Vet Trip: Good News For Tigger

Tigger went in for regular immunizations, Coggins test (for Equine Infectious Anemia, annual test required federally), dental work (“floating”…actually means grinding teeth down…more on that later) , and a lameness exam.   I also wanted to talk to the vet about his change in behavior in the last six months.  Rags went in for the same things, except no lameness exam.   Laci, who hauls for me, and has done training on Mocha (after Mocha dumped me….and later dumped Laci…found her a home with a rancher that’s worked because Mocha is a man’s mare), Molly, and Kalli.  She discovered that Molly was good at running low-level barrels (so she went to a girl who was crazy to run barrels), and Kalli developed intractable founder and had to be put down.  She is really, really good with horses.  She was going to help me with Tigger before he got injured, but afterward nobody knew if he’d ever be sound enough.  The last time I had him tested, over a year ago, he was better but still lame in the right hind.  The answer for that was…pasture, 24/7.  No work but a little in-hand work, but not longeing or anything that puts more stress on the relevant joints.

Both horses were hyper this morning, what with a bustling busy “wet” wind (not raining but very moist-feeling), and having Laci there.  We had to walk them up our drive onto the street, and then up to the corner of the other street where the horse trailer was parked…and in which there were three other horses also going to the vet.   Tigger knows Laci and behaved fairly well, though he was being a “giraffe” with his head way up in the air and his neck straight up.  Rags, whom I was leading, was being a butt-head and pulling me along rather than walking quietly beside me.  However, they both loaded into the trailer, Tig first and then Rags, right up against the back doors.  And off we went for the half-to-3/4 hour trip to the vet clinic.  When they were brought in, they got their Coggins and their shots, and Rags was taken off to be tranked and then have his teeth done.

Horses are tranquilized for their dental work, and you can’t do a full soundness evaluation with a tranked horse (esp. Tig, who weighs remarkably little for his height: Rags is shorter but heavier.)  So Rags got his teeth done first, and then Tigger got his lameness exam and *then* his dental stuff.  Both the farrier and I thought Tigger was moving completely sound, but the vet has the last word.  A horse is trotted on a hard, level surface (in this case the concrete of the floor under a high ceiling so that every hoofbeat can be clearly heard.  First in straight lines, and then if sound in straight lines, in circles both ways, and then after a test of the compression and mobility of each hind leg (when you know what you’re looking for was in that end of the horse.)   The vet also palpated his back from just above the withers to the tail root, especially around the SI joint where the sacrum and spine and pelvic ilium come together.  That’s the joint that Tigger fell over backwards onto when he didn’t clear the 5′ fence, and it’s a critical joint for horses…if it’s injured and doesn’t heal, they cannot carry weight or pull anything without pain.  Walking and then trotting on a hard flat surface without anything to trip over reveals any unevenness…and in this building, loudly and clearly.  (If they’re unsound in walk, they’re not trotted…unsound in walk is enough.)

Tigger produced a perfect four-beat walk (clop clop clop clop) and then in trot a perfect two-beat one, the diagonal pairs (front left/back right, front right/back left)  exactly as loud as each other.  On the straight, on circles in both directions, after the flexion test on each leg.   He is now physically sound, and cleared by the vet to return to work…that he hasn’t done for three years.  In fact, the vet (and Laci) recommend that he start being brought back into working fitness right away…not ridden (he’s lost a lot of his “topline” muscle and also some of his abs that are necessary for building topline muscle) but starting with longe line work, then ground driving/long-lining, trotting over ground poles and raised poles on the longe or ‘in the lines’, and then when he’s rebuilt some of that, seeing if he can be ridden. This will involve his mental health as well as his physical fitness, because he already had some problems there when I bought him, and along with severe damage to his SI joint, he also slammed the back of his head on the ground when he fell, jarring his little brain.  Horses can get concussions and as with people, it can change their personality.  Tigger’s increasing irritability, nipping Rags and trying to nip him particularly when I was working with him, his not wanting to be groomed or handled, etc., could be long-term brain damage or, conversely, a sign of Rags getting more of my attention and more privilege (from a horse’s perspective even getting to be ridden out on the land is privilege…more space, more things to do.)  Horses, esp. the “hot” breeds, hate both confinement and boredom.

