I have had several people ask me how I am able to teach horses or other equines, to allow dentistry (teeth “floating”) without resistance, using no means of restraint such as a twitch, or sedation or tranquilization. I will explain. You will see that it takes time and patience and empathy – BUT – eventually it saves time, effort, and the patient not only tolerates the procedure, but also can actually enjoy it.
The method I have used on countless equine patients, including my own horses and mules, is simply a variation of how I teach them to accept a bit.
First, I introduce the patient to the taste of a sweet substance, such as molasses, syrup, or honey. Initially, I put a bit on my finger and explore the lips, gums, and tongue. As soon as the patient tells me, “Ooh! That tastes good!” I put some on the dental instrument, taking all the time necessary for the horse to accept it.
Eventually the equine will, without hurrying the lesson, enjoy the instrument being placed in the mouth. I do not yet touch the molar teeth.
In time, using more sweetener, I can place the back (not the blade) of the dental float on a molar tooth.
At this point, I am not yet using a speculum. I use my free hand to hold the tongue and as a result, the jaws do not close. There is just enough space for the instrument to fit between the molar teeth.
When this is accepted without resistance, using dabs of sweetener (or apple sauce) on the blade to encourage allowing it in the mouth, I gently and slowly stroke the molar surface with the back of the float blade. As soon as I see that the patient is calmly licking and accepting instrument in its mouth, I gently reverse the float blade and softly begin to rasp the teeth. I do not increase the vigor, the force, or the noise until the patient calmly accepts it. Then I gradually increase the force I am using.
Yes, I just described a time-consuming procedure, but, if it is a procedure to be repeated again, it will eventually save a lot of time. Moreover, it is safer for both the equine and the doctor and less stressful.
Starting wild colts in my youth, I used a similar method to get them to quietly accept a bit in their mouths. I used the same concept to teach colts to accept many routine procedures.
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