Saturday, April 9, 2011

Horse Dentistry

My neighbor, the owner of five horses, asked me to come to her barn to meet the area's new mobile veterinarian, a man who specializes in the care of horses. So, I did. I witnessed the spectacle of horse dentistry for the first time. The doctor and his assistant made it look easy, though there were horse drugs involved. Easy for the horses and easy for the humans.

You would think it would take a lot of apparatus to grind down the points and hooks on a horse's teeth, but it requires a surprisingly meager supply of torture implements. There was a stainless steel contraption that held the horses mouth open, and fastened in place with two nylon straps. That allowed access to the back teeth. For the front teeth, it was a simple length of space-aged plastic pipe slipped behind the front teeth, like a big fat bit, which held the front teeth apart so they could be smoothed.

The piece de resistance was an electric drill with a very long stainless steel shaft and a grinder disc about an inch in diameter at the end. It took hardly any time at all and no one was kicked or bitten or tossed into the dirt. Not a single horse was roped or whipped or beaten or even frightened. Afterward, the horses stood quietly with drooping eyes until the drugs wore off, then turned into the pasture to graze. With newly evened teeth, they can grind the tough grass more efficiently and derive much better nutrition.

It would be better for all living beings if our biology was better designed, but things are imperfect and often need some form of help. With such care to their teeth, horses can live better lives. They only have to belong to someone willing to pay for such services on their behalf.

Kansas State University is a veterinarian school with a good reputation for equine medicine. Beneath his overalls, the good doctor wore a sweat shirt of the school's distinctive purple with a large white "KSU" emblazoned across the chest. I found that endearing but he may have only been wearing it because it was old and horse dentistry is messy. Humans treating horses kindly is a recent invention in this mean old world. A middle-aged man wearing his school's colors while gently tending horses made me feel good. It is proof the human species is evolving.

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