So Tigger will now go into training (though not for the next two weeks, because Laci is hauling several horses and two students to Oklahoma for a big barrel-racing event) and Laci will work with him.  First here, at weekly intervals, until Tigger has really formed a working-level bond, and then at her place, where he will get worked daily.  The goal is to restore his earlier training step by step, ending with (we hope) backing him again and getting him rideable in a bitless bridle (because of his earlier tongue damage.)  And in the process, get him calmer, happier, less frustrated and edgy.  If this succeeds, and we end up with a happier horse that can do things humans also enjoy (such as riding)  safely, he has a much better chance of not ending up in a kill pen after I die (at his age and my age, he could easily outlive me.)

OK: horse dental stuff for non-horse people.  Horses chew sideways, back and forth, and their food is largely grass, which contains silica even if it’s not grown in a sandy place.  So their teeth grind each other, uppers and lowers, back and forth.  Their teeth continue to grow (“long in the tooth” is not just a metaphor: an older horse’s teeth are longer above the gumline, with less left in the jaw below.)  They don’t grind *evenly* in many cases, and the parts that aren’t ground off readily form points and edges that are sharp and poke into the sides of their mouths.  Horses react to this pain  by holding their heads at different angles when they chew, and if they’re being ridden with a bit in the mouth, they will react to that bit differently.  Dental work for horses is largely (not exclusively) grinding off the rough, sharp, edges and points, restoring the flatter grinding surfaces to be more efficient and of course non-painful.  In the old days, vets arrived with an array of flat rasps on long handles, which they’d put in the horse’s mouth one by one, while the horse had a brace holding its mouth open, and then rasp manually.   Now, vets use an electric drill (basically) with a long narrow pipe that rotates a grinding end.  And they have bright little LED lights that clip to the vet’s head band or to the horse’s halter (I’ve seen both) and shine very clearly into the horse’s mouth.  They have rolling stools that let them work from a lower level than they used to.  It’s noisy and the horse feels the vibration of course, as we do with dentists at work (my turn tomorrow o joy!)  but it’s tranked so it isn’t worried as much.  The horse is standing in “stocks”….a small enclosure the width of a horse, with adjustable barriers for different *lengths* of horse, and over head pipes that make it possible to put the horse’s head where the vet wants it for whatever’s being done there.   (Horses are also put in stocks for other procedures as well, including surgeries for which they don’t need to be laid down.)

After this, we came back here, put the horses in the horse lot, and I gave Laci some of my old equipment and the one bitless bridle I’d bought for Tig just before his accident.   I had a surcingle and driving reins, for instance, and she can use them on her other horses before Tig’s ready for that stage, and then on him.

And she and her assistant went off to lunch and I went inside and rested until I could eat and then went to sleep for the afternoon until feeding time.   I didn’t sleep much the night before the vet visit; I usually don’t.  (Yes, Tigger and I share some personality traits; it’s why I’ve always liked “hot” horses.)   We saw lots of bluebonnets on the trip there and back, and I got to show Laci’s assistant where I get to ride (from the outside; they needed to get back to her place with the other horses.)


13 thoughts on “Vet Trip: Good News For Tigger

  1. Wonderful news! I hope Tigger’s brain has recovered as well and he’s just bored. I also hope your dental appointment is as uneventful.

  2. That’s great about Tigger! I do hope you have a less horrible dental visit than I have been having recently. I can’t help but wonder why I pay such a lot of money to be tortured!

  3. Very good news – hope your visit today turns out as well. Concerning Tigger outliving you and winding up in skill pen – you will just have to live forever, we are waiting for the 200 Kylata installment, laughter. But seriously, can you not leave a sum of money to provide for a home for your horses so that they can live out their lives peacefully on some farm somewhere? I would hate to think of them being put down.

    The care and feeding of famous authors is as important as that of horses.

    Stay safe and stay sane

  4. Wonderful about Tigger’s physical recovery — fingers crossed he also becomes a great riding horse too.

    Best wishes with your dentist.

    1. I hope he can be a fun, exciting, horse for a younger, less damaged rider…I loved being on him for the few minutes of the test ride before I bought him. But at this point…unless he changes A LOT during his retraining (miracles do sometimes happen) he will need a specific type of rider, and I am not feeling like I qualify. He needs a bold, confident rider (which I was), physically fit with excellent reflexes (which I was), and experienced at a fairly high (not pro, necessarily, and not high in competition) training level: great balance, light hands, steady mind, finds hot, fast-response horses fun, but not themselves overly reactive. After enough injuries just about everyone becomes more tense, more worried…and a tense worried rider creates tension in a hot, sensitive horse. I watched Tigger’s response to Laci yesterday, and his response to me as we changed hands on his lead rope several times while waiting for his turn at the lameness exam. Evidently I carry more tension than I realized, because he was relaxing with Laci (whom he sees rarely) and tensing up again when I took the rope. Hard to swallow, but obvious. My attempts to soothe him, steady him, were not soothing *to him.* Laci’s were. He was letting her pet him, rub his poll, rub his brow, hang an arm over his back. Before his big crash with the fence, I *had* been successful calming him in those first weeks, I *had* been able to groom him, touch him all over, etc. But after the crash, and his time in the vet hospital, he didn’t want any of that (was in pain a long time.) So…if I’m a cause of anxiety and fear, then I’m not the person he needs, at least not unless/until he changes. Which at his age (13-14 now) is even less likely than it as at 10. And I’m older in human terms than he is in horse terms. We’ll just have to see how it goes. Both of us are committed to “This horse will never go to a kill pen and will be given the best life *for him* that we can manage.” Bringing him back from the bad things that happened to him earlier and the bad thing that happened here with that failed jump will be an accomplishment for all three of us, because he has a vote here too.

