The looks on their faces were drawn and serious. I was nervous as it was my first year on the job as a veterinarian.
I worked for a rural general practice where I saw mostly cows and small animals. My boss could work on horses but was glad to hire someone showing interest in them so he could concentrate on the cows of the upstate New York hills where he was born and raised.
Daryl and Betsy are a husband and wife that enjoyed each other’s company and brought an air of perfection to everything they did. They were always clean and so were their Quarter Horses and the barn. Two descriptions of them would include the words “neat” and “serious.” They were proud of their Swedish roots and reminded me of it often. In my first few visits to their barn, Daryl was dominant and neither cracked a smile. It was all business all the time.
I had done enough things right on their farm over several visits to earn their suspicious trust but I was far from absolutely proving myself to them. First of all, I wasn’t Swedish. Today they wanted my opinion of several things including a pregnancy exam. I started in on the list and the items were simple and straight forward.
“I want you to check if this horse is pregnant,” Daryl said is a stern and authoritative voice as we approached the final item on his list. He had been a magistrate in the past and was used to saying things once and getting the correct results immediately. He also proudly owned a Thompson sub-machine gun and all I could think of was he was a law man from the old whiskey running days and he took no prisoners.
Betsy slipped a halter and lead rope on the horse and I followed her into the stall. My brain was filled with images of how this tall “Abe Lincoln” looking man with a trimmed black beard peppered with gray hairs continued to size me up. His questioning eyes challenged me constantly and he had every right to do this. I was fresh out of vet school and my finger tips had little experience in pregnancy detection. Fancy technology did not exist. We were just grateful for plastic sleeves and the word ultrasound was not even on the horizon.
Let’s not let Betsy off the hook on this scrutiny of me. While her piercing blue Scandinavian eyes, full blond hair, and tight fitting jeans sculpted her body and reminded me of pictures I had seen in magazines in my pre-marriage days, her look was no less stern than Daryl’s when it came to their horses.
Seriousness settled in as I started to position myself behind the horse and I applied copious amounts of lubricant to the sleeve on my arm. My young vet mind dove deep into my training. My thoughts did a dry run: Slowly enter one finger, then two, then my whole hand into the horse’s rectum. Stand to one side in case the horse decided to kick. Evacuate the manure from the rectum then re-lube. Work my way into the rectum slowly and dip my curved fingers down towards the pelvis and “hook” the uterus. Work my hand both to the left and to the right and feel for uterine tone and any large lumps. At this point in my thinking, my brain stopped. Something wasn’t right.
I had my sleeve on and the lube was dripping off it, but that was as far as I had gotten. I turned to the couple and asked the breeding date. It was the fall and this horse should be anywhere from 3 to 9 months pregnant. Why were they asking me to check this mare now when the size of the foal would be very large and they should have had the mare confirmed pregnant months ago. Daryl’s response was annoying. “You tell me Doc.”
I lifted the tail and aimed my forefinger towards the anus. I froze. One hole! I stopped and looked up at the two who had twitching corners on their lips. “What the heck,” I exclaimed!
Darryl and Betsy started to uncontrollably laugh as they pranced around their quiet-as-a-mouse stallion saying that they had got their new young vet to do a rectal on their stallion to see if he was pregnant. I protested, “I never went in! I did NOT do a rectal on a stallion for pregnancy.” This only fueled their fire and they told this story to anyone who would listen for the next few years.
I went home mad and upset, but I also went home knowing I would be their vet forever. And I was.