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Older horses’ teeth don’t wear evenly, it seems, and they tend to develop sharp points on inside or outside edges that can cut into the tongue, cheek, and/or gums and make eating difficult. Removing these sharp edges is done via a procedure called “floating.” I cannot imagine how that word ever came to be used for this procedure, which is routinely done every year or two for a horse of Midnight’s age (22-plus).
So I’m standing there in the barn with Midnight, holding the lead rope, waiting for the vet to check his teeth. Vet takes a quick look and says, “Yep. They need floating.” A quick injection into a vein in his neck and within seconds Midnight goes all glassy-eyed. Half a minute and his head goes down, his legs start to wobble, and I ask the vet, “How many of your patients actually fall down with this stuff?!” “Oh, in 25 years, I’ve only had two fall over.” And I’m thinking, “Well, here’s number three!” But Midnight doesn’t fall, thank goodness. The vet walks out to his truck.
The vet comes back from his truck with what looks like a heavy bridle with a strange, large bit. He gets it into Midnight’s mouth and cranks—turns out the “bit” is two metal plates that catch his front teeth and hold his mouth open. Midnight’s tongue flails around for a while but he’s too woozy to offer much resistance. Vet says, “Here. Hold right here,” pointing to the side of the bridle thing. I grab the strap and hang on.
The vet plugs in this contraption that looks like a cross between a huge, flat, metal toothbrush and a chainsaw. Before I have time to holler, he’s got that thing inside Midnight’s mouth and has turned it on. Folks, NEVER again complain about YOUR visit to the dentist, OK? Things could be much, much worse.
It must not hurt a whole lot, though, because Midnight really didn’t put up any fight at all. Most of the head movement was from the vet thrashing around inside with the rasp thing. The sound was awful, the smell of burning tooth enamel pretty horrific. My next question was, “Say, how many owners have you had pass out on you?!” “Why? You need to sit down?” It was a near thing, but I managed, by sheer force of will, to stay on my feet and not throw up. I figured that wouldn’t have helped anything, after all, and I didn't want to look like a wuss.
So the vet keeps this up for quite a while, and I realize he’s only done the lower jaw. Then he says, “Here. Hold his head.” Wasn’t that what I was already doing? Nope. He meant get under Midnight’s head and hold his head up. Now, Midnight weighs 900 pounds, and I’m here to tell you, about 300 of those pounds must be in his head. I’m not that big a person, and I’ve got this enormous horse head over my shoulder and I’m trying to hang on to it and hold it 1) still and 2) up in the air while the vet grinds away at the upper jaw.
Midnight, all this time, is just standing there drooling (yes, all over me). Finally, the “floating” is finished and the “bridle” comes off. It seems that there were a lot of hooks and sharp points; the vet is confident that now Midnight will be able to chew much better and will stop losing weight. I sure hope so; I don’t want to have to go through this again for a long time!
So, are we done now? Nope. One more procedure: the vet needs to “clean Midnight’s sheath.” I will let you, dear reader, imagine for yourself what that’s all about. All I will say is that Midnight did not appreciate it much, but once he was walked into a corner and up against a wall, he tolerated it.
And an hour later, Midnight was back in his stall, calmly and thoroughly masticating his grain; I went home and took a nap.