I was sick to my stomach Tuesday evening, the evening before my practical was starting. I knew I passed the exam but I had planned to re-read the entire contents of the school between my exam and the practical. This did not happen. I was so worried I’d be asked questions that I wouldn’t be able to answer during the three days and especially on day 1 during the 8am to 11am segment of the practical. I went to bed with a feeling of anxiety and anticipation.
Day 1: We met in Dr. Tucker’s lovely barn. I had butterflies in my stomach and an overall worried feeling. We chatted from 8am to 11am. It was basically a review and it turned out fine. Melissa and Dr. Tucker did a great job and my tension was easing. The information that I had stored in my brain was emerging as I had hoped. We followed an outline for the most part and Melissa was very good at steering us back on track so we could be sure to finish everything before 11am. We had lunch next and then went to a farm where I palpated several horses before and after the floats. I was asked to grade the sharpness and note if there were ulcers. While I have palpated my own horses and the horses in my barn, doing it on completely unknown horses and in amazingly beautiful farms in Wellington proved that I need work on releasing my energy in any situation. I managed to exit a horse’s mouth incorrectly and got chomped across my whole left hand. Oops. After this we went back to Dr. Tucker’s barn where I had my first victim waiting, oops I mean patient. Melissa graciously brought one of her horses for me to work on. He was amazing. I was not. Prior to the practical I had palpated my horse’s mouths several times and sat in front of my computer with my wooden spoon going through the motions. This didn’t prove to be adequate preparation for me. I thought the process of Equine Dentistry would be easier, not less work, but I didn’t consider that I would barely even be able to do a basic stoke of the float in a well behaved horse’s mouth. I had all kinds of trouble finding the horses teeth, and when I did, putting the blade where it belonged was still a challenge. Melissa’s horse was so cooperative. He was not drugged at all and he let me fumble around in his mouth. That was the most disappointing part. Here was this great horse, barely moving, and I could hardly find his teeth to make a pass with the float. I did have a few decent strokes and my arms were very fatigued. I left around 5:00 and was a bit discouraged. I was discouraged with myself, not Doc T or Melissa; they tried so hard to get me on track. They kept calm and cool and were patient and encouraging. I went to bed hoping my left hand would function the next day.
Day 2: Thankfully my hand was not as painful or stiff as I thought it would be. I met Melissa and Doc T at his barn and set out for another horse for me to float. The horse was sedated and the super nice owner left us to do our work. Again I struggled. I struggled at remembering where to stand. I struggled with my stiff body and uncontrolled energy. I struggled with implementing the techniques I learned. I struggled with my own self doubts. I managed to make a couple of good passes with the float but I still was nowhere close to being competent. Melissa and Doc T finished up and left that horse’s mouth in tip top shape. From there we went on more of their regular calls where I palpated the mouths of many more horses. I got to experience how some horse owners disrespect the horse dentist. One owner actually made Doc T wait a half hour until she was done riding. Unbelievable! At that same barn I watched as Doc T removed some difficult wolf teeth and pulled rubber balls out of the ears of these treasured horses. At another barn, I got to palpate a horse with a fractured tooth that had the fractured area removed and the remaining edges smoothed the past week. I cleaned out the impacted hay and got to experience the Fermentation malodor on my fingers for the rest of the dayJ. We went back to Doc T’s barn where Melissa had another one of her horses waiting for me. He was a good boy but we did end up sedating him so I could really try to get in there and make some progress. I made a few good passes with the float but still struggled a lot with placement and fatigue. They brought out the skull and held it up to better visualize the teeth. They tried to help me in every way that they could. I made some progress but still didn’t come near to doing a complete float from beginning to end. I left with a feeling of defeat. I wanted to skip my third day and go home to the comfort of my family. I wanted to quit… well, I really didn’t want to quit, I wanted to postpone. I wanted to go home, think things through, review the course work, order my equipment, and attempt to float my own horse’s teeth. I really didn’t think another day was going to make a difference at this point.
Day 3: I stuck around. I didn’t run off home. I could have. It’s just over a 2 hour drive to get home. I didn’t do it though. I’d like to say it’s because I conquered my fear of failing, my doubts, and my frustration, but really I didn’t run off home or ask to postpone because I didn’t want to be a quitter and I didn’t want to inconvenience Doc T and Melissa. I knew they had scheduled 2 more horses for me to float so I tried to muster up some confidence, clear my head of all of its swirling nonsense, and remember that these experiences could only help. So, off to the first barn where my next patient was waiting. It went like the rest. I made some good passes and some bad passes with the Long Float. I never had much success with the Shorty and the rounding of the 6’s. I don’t think I even held the Skinny just because my arms were fatigued well before it was time for the Skinny. We went on some more calls and I palpated more mouths. We drove quite a distance to get to the last barn where my final patient was waiting. It was a Polopony farm. Not well kept. Only one farm hand was around. Unclean stalls. Run down compared to the other farms we’d been to. I felt comfortable there plus it was my last one and I knew I’d be driving on home to my life when I was done. There were 4 horses to float. We were warned one was a biter. They chose the biter for me. We didn’t sedate her. She stood nicely. Never made a move to bite me thankfully but I had to be very aware the whole time and watch for it. I dug as deep as I could within myself knowing this was my last shot and ended up having my most success with her. I was glad to be leaving on a better note.
Doc T and Melissa were amazing. They are excellent teachers. They are so patient and encouraging. They never gave up on me. They wanted me to succeed. I’m not sure why I had so much trouble. Maybe it was the high expectations I had for myself, the shock of not “getting it”, and the fear of failing. Some of it was that I am not as physically strong as I thought I was and some strength and endurance is needed to wield those instruments around. I went into this expecting I’d be leaving my practical as a competent Equine Dentist. I don’t feel I am anywhere near ready to go work on other people’s horses but I am ready to practice on my own. I personally would never have felt comfortable enough to put a Float in my horse’s mouth without this practical experience. The 3 days were an emotionally and physically tough journey but it was an important journey for me to go on. I am glad I did.Amanda