leah's teeth.
As he did with Buck’s teeth, Dr. Kang uses a power tool fitted with a file to smooth out the sharp points on Leah’s molars.

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).

Leah's incisors were quite long.  Dr. Kang used a hand file to shorten them and create an even bite line between her top and bottom teeth.
Leah’s incisors were quite long. Dr. Kang “floats” a hand file over the teeth to shorten them and create an even bite line between her upper and lower jaw.

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.

All done!  You can see the even bite line of her teeth now.
All done! Dr. Kang’s young assistant Peyton can see how much shorter Leah’s teeth are. That will help Leah grind up her food, which is necessary for proper nutritional release and digestion.

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.

Shella leads Leah out of the stanchion after the float.  It was a complete success.
Shella leads Leah out of the stanchion after the float. It was a complete success.

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.

If you look on top of the garage door you will spot Orange Kitty sitting in the sunlight.  He watched the whole procedure from there.  Dr. Kang had neutered him in this very barn last summer, which might be why he wanted to keep an eye on him,
If you look on top of the garage door you will spot Orange Kitty sitting up there in the sunlight. He watched the whole procedure from there. Dr. Kang had neutered him in this very barn last summer, which might be why he kept a safe distance.

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.