The car was tossed up and down, out of gravity’s control, as we sat helplessly on the George Washington Bridge in New York City and the clock ticked past midnight into the new day. The last hour had been spent creeping one mile through the tollgate with only half the toll lanes open. Cars with bleary faced drivers, along with delivery trucks and semi-trucks, all trying to beat the morning traffic into the city, were falling victims to workers repairing the damage of years of traffic on the bridge. Now everyone was forced into one lane. Drivers with feigned courtesy submitted to each others realization that we all needed to band together to get through this mess.
Now we sat in the middle of the bridge as the bright lights of the worker’s headlamps mixed with the mesmerizing, flashing, yellow strobes of construction vehicles controlling the lives of drivers wanting to mind their own business. As the traffic zipped in the other direction, their weights sprung the steel and concrete suspension bridge, tossing our car, the semi’s and the workers gently up-and-down like a small boat on the giant, rolling waves of the ocean.
There was nothing to do while parked on the bridge but to reflect on our day. B. B. King gently played his guitar and sang through my noise canceling headphones, sealing out the constant drone of city life – even at midnight.
Melissa and I had started out at 6:00 in the morning and drove to where we stash the dentistry equipment in New York so our flight the night before was not burdened with the extra weight. The day before we had worked in Miami and Palm Beach Florida in 85-degree sunshine and vibrant green surroundings. This morning it was 35-degrees with a brilliant, blue sky, though the autumn color was all but gone and tree limbs were bare to the on-coming winter wind. At midnight, as the traffic started moving, we still had another hour to go to the hotel.
The 18-hours that passed from morning to this moment was filled with something very few people experience or even realize is possible. Most believe that equine dentistry is boring and routine. But this day was the epitome of what has driven us to do what we do for years. What we both experienced on this day makes every day worth it.
Every horse has a threshold of pain and it is this perception of pain that determines their reaction to life including sharp teeth. Three horses today experience pain differently than almost every other horse we see. Their pain threshold was so low that any pain in their mouth sent them into defensive moves that made floating impossible without medication. It also made six months too long to go between floats. At five months they were close to un-rideable, therefore we float them every four months.
They had all been given in the past a blend of a sedative, a morphine based painkiller and a potent anxiolytic to complete the routine floating of their teeth. Today, each saw me enter their stall as a trusted friend – a reliever of their pain. Passing the rasp back along the space between the cheek and the last upper cheek tooth became, for each of them, a process of them trusting me. Finding a place deep in them to resist turning inside out was achieved only through a give and take between the horse and me.
The floating process was still difficult for them to overcome today, but they all recognized that the results would be worth it. And now it was done without any medication.
We were rewarded with signs of gratefulness throughout the process: heads lowered, nose gently touching the back of the arm, head pressing into my chest as I rub their cheeks over their smoothed cheek teeth.
The signs of gratefulness are what we work for and are the reason nine out of ten horses are floated without medication. Floating without medicating the horse is not easy to do – nor are building relationships. Like bouncing on a bridge at midnight, with patience, all obstacles can be overcome.