  5. Just a note–Coggins tests are state requirements, not Federal. Oregon doesn’t have them, unless you cross a state line (used to be the case that one could cross the line into Washington and as long as the stay was under 48 hours, then no Coggins required).

    But–until recently, when cases emerged in Idaho, there hasn’t been any incidents of EIA here.

    My Mocha mare has stayed in Oregon and has never undergone a Coggins test. Different climate, different issues.

  6. I’m astonished to hear Tigger is better. A tribute to your care. I haven’t replaced my deceased dog, because I can’t stand the thought of a pet outliving me. it isn’t fair to a dog.

  7. Your comment about him relaxing more with Laci is encouraging. He can do it–and maybe, just like with Molly and your Mocha, the right person will appear as Laci works with him….

    (and no, I’m probably too old to take him on! Though he does sound tempting….)

    If Texas wasn’t so far away, though, I know one young lady who might otherwise be an option….

    1. I can’t encourage any young lady to move to Texas or most adjoining states at this time, but if she should do so anyway, she can contact me. “Too old” is a subjective measure; you know best what you can/can’t do with a very hot horse. I’m really sad I’m not “there” anymore. I might, when I reach my weight-loss goal, get back “there” but at 77 it’s unlikely. Could still have done it in mid-50s (was able to recondition and ride a very hot, tall TB steeplechaser in a fox hunt without coming off or endangering myself, the horse, or others, aside from that one kick at the side of a car. It wasn’t an elegant job of managing poor Jack, but it was effective. Anyway.

      I think he’s suited to the kind of rider I was more like 40 years ago than just 20. I wasn’t a bronc-rider type, more like a someone that hot horses usually went kindly for–I didn’t provoke them and wasn’t scared of their energy.

      1. The second paragraph of above comment actually means: if a hot horse wanted to run across a big field flat out, I was all there for it…loved speed. Chase rabbits in a wooded area? Sure. (At nine, encouraged by an older girl…we were near Kerrville, riding in mostly oak woods; the horses would spook up a rabbit and then chase after it…if they spooked up another, they’d veer off after that one. Had to duck, be ready for those sudden turns. I thought it was the most fun ever. Then one day of the week’s vacation, she suggested we herd the cows roaming the same area. Turned out to be a bad idea…we got in trouble. She was supposed to know that was wrong; I was the visiting town kid and had no idea that those cows weren’t her dad’s cows, or that they were dairy cows, or that running dairy cows around was bad for milk production. I just wanted a reason to ride every possible moment I could. DUH. No more riding that trip! I don’t think the older girl’s dad, who owned the motel where we were staying, knew about the rabbit chasing, either. Or the time my horse bolted with me up a hill and his daughter was riding behind screaming “Don’t fall off, don’t fall off!!” I wasn’t about to fall off; I thought being run away with was great fun. Nine-year-olds who’ve escaped the worst teacher they’ve ever had*, getting out of school a week early, to go on a trip and get to ride a horse have zero fear of what the horse will do because they’re too young, too ignorant, and too happy about never having to sit in that classroom again.

        *(and the worst teacher I had in public school, for that matter. Even worse than the religious bigot Algebra I teacher. The bad teachers did not like kids much, and really loathed the kids who learned quickly. Miss Hargrove, third grade, I learned later, picked out one girl in each class to dump on, always the smartest girl (easy, because she would insist on having one girl from the group normally sent to Mrs. Gardiner, who got the quickest-learners in second grade. Then she’d make that girl’s life hell for the year. She was a born mean-girl bully. The day she told me to stay after school, and then told me to turn in my schoolbooks and take all my supplies home because I didn’t have to attend the last week of school, the relief was immediate and overwhelming.)

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