Vet Adventures: A Knock-Out Farm

Some vet calls are like pulling teeth, both literally and figuratively.

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Angry Appaloosa
Julia Remezova/Shutterstock

I’d worked with Holly before, an abrupt and unfriendly woman in her 40s. I always had a feeling that it wouldn’t take much to push her over the edge. She was impatient now, describing a broken and displaced incisor on Mickey, her 18-year-old Arabian gelding. I assured her I’d be right out to take a look at it.

A warning bell was clanging in my mind, and it wasn’t just from the anticipation of dealing with Holly. An older horse with an incisor issue was not always a straightforward problem, and I arrived at the farm in good time. My heart sank when I lifted his lip and studied the rest of the loose incisors and the angry receding gums. This was no basic broken tooth, and I was going to have to break some hard news to Holly.

Mickey had equine odontoclastic tooth resorption and hypercementosis (EOTRH), basically a fancy way of saying that his incisors were demineralizing at the roots and were painful and loose. Holly wasn’t a bit impressed with my explanations, so I hauled out my radiograph unit and took X-rays of the front teeth, all showing disintegrating roots.

It was a clear diagnosis, but not a happy one for Mickey, as there is no real cure for the disease. The only treatment was to pull the affected teeth.

Along Came Fred

While Holly was glaring and muttering and breathing hard, I noticed that Mickey’s pasturemate, a leopard Appaloosa named Fred, was doing the exact same thing through the open window of Mickey’s stall door: marching back and forth and glowering at me.

He was very protective of Mickey, and as Holly delighted in telling me, Fred loathed veterinarians. Especially ones in brown coveralls. I looked down at my brown coveralls doubtfully, and Holly assured me that I was OK because I wasn’t wearing a baseball hat.

Every time I’d been to Holly’s farm, Fred had been safely penned up, and it was a little intimidating to have him so close. I double-checked that all outside doors were firmly shut and returned my attention to my patient.

The offending incisor that had launched the investigation had to come out right away, so I returned to my truck for some sedation, my dental forceps and some tissue retractors. It would be simple to pull the tooth, and with a bit of luck I’d be able to get several other diseased incisors out.

As I entered Mickey’s stall and sedated him, I noticed that the outside door to Fred’s adjoining stall had been opened, but assumed Fred had been moved somewhere else so he wouldn’t disturb us with his pacing and vocalizing. I was focused on the horrible tooth and unfortunately didn’t see Fred come flying in for the kill.

He reached me easily over the low wall that separated his stall from Mickey’s and hit me so hard with his head and front teeth that he knocked the wind out of me. I fell backward, stunned, and sprawled on the ground struggling to get air into my lungs. I was dimly aware of Holly shouting and I heard a door slam, but it was some minutes before I could get to my feet and assess the damage.

My elbow was bruised and bleeding, and so was my neck and chest where Fred’s teeth had grazed me. My expensive Littman stethoscope that had been draped around my neck was gone. My coveralls were ripped from top to bottom and I had nothing on underneath them but a sweaty sports bra and shorts.

Holly stared at my bleeding wounds and the shredded coveralls that gaped around my torso. She hurried me to the sink in the corner so I could clean up. Gingerly I washed and dressed my wounds, then returned to my truck for a windbreaker to put over my bare torso.

Holly locked Fred in the round pen while I searched the field sadly for my stethoscope, finding nothing but the chewed earpieces. Perhaps Fred had eaten the remainder, and I grimly wished him the worst bellyache of his life. There was no explanation or apology from Holly, and I had a feeling I was only one in a long line of Fred’s veterinary victims.

I returned to Mickey and quickly extracted the protruding tooth. I put the horse on some pain medication and antibiotics, had some strong words for Holly about allowing her dangerous horse to maul veterinarians, and packed up and left as quickly as I could, still shaking as I drove away.

The Aftermath

Holly called the clinic later, sounding cheerful. She wasn’t going to have any additional teeth pulled on Mickey, as she was sure that he’d be fine now that he was getting antibiotics. I explained that the antibiotics weren’t going to help with this dental disease and that the teeth absolutely had to come out, but Holly laughed merrily.

“Good old Fred wasn’t going to let you pull all of Mickey’s teeth today. He’s Mickey’s guardian angel!”

No, Fred was Holly’s evil twin. I was astonished at her gleeful tone. I thought about the opened back door to Fred’s stall, and about the low wall separating him from Mickey. The horse could have killed me, and she was laughing about it? Had Holly intentionally opened that door to Fred’s stall?

I never found out because I never went back. On top of Mickey’s sizeable vet bill, I added charges for my destroyed stethoscope and coveralls, a fractious horse handling fee and a large extended exam fee for the time I’d spent trying to find my stethoscope and cleaning up my injuries. Holly paid the hefty bill in full and I happily never heard from her again.


This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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