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.