Monday, August 20, 2007

Rusty and his mouth

Rusty has been particular about his mouth. With his need to have his teeth floated and my commitment to developing understanding and cooperation rather than using sedation and restraints, several unproductive visits from the equine floater left us all wondering if this visit would be successful or not.

Things I had done to prepare Rusty:

1) My fingers in his mouth, frequently to rub gums, touch tongue, scrape plague off his canine teeth with my finger nails.

2) Other people's fingers in his mouth -- I involved two friends in the past few months.

3) Foreign object in his mouth:
a) bits -- I've worked at my timing and feel so the bridling process goes better.
b) toothbrush -- using the soft bristles to rub his gums, and using the rubber handle to explore up where his molars are and let him chew if he wants.
c) old floating rasp, borrowed from a friend, dipped in applesauce at first then molasses.

James Cormier Jr. came on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, our two horses that need floating the most are the two most reluctant when it comes to foreign objects in their mouths. He started with Sofia and made progress but not enough to actually float her teeth. He has done her teeth in the past, and since then I needed to have her wolf teeth surgically removed by the vet because their size prevented him from accessing her teeth. I had that done last month. James and I talked for awhile about how frustrating it is for him as he does have a wonderful feel and willingness to experiment in order to get connected with a horse and gain their trust. He floats without speculum or sedatives, so trust and cooperation are key to safety of all and the success of his doing a good job. Yet he comes to my farm and encounters two horses he cannot connect with out of thousands he can.

So second we try Rusty. We were, by prior decision, in the arena where either horse would not feel boxed in and could back up as far as they wanted in the process of checking out their options. Rusty pulled his head away. Rusty backed up. Rusty twisted his head away. Rusty threw his head around some more. It looked like prior visits even though I'd done considerable preparation in hopes of this going well.

I was about to suggest to James that he use a stern voice and tell Rusty to "cut it out" -- something that had worked for me at times -- just as James stepped back from Rusty and threw his hands out and up in a stance of pleading, and said in a very loud, very certain voice: Rusty, I have to do your teeth!

James took yet another deep breath and walked up to Rusty, put his rasp into Rusty's mouth, and proceeded to float his teeth while Rusty lowered his head and stood there.

James was floored. He was ecstatic. He grinned from ear to ear as he progressed with all the rasping that was needed, occasionally stopping to look over to me, shake his head, and say "I can't believe this!"

We may never know what really happened, but I'm guessing that when James got 100% adamantly clear about the need to do this, Rusty understood, no ifs, ands, or buts, it was time for his teeth to be done. And that was that.

It probably helped that I had brought some new, tasty experiences to his memory bank of what happens when people put foreign objects into his mouth. No, James did not sweeten his floating tools, but indeed Rusty's conviction about stuff in his mouth was changed from what I'd done the prior few days.

James is coming back in a few days to try Sofia again. I'm not proud. I'm not stubborn about my preference not to use sweets to engage a horse's cooperation. I am clear that I am introducing a pleasant experience in her mouth and offering her the opportunity to think differently. I know exactly when she made up her mind that people should not put foreign objects in her mouth and can forever regret allowing someone else to use some force to dose her. I hope to report in a few days that she successfully opened her mind (and her mouth) to the possibility that it could be a neutral if not pleasant experience for her to allow the floating to happen.

1 comment:

ELL said...

That's an amazing story! You have the Patience of Job. I can't imagine spending that amount of time on getting teeth done--never mind paying for the extra visits, while tranquilizers are available and so pleasant (so tranquil)