Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Poor Dawn! and Drift Works Hard

Our wonderful natural balance equine dentist, Mike Fragale, visited today.  Sugar and Misty were examined and needed no work this time, so back out to the pastures they went.  Charisma and Scout were worked on first, and while they were being done I worked with and rode Drift.  It was still chilly - in the 40sF, but with bright sun and not as much wind as yesterday.  Before I rode, we did some lungeing and also some work on foot handling.  A few carrot pieces, using clicker, somewhat improved his attitude about having those hind feet handled, although we're not where we want to be yet.  We'll keep working on duration and him getting casual about the whole thing.  We worked on relaxation at the walk - it took a while but we got there - and then we did quite a lot of trot work, focussing on relaxation and softness.  He starts out wanting to rush, but the longer he works the more rhythm and relaxation start to come through - I got a little bit of both today, a bit more consistently.  Forward, and even true impulsion, are certainly not lacking.  His trot is a real delight to ride - enormous drive and lift from behind, and when he relaxes a bit and the stride frequency slows down, the feel is amazing - I'd love to see what it looks like.  His true calling may be dressage, despite his small size and chunky appearance.

Drift got his teeth done - he didn't need too much work except on some lateral points.  The most interesting thing was that his hyoid apparatus was displaced - this is the set of structures, including the hyoid bone, that support the tongue and larynx, and are connected to other important structures.  Drift's was displaced somewhat to one side - the dentist was able to fix it - the expression on Drift's face was interesting - he looked surprised, then relaxed by the fix.  This structure is an important one and can have a major impact on the horse's acceptance of contact and way of going, much as the TMJ joints do. (Our dentist never pulls the tongue out of the mouth to one side as you may see some vets and dentists do - instead he puts his hand into the space between the incisors and molars to hold the mouth open - pulling on the tongue can damage the hyoid apparatus.)

Our chirpractor/vet was with the dentist to do the sedation.  She's an endocrine specialist, and I've been taking with her about Drift's somewhat excessive interest in mares - I'd rather he not have the nickname "Mr. Studly".  We're putting him on a very low dose of cyproheptadine - this is the same medication that is sometimes used to treat Cushing's, although for him the dose is much lower.  One if its effects is to somewhat suppress certain adrenal functions, including those that produce certain male and stress hormones, including cortisol (this is why the medication helps with Cushing's) that he may be producing excessively - these hormones aren't true testosterone which is only produced by the testicles.  We should know within a week or so if it'll make any difference.  (If you're competing, your discipline may not permit this medication.)

Pie's teeth only needed a tune up as well - he was done back in November when I got him and he's just adjusting to having all his molars come in.  The dentist said that he would probably move to an annual schedule with Pie after this time.

Then Dawn got done.  Her tongue seems to have healed beautifully - there wasn't even a scar.  She did have some lateral points, but there was something else - a big something else - that probably explains both her troubles with the bit and some difficulties chewing that I've observed.  She already had a slab fracture of one molar on her left lower side - this might have been the cause of the jaw abscess she had several years ago.  That tooth is fine - part of it is broken off at the gum line but the rest is fine.  She had a new slab fracture of a molar on the right side of her lower jaw.  The tooth was split from front to back.  After her sedation was increased, the dentist was able, using a dental pick, to clean it out and determine that one piece was loose, and to remove that piece using dental pliers.  The piece was necrotic - dead and rotting - and extended below the gum line.  The other piece of tooth remaining appeared viable, so he rinsed the area thoroughly with water to stimulate bleeding - there was a fair amount of blood - and she'll be on Uniprim oral antibiotics for three weeks and then he'll stop by and take a look.  If all goes well, healthy granulation tissue will form and no infection will develop.  If that doesn't happen, or the remaining portion of tooth can't survive, then we'll be off to the veterinary clinic at the U. of Wisconsin for oral surgery to remove the rest of the molar.  At her age (she's almost 14), there's still quite a bit of root left and simply pulling the tooth at the barn isn't an option.  We're keeping fingers (and hooves) crossed on that one.  It must have been pretty painful, and could very well have affected her going in a bit, although the tooth is nowhere near where the bit lies.

