On Vetting a Princess

I have waited to call the vet and get the Choctaw Princess’s teeth checked until she was willing to let people look in her mouth and float her teeth without panicking.  The first time I set my hand on her nose, she threw up her head, rose up onto her tippy-toes and began skittering sideways and backwards. She was willing to go to any extreme to get her nose free.

Many veterinarians now use a power drill to grind down the sharp edges of a horse’s molars. Since it is very easy to make damaging mistakes with a power tool, they have use a bit-like contraption that allows them to crank the horse’s mouth open and keep it that way. Most horses resent that, so they also have to use enough drugs to keep them docile. Because the horses are so out of it, then the vet has to tie or prop their head up. These vets are also used to sport horses that usually respond to tranquilizers by becoming more tranquil.

This mare has the same princess temperament as Alazana, the first Choctaw mare I ever handled (click here). They are smart sane solid partners as long as you ask for their cooperation. They are willing to figure out how to accomplish whatever the task at hand might be, as long as you are willing to work together. Trying to force them to do anything is a terrible insult however, and they NEVER forget who disrespected them so.

These Choctaw Princesses may also have a paradoxical reaction to the drugs especially when stressed. Instead of a dozy cooperative animal, you are liable to get a horse that descends into strict survival mode, capable of reacting to the least touch as a life-threatening attack. Alazana was perfectly willing to throw herself down on the ground or go over backwards if she felt the need. She was equally able to bounce back up on her feet in an instant.

I gained great respect for both the athleticism and the determination of these princesses.  And since I spent  a number of years riding shotgun with my vet and helping him with the horses he was treating, I learned firsthand how much difference it makes if a horse is accustomed to being handled BEFORE the vet arrives. Making sure that horse owners understand that their horse needs to learn what we humans want became a big part of my motivation for starting my series on horse training on the ground (click here).

Even once Choctaw Princess is willing to let me open her mouth, pull her tongue to the side and look at her teeth, persuading her that someone else should be able do it is a whole other challenge. So it took four plus months for me to decide to call the vet. I started by massaging her lips as horses do use their very sensitive lips to interact with the world. A firm massage also releases endorphins.

As she resigned herself to my handling her lips, I slowly asked more of her. Eventually I was able to include opening her jaws and moving her tongue aside so I could see her molars. I made an appointment when she finally got to where I could put my fingers in her mouth and play with her lips and tongue while she rested her chin on my shoulder. She still finds it peculiar and undignified behavior, and makes it clear she is not fond of the taste of human fingers. But she no longer reacts as though I am threatening her life.

And thankfully, I have an old-school vet that is willing to float her teeth by hand without cranking her mouth open or tying her head in place.  It took a moment to catch her once he arrived as she found a man in a cowboy hat getting out of a pickup truck nearly as alarming as Alazana, her predecessor, did and for the same reason, past abuse. But once I had a halter on her, she allowed him to work on her without resisting. We did give her a small dose of tranquilizer mostly because the insides of her cheeks were irritated from the sharp edges on her molars.

Her molars are starting to wear down, so he was careful to just knock the rough spikes off the edges. As they continue to wear, she will have a harder time grinding up hay and will need to eat more pellet mash. Other than that, the verdict was that she is pretty good shape.

She has no parasite eggs in her manure, so there is no need to worm her. Her hooves are in good shape and her weight is perfect. She shows no signs of equine metabolic syndrome.

I told him that the mare had come with a bucket of supplement for equine metabolic syndrome that appeared mostly to be a few trace minerals and some probiotics.

He said that the supplement would not hurt so I could finish off the bucket, but he did not think it was necessary to continue feeding it to her.

He explained that researchers have just found out there is a distinct type of bio-active fat that builds up in certain horses, especially in the neck. That type of fat produces bio-compounds that disturb cortisol production. The fluctuating levels of cortisol then interferes with how insulin controls blood sugar. The unstable blood sugar causes the founder and the hoof problems.

I said that in that case what I needed to do now to keep her healthy was to keep feeding her timothy hay (click here) and make sure she kept moving.

He laughed and agreed, saying that the research has also found out that there is no magic pill for the problem. A high-fiber low-carbohydrate diet helps, but, not surprisingly, it turns out that single most effective prescription for preventing and managing equine metabolic syndrome is exercise.

While my lungs have been acting up, I have been taking advantage of the Choctaw Princess’s fence walking habit to keep her moving . In her chosen area, she is quite calm. And if I turn her out loose to eat weeds she is calm. But if I put her in a different pen or the big arena, she paces the fence line until I put her where she wants to be.

I am hoping this is part of her hyper-vigilance and her adamance will ease up as she settles in. So to make sure she keeps moving, the next step for the Choctaw Princess is getting her going under saddle.

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