All Creatures Great and Tolerant

“So, what would you use to sedate a horse for a dental?”

My first thought was Butorphanol and Xylazine, but I didn’t want to go for the obvious answer. It couldn’t be that easy. IT FELT LIKE A TRAP! So, I responded with:


“Um, ACP like Acepromazine, ACP?” The vet cocked an eyebrow.

“Yeah…like that….”

The vet just looked at me. And I wanted to die. It was the first thing she had said to me all morning. At that point, she hadn’t said hi or even introduced herself. She’d just asked a simple question with a simple answer and I was so wrong. It was my first day interning at a new practice and I was off to a great start.

For the record, I should have gone with Xylazine and Butorphanol. It wasn’t a trap.

After floating the horse’s teeth, she had me put on gloves and told me to give them a feel, warning me to pay attention and remove my hand immediately should it look like the horse was going to slip out of the oral speculum. I watched the horse carefully, wondering why I was using my right hand for this task instead of my left. *Note to self* Use your non-dominant hand when blindly exploring dangerous places.

Next, I was then given the flashlight and asked what was uncommon but normal in this horse’s mouth.

“The diastema on her back left cheek teeth?”

Nope. Apparently, that’s common and abnormal, the exact opposite of what she was asking. And apparently, this horse had “excessive transverse ridges” on their teeth. She asked me if I could see them curving.

I nodded. Unconvincingly.

At this point, I started grinding my own teeth, desperate to make a comeback and show this vet that I knew SOMETHING – ANYTHING – about horses. I asked if the excessive transverse ridges were like the “Curve of Spee.” See. I know some horse words. And for the record, the horse did have a diastema…

No. Curve of Spee = Not even close.

My blood turned to ice in my veins. WHAT DID I EVEN KNOW ABOUT HORSES!? At least the dental was over and the horse was going home. Except…there was just this one other question about some mild lameness…

The vet couldn’t perform a full lameness workup in the sedated horse (obviously, even I knew that), but she did palpate the mare’s legs. She told me to feel the right hind limb and let her know what was abnormal, but probably not clinically significant.

I felt the horse’s leg. Up and down. I felt the other one. I felt the first one again. And the other one…and the first one…one more time. Shit.

I walked up to the vet, she looked at me hopefully and I said, “Is it the square shape of her hocks? Buttress hocks?”

Well, yeah, she does have those (thank you , Captain Obvious), but there was something abnormal about her medial splint bone. The vet showed me what she felt. AND GUESS WHAT!?  I WOULD HAVE NEVER NOTICED IT! NOT IN A MILLION YEARS! Apparently, one tiny sliver of a bone was slightly bigger on one leg than the other.

I wanted to cry. It was 9:15 and I was already an utter failure.

The next call was out to do a bandage change on a foal. The kind of foal that is trying harder to kill you than a hungry mama grizzly bear.

Of course, in addition to changing the bandage, we needed to place a drain into the wound on his leg.

Knowing that horse people love natural remedies and that natural horsemanship is a “thing,” I asked if the vet ever put manuka honey on wounds.

“No, not like this one.”

“Oh, of course not.” Sigh.

On the ride back to the clinic, we talked about Gilmore Girls, which I’ve never seen. Another fail.

After lunch, a stallion arrived for  a castration. I was so excited about it as I actually remembered things about castrating horses. I talked to the vet and we went through the procedure and looked at pictures and she said she would have me glove up and assist. YES – SOMETHING I COULD DO! And since I have plenty of theoretical knowledge about testicles, this was something we could talk about! The vet even told me she remembered being really nervous on her externships and said I shouldn’t sweat it. We were bonding. It was great.

The horse arrived and was absolutely lovely. He was gentle and perfect, but on physical exam, only had one descended testicle. No field castration today. Seeking out his undescended testicle in the abdomen is quite a bit more complicated than the typical snip-snip you expect for a one vet and vet student run castration. With a tear in my eye, I waved goodbye to the stallion and the only case I knew anything about. Fare thee well, opportunity to shine of mine. 