Who knows how she did this?  It's a Dawn sort of thing - perhaps she somehow hit her jaw on the fence, perhaps when she cut her tongue.  We'll never know.  I gave her today's antibiotics in the form of a paste after her sedation wore off - she forgot her pasting etiquette for a few minutes, but soon remembered - she does this odd thing where she bends her head around until her nose touches her side and then she stays put for pasting.  It took three syringe fulls to get all the paste down her - she and I both got some on us and I wiped us up with a wet paper towel.  Then we took a little hand walk in the barn aisle and did a little grooming.  She is major league mad about being stuck inside by herself on a nice day with nothing to eat, and it doesn't help that she's in raging heat.  In order to allow the blood in the area of the partial extraction to clot properly, she can't have any hay or feed - nothing except water and a bit of grass as late in the day as possible - until tomorrow morning. When I put her back in her stall, she did one squeal and wall kick to express her displeasure.  Poor Dawn mare!

When I got back to the barn in the p.m., Dawn was very agitated and double-barreling the stall wall.  I turned her out in a small grass paddock and she went to work eating.  Even though she'll have no hay tonight, at least she'll have had something to eat - I guess grass is the soft food after dental work.

Drift and I did some trailer loading work after bring-in time.  When my daughter picked him up in March, it took several people over an hour to get him on the trailer.  I suspect he knows how to load but just didn't want to and was also out of practice.  His evasions are to pull back in a straight line or to veer off away from you where you lose your leverage because he's heading directly away from you.  I didn't know how far we'd get today, but wanted to get started.  Due to his learned evasions, I elected to work from inside the trailer - I have a 4-horse step-up slant load, and with the partitions pushed back it's reasonably roomy.  I'm not advocating loading practice where you're inside the trailer, as this does present certain hazards (I did wear my helmet) - my preference is to send the horse in - but with Drift's evasions, I felt being inside the trailer would give me certain advantages.  We can do sending in to the trailer later when his loading is more routine - he sends into the stall and over ground poles well, so I don't think that will be a problem later.  I also wanted to do the work without any extra person assisting - sometimes this is needed when a horse "sticks" and won't move the feet, but with Drift the feet move pretty easily.  It's important to (eventually) have a horse that will load for you when you're alone.

I had him on a long line, with his ordinary halter on - no rope halter as I didn't feel the need to use pressure to get the job done.  My job was to stand in the trailer door and hold the line, and he initially thought his job was to try to head off around the trailer to either side.  I didn't let him get too far to either side (although he disappeared from view) but used the sides of the trailer doorway for leverage to stop his progress and turn him around.  He basically flailed from side to side like a big fish - but only he was the one putting pressure on the line, not me - I wasn't trying to reel him in or drag him into the trailer - I wanted him to choose to come in.  But it did take me really holding on to the line to keep him from getting away. When he stopped and stood still on a loose line in the trailer door, I clicked and treated and took him for a walk for a minute.  Then he sniffed the trailer floor - same thing.  And then two feet in - I backed him off before he could do it himself and rewarded him.  After about 20 minutes, he jumped right in, and I backed him out and praised him.  Then we did it another time - he wanted to be done and added pulling back in a straight line to the mix - I didn't pull back (pulling against a 1,000 pound horse is a losing proposition in any event) but just let the line go slack and let it feed through my hands.  Since I wasn't pulling against him, he stopped, and moved forward again when I asked.  Then he tried standing still to one side, since flailing around wasn't working.  I directed him to move across the trailer doorway a couple of times, and within about 10 minutes total from our first loading he was on the trailer again.  I backed him off, praised him and fed him a jackpot of carrots and led him back to his stall.  Good Drift!

I've left the trailer hitched up in the parking lot of the barn.  We'll be doing more loading work over the next several days until it's as routine as walking into the stall.  After I was done, I did discover that one of my fingers was bleeding along the edge of the nail - the line must have pulled across it - but I didn't even notice it while I was working.

