Earlier this week, before I came down with the miserable stomach crud of the apocalypse, I had a really cool day at the horse farm. Four of the horses there, including two of my own, needed to have their teeth floated. When asked about it, the long-time vet for the horse farm informed me that he no longer was floating teeth, and that he could refer us (the farm owner and I) to a number of equine dentists. We thanked him, and then called the vet that the farm sometimes uses for emergencies (a vet that is actually much closer, but wasn't in business 30-some years ago when the owner of the horse farm became a client of her regular vet). That vet clinic sent a vet out on Tuesday, and that vet and I had a very nice chat during the hour and a half he spent floating teeth.
You see, he lives just up the road from me; we are a mile apart with only fields and woods, and no other houses, between us. His older sons attended school with DS2 and DD1, and his youngest son is only a grade behind DD2. Sure, we talked about our kids, but we also talked deer management, as both his family and mine (and a handful of others around our 'neighborhood' of several square miles and not very many homes) try to selectively harvest deer in the fall rather than willy-nilly shooting at any brown thing that moves. We also talked about some of the common trespassers in the neighborhood during hunting season, and their lack of a deer management program. . .
That, however wasn't the most enjoyable part of holding the horses while they had their teeth floated. I've held horses for floating many times through the almost thirty years that I have owned or otherwise been involved with horses on pretty much a daily basis. This time, was different. What a difference technology makes, LOL!
Traditionally teeth are checked by having someone hold the horse while you grab it's tongue, hold the tongue out one side of the mouth (so the horse won't close it's mouth, biting it's own tongue) then put your hand in the mouth to feel the edges of the teeth with your fingertips. Always a chance of getting your fingers bitten if you lose hold of that tongue--it's slippery and the horse is trying to wiggle it out of your grasp. In my 4-H days I had a friend who got the tip of one finger bitten off while she was checking her horse's teeth.
Then, in the old days, to float teeth you--if you are the vet that is--would take a float, which looks like a short rasp blade on a long handle with an elbow in it, and start filing away at the high spots on the teeth needing work done. Very labor intensive, and not especially able to do any fine tuning. The horses don't especially like to hold still for this, even while tranquilized. It takes quite a while, a whole lot of stopping and starting, usually a lot of sweating and sometimes some bad language.
The new way of floating teeth is to put a speculum in the horse's mouth to hold the jaws apart, which enables you to do a much better examination of the teeth with your fingers (and virtually no chance of getting bitten). The horses seemed to like resting their upper and lower front teeth on the speculum a whole lot more than having their tongues cranked sideways and held out of their mouths.
Floats have been replaced with 'drills' that look more like an electric hedge trimmer, minus the teeth on the edges, with about a 2" round knobby movable disc in the center of the top of the 'blade' on the furthest end (the end that goes in the horse's mouth). It works much like a dentist's drill, grinding down the tooth to be smooth and even. Not so labor intensive, and much more accurate than the floats.
What I found so interesting, more than the power tool now used to 'float' teeth, was how with the use of the speculum, the vet can really get a good look at what all needed to be adjusted in the bite before going to work at grinding down those high spots on the teeth. The vet, after he'd taken a look and a feel at each horse, asked if I wanted to see (with eyes and fingers) what was going on in each mouth.
Did I?!? Boy howdy, I did! I got the opportunity, for the first time ever, to really check out the inside of a horse's mouth with my fingers. Not just the teeth closest to the bar of the mouth where the bit goes, but aaaaaallllllll the way back to the furthest molars. My arm was literally up to my elbow in a horse's mouth, and I was totally stoked! On a few of the oldest horses, I could feel where they were missing a molar or two (horses lose their teeth as they get really elderly). On all the horses who were having their teeth done that day I could feel the hooks, ridges, and ramps the vet was talking about needing to file down. He even let me have a feel before and after doing one of the horses so I could 'see' the difference that floating makes.
It was the coolest thing. For the rest of the day, I couldn't stop telling people about it. Good thing I only really saw people who know me best and understand I wasn't a total lunatic raving on about having my arm in a horse's mouth feeling hooks on teeth. :0)