There was another horse dental scheduled that afternoon, but before it arrived, one of the cattle vets was called out to a calf with a broken leg. I asked if I could ride along, as I was pretty much opening the passenger side door and jumping in the truck before he finished saying, “sure.”

Visiting the calf was fantastic. She was a little heifer (a few months old) and was in a trailer awaiting our arrival. The vet entered the trailer to make his initial assessment, and she charged him so fast, he had to fling himself out the door sideways, into the arms of the ranch hand.

“Ohhhh Shiiiiiiitt” the vet said.

“Isn’t she supposed to have a broken leg?” I asked.

The calf responded by charging the side of the trailer where our voices were coming from. BANG. CRASH. BOOM.

The vet decided her leg would be best assessed if she were restrained in a crush.

I was able to climb over all the gates without falling on my face. Yes – feeling competent.

I was also able to diagnose the injured leg – her left hind hoof and fetlock were three times the size of her right. Ding Ding Ding – right answer!

I helped carry things from the truck. Helpful!

I helped hold things for the vet. Super Helpful!

And then I hopped back over the fence to hold the trailer open for her. The farmer came by to check and make sure I had a good hold on the door, which I did, but I told him it was good for him to double check me since I was raised in the suburbs.

The calf was released from the crush and came running back towards the trailer. I stood at the ready to close the door behind her when she ducked left and, defying all laws of physics, disappeared through a crack in the fence.

Luckily, we’re in Colorado where people are seriously good at rodeo shit and it wasn’t even two minutes before that calf was roped on the ground and being dragged back into the trailer. Also, lucky for the calf, her infected foot meant she was on such a solid dose of antibiotics, she probably won’t get pneumonia from all the stress of the day.

Although my large animal skills are in need of some fine-tuning, I’m also taking advantage of working with the vets in the adjacent small animal hospital. I spent the second day in the small animal clinic where I know how to do more things and can jump in to actually help…or at least I think I do.

I offered to wash the surgical instruments that were soaking in the sink. I gave them all a good scrub and rinse and then dipped them in the instrument milk before setting them out to dry. I was just really feeling accomplished when, somehow, the scalpel blade holder jumped out of my hand and slid down the sink drain. I stared in disbelief. I don’t know how it was even possible for a small, rectangular shape to fall perfectly into a slender rectangular hole from a distance of at least two feet. I mean, I couldn’t have thrown it down the sink if I tried! And whoosh, it just fell, straight into the grid on the drain.

Thinking the last thing anyone in that clinic wanted to see was the vet student taking apart the sink trap, I confessed my sins immediately. Apparently, no one in history has ever done this, but rest assured, the instrument has been recovered.

Today was my third day and for better or worse, the only bit of ridiculousness was me putting one of my contact lenses in inside out. I spent the morning in the small animal clinic and the afternoon with the equine vet. She’s quit asking me questions, but at least I took blood from two horses flawlessly, so I feel like I’ve shown I have some competence.

I’m kicking off tomorrow at a dairy farm though, so hilarity is pretty much guaranteed to ensue…

About ermodi

i like champagne and nachos. i watch people’s mouths move when they talk to me and judge if they are a good kisser i like to write with fine-tip Sharpies because i think it makes me look confident i bite my nails i think doing the dishes is a very lonely chore i think “autumn” is the prettiest word in the English language. i believe in love – or, at least something that resembles love, but i don’t trust this idea of forever.
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1 Response to All Creatures Great and Tolerant

  1. TWM71 says:

    Hang in there, Pippi! My best advice to you is just press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. You set out on this path because you have passion and persistence and desire. There’s no easy way to gain the kind of experience you’re getting. Besides, it’s not really the top of a mountain when you can take an elevator. You’re learning every step, every rock, twist and turn! Hold your head up and press on. We’re all cheering for you. 🙂


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