Well, I'm tired - that was a long, but good, day with horses.


  1. That's a full day and you deserve your rest.


  2. I need to work with — believe it or not — Jaz on trailer loading. Ever since Poco left, he's been a pill to load, and it seems to be getting worse.

  3. I'll be doing trailer loading work too as soon as it drys up here.

    Just had all our dental work done here too. No big deals just normal wear and light points.

    Long tiring day but one full of horses =)

  4. Whew! That sure was a long, very productive day. Amazing that you were able to get so much done in just one day and made some big strides with Drifter.
    Hopefully Dawn will stay infection free and will heal without having to go through dental surgery.


  5. Ohh, poor Dawn. Don't you wish we could explain stuff to them better?

  6. Poor Dawn, indeed. That tooth could explain a lot. Hopefully she will heal up well and not need more surgery.

    Good work loading Drift. That is such an important skill for him to master. In case of emergency he needs to load well and quickly. Keep up the good work.

  7. Poor Dawn that must have been painful and could explain some of her behaviors. And to add insult to injury she couldn't even eat!

    Good work with Drift, it's an important behavior to be able to just walk on to the trailer. You never know when there might be an emergency and they have to load quickly.

  8. Oh poor sweet Dawn-I'll bet she is so much more comfortable now! Sending her tons of good thoughts!

    And I loved hearing about Drift and trailer loading-looking forward to an update from the next lesson!

    Do you trailer your horses loose or tied? Curious how you teach them to be okay with the slant divider closing?

    Such good ponies all around!

  9. I surely hope that the remaining portion of Dawn's tooth remains viable and healthy. The poor girl, that must have really hurt!
    I use an equine dentist in the area. He does pull horses' teeth when necessary. He pulled Pippin's abscessed molar two years ago. It took him 3 hours of wiggling and pulling to loosen the periodontal ligament. Then once the tooth was removed and the cavity cleaned out he packed it with an epoxy rubber-like substance. Pippin couldn't eat hay for two weeks - he lived on timothy pellets that were softened with water. My dentist commented that had I taken Pippin to our State's Vet school for the extraction they would have given him general anesthesia, cut his face and possibly even a piece of bone to remove the tooth. He also commented that vet schools (he is currently in his 4th year) are just beginning to focus on dental health beyond floating and extraction. I can see this with my dog, too. His vet is pushing teeth cleaning and preventative actions. Anyway, I hope you don't need to do anything more with Dawn's tooth, and I wasn't sure if you had this information in the event she needs an extraction. I would hazard a guess that you already know all of this as you are usually 'up' on everything and I think you are the type to research all of the options!

  10. Dreaming - good information. We had a good discussion about all of this yesterday. The U.Wisc. clinic has a very good oral surgeon, and he's able to so some extractions from inside the mouth - depending on the location and condition of the tooth. In other cases it does require going through the jaw. My dentist is very good and he isn't comfortable doing this sort of extraction in the barn.

    Dream Valley - I trailer my horses tied - although the tie's long enough that they can get there heads down somewhat to keep their lungs and noses clear. In the case of a sudden swerve or stop, if the horse is untied, there's a greater risk that a horse could fall, and having them tied also prevents them getting into things with their neighbors. I know some people prefer to trailer untied, and that's fine too if that's what you prefer - I just prefer to tie.

    On the divider, I just add that in gradually as the horse gets comfortable, starting with banging on things and making noises. It hasn't been a problem.

  11. Dawn's tooth issue sounds painful! I'm hoping she's feeling better and that all goes according to plan.

  12. I can imagine how upset Dawn must have felt, and I hope that she's dong better. The surgery sounds like it would be quite an ordeal. It's so smart that you are working with Drifter now with the trailer loading. I think it will be a good way for him to learn to trust and communicate with you and will help him when you are riding. He's coming along so well for you. And Pie - he's a gem!


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