In this blog, I’ll tell you about my doctor, Erin. She is a horse vet. It’s not personal, but I am wary of her because it seems her purpose is to frighten me.
Erin comes to see me at least two times a year. One of the visits is after the cold time and before it gets warm. The other is after the hot period and before the white stuff falls from the sky. Both visits involve her sticking something sharp in my neck.
I anticipate the pinch and tense my muscles as soon as she’s close to me, especially if I see the long pointy thing in her hand. I fidget on the cross ties and throw my head in the air, trying to evade the shot. Mom reassures me, but she’s learned that the only thing that makes this process go more smoothly is to distract me with a treat.
The vaccines she gives me are to keep me healthy. Horses can get many of the same viruses and diseases that people do. Erin gives me one vaccine for the flu and Rhinovirus in the spring and another for Eastern and Western Encephalitis and Tetanus. She gives me a vaccine for West Nile and Rabies in the fall.
Eastern and Western Encephalitis and West Nile are diseases carried by mosquitos. There are other vaccines that owners give to their horses, but these are the ones I get.
During these routine visits, Erin also puts something hard and cold in various places on my barrel. The barrel is the area behind my withers to my flank and under my rib cage. The instrument she uses helps her to hear sounds inside my body. For example, she listens to the organ that goes thump-thump-thump, my breathing, and belly noises. A gurgly tummy is a sign of healthy digestion in a horse.
I heard her telling Mom that an adult horse’s heart beats between 28-48 times per minute, depending on the animal’s size. She also said that horses breathe 8-14 times per minute.
Erin takes my temperature too. She does this by putting the thermometer in my rectum or bottom. Some horses don’t like this, but I don’t mind. She stands close to my hind leg, pushes my tail to one side, and inserts the gauge. Erin told Mom that the average temperature for horses is between 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The other thing she does is take a sample of my poop. She tests my manure for parasites or worms. Worms can negatively affect a horse’s health when they are present in moderate or larger numbers.
I tested positive for tapeworms one time, and Mom gave me some awful tasting stuff that came in a tube. She slid it between my teeth and cheek while holding my chin up and depressed the plunger to dispense the medicine. When I tasted the paste, it made me make the Flehmen Response.
Horses sometimes do this behavior when they encounter an interesting or stimulating scent. We look like we’re laughing, but we’re transferring the smell to our vomeronasal organ, which processes smells and sends them to the brain.
Equine vets also take care of horses’ dental needs, so Erin gives me an oral exam and floats my teeth annually. Horse teeth continually grow during their life until they get old. Most domestic horses don’t eat the correct forage to grind their teeth down, making floating the teeth necessary.
Horses don’t chew up and down like people. Instead, they chew outside to inside on a slant. As the teeth grow and don’t get worn down properly, sharp points may develop, preventing the horse from closing its mouth correctly.
When Mom first got me, she noticed that I was dropping my grain when I ate. She called the vet to come to give me a dental exam. The vet found several teeth with sharp points. The teeth with points dug into my gums when I chewed. To compensate for this problem, I stopped closing my mouth, which is why food was falling out of my mouth when I ate.
The good news is the doctor can fix this problem. The bad news is that it requires one of those sharp pinches in the neck I don’t like. An odd thing happens after this shot, though. I get exhausted. I have a hard time holding my head up, and I struggle to stay balanced on my feet.
The people and Mom are nearby to help steady me if needed. Erin and her assistant lifted my head and placed it in something that held it up without any effort on my part. Then they put something cold, smooth, and hard into my mouth and cranked it open until it was gaping.
Then the unpleasant part starts. Erin rested something on my teeth that made a GRRRR, GRRRR, GRRRR sound. It’s loud and sends vibrations into my mouth. I tried pulling away, but I couldn’t. I moved my tongue forward and back to prevent her from using the tool, but this didn’t work either. The racket went on and on as I struggled to stay standing.
It ended eventually, and even though I’m still sleepy, I feel relieved to have the metal thing out of my mouth and the GRRRR gadget away from me. The people lead me into my stall. Someone holds onto my tail as I walk. I think they did this helped to steady me.
Once in the safety of my stall, I dropped my head and drifted into a slumber. I couldn’t even keep my tongue in my mouth. When I woke up, I felt less groggy and poked around looking for something to eat, but there wasn’t anything. I was hungry and tried telling Mom I was ready for some food. She ignored my request and scratched me instead.
After some more time passed, I finally felt like myself. I repeatedly bobbed my head up and down to let Mom know I wanted food. She made noises with her mouth, disappeared, and returned with my hay net. Mom slid my door open, said “back,” and walked by me to hang the net. I snatched a bite as she passed by.
You might be wondering why I wasn’t allowed to have food. I heard Mom and the barn people talking. They said that when a horse is under sedation that it’s not safe to give them food, especially hay, since they may not chew it properly and choke. Mom wasn’t taking any chances and made sure I was fully awake before letting me eat. As I munched on my hay, I noticed it felt better. I could chew correctly, and no more pain when I closed my mouth.
Horse veterinarians do many more things, and in the next blog, I’ll tell you about other times they’ve visited me. One time my eye swelled shut and had water coming out of it. Another time, I couldn’t walk correctly on my left front foot. Oh, and once, I had a bad tummy ache that made me bite at my sides and throw bucks in my stall.
There I go again, getting ahead of myself. I can’t help it! I love telling kids all about me so they learn how special horses are and why we need dedicated, knowledgeable doctors to take care of us.
Written by Diane R. Jones April 11, 2022