Mastering Horsemanship Dentistry
At first pass, most people question if an equine dentistry school can be taught online and on the surface, the answer is no. But looking at it further it becomes clear that it can be. The reason is because like anything in life, learning can be broken into 3 basic parts: the introduction into the subject, the practicing of the subject and the mastery of the subject. Lets look at a learning a new language as an example.
All languages have a vocabulary and rules of syntax. Without these the language is meaningless. All students become introduced through memorization of the words and order of words along with punctuation. Once learned, can you hold a conversation in the new language? Of course not but you can’t just go to a country and speak the new language without being introduced to the basics. This is what the online portion of the Horsemanship Dentistry School does. It teaches the vocabulary, techniques and theories but it does NOT make you an equine dentist. So the answer is no, horse dentistry cannot be taught online, but it is a great way to start especially for horse people busy with their lives. It allows for the important learning of the basics at the student’s own pace.
What is The Horsemanship Dentistry School trying to do? Simply put, the school is developing masters in Horsemanship Dentistry.
Mastery in any field requires time and practice. We all intrinsically know this as we watch Olympic athletes perform knowing that each has worked hard to achieve their position. There is no such thing as luck or for that matter, gifted individuals. With very limited restrictions, anyone can become a master in whatever they put their minds to often overcoming seemingly impossible odds. If you have doubts, just look at my life. I had difficulty reading and taking tests. I wasn’t wanted by colleges and quit the three that accepted me. Then something magical happened. I found my life’s calling. I wrote about this in my book, “Since The Days Of The Romans – my journey of discovering a life with horses.”
In 1973 I decided that I wanted to spend my life with horses. It became a passion that I worked at 7 days a week. I never tired at unloading railroad box cars of oats or semi trucks of hay while cleaning 11 stalls every day. I only had a half day off a week and was paid about $120 a week plus a small apartment. I was in heaven.
With my calling in place, I found a mentor, or really a cheerleader who encouraged me to grow and overcome challenges. I’m still married to her 40 years later. I learned how to read and I learned how to study and take tests. In less than a year I convinced Cornell to take me as an undergraduate. In 2 ½ years the vet school accepted me and I graduated and passed my licensing exam on the first try. Not bad for a college drop out who couldn’t read as well as you.
It wasn’t easy and it certainly didn’t come naturally. It took time and hard work every day. In my 3rd year of vet school I learned how to float teeth. In 1983 there were no texts nor was equine dentistry a big thing at vet schools. However my mentor there told me that it was an important part of veterinary medicine. After the first oral palpation I was hooked. Dentistry became a large part of my horse practice and I did a lot of it up until 1998 when I limited my practice to just dentistry. Since the start I have floated over 70,000 horses.
There are books on achieving mastery or outlier status that I suggest you read if you are interested in learning more. But it is clear that I have followed what these books have outlined and I have decided to outline a path for Horsemanship Dentistry students to achieve mastery. It can be divided into basically 3 parts and requires students to get there through practice. (Note – these 3 phases are from the book “Mastery” by Robert Greene extrapolated and revised by me)
Phase One – The Apprentice Phase
This starts with the online coursework. It is where all students learn the terminology and the theories as well as the techniques of connecting with horses and maneuvering the float blades within the mouth. It is not different than you learning how to use a computer by first learning to turn it on, use the operating system, learn the various programs and learn the typing skills. Many people question how dentistry can be learned by an online course yet everybody starts the learning process by learning the basics. Doing so over the internet allows for flexibility in the student’s schedule and ability to travel. It allows for dipping the toe in the water for those who aren’t quite sure if equine dentistry is a life calling.
Following the coursework are the 5 days of hands on training. What is learned here is so large that all students leave mentally and physically exhausted. But what they leave with is the experience of actually doing the work. It is no longer a thought in the brain reflecting words on a computer screen but an immersion of muscles, senses and emotions into what for many becomes so compelling that there is nothing more important in their lives. And for some, the road stops as they believe it is too hard for them or they feel they can never do it as well as me and Melissa. Unfortunately the expectations of mastering any skill is often never met at first when the reality of the work involved to master it is realized. This is OK because equine dentistry is hard at first but for those willing to work at it, equine dentistry becomes fun and a passion for waking up in the morning.
Apprenticeship continues beyond graduation. It is the daily application of the skills learned with the continuous review of online material, interaction with others via the school’s forum and the daily interaction with horses. It is a self-apprenticeship because it is impossible for me or Melissa to be there with you all the time. This is where the certification program comes in. When the graduate feels like he or she has become comfortable with the techniques and skills to perform a float and has also learned all the theories to support the debates they go through with people in real life, they can return to the school for certification.
Certification in Horsemanship Dentistry only means that you have learned the material well. It does not make you a good equine dentist – yet. The only way to become good at Horsemanship Dentistry is to do it over and over again constantly assessing yourself and improving. This is a huge time for growth but also an opportunity for frustration to sneak in and make you quit or worse, become mediocre. For this reason it is important to return at least once a year for a review and re-certification. We recommend that graduates and certified graduates return a few days before certification testing to warm up with us and with any practicing students. It is the few days with us that will realign your skills and encourage you with the knowledge and skills you don’t realize you have already. You can feel before and after and assess yourself in how you would have approached each horse compared to how we do it. In fact, it is watching us connect with all kinds of horses that will make the most impression as you work through what we do and compare it to what you would do. You will feel empowered and testing will become a breeze.
Phase Two – The Creative-Active Phase
This funny sounding name really is very accurate when you come to understand it. This is the point where you fully understand all the skills required to connect with horses and float them effectively. You can recite them perfectly and you can even know when to use them or how to successfully approach a difficult horse. However you have not mastered Horsemanship Dentistry yet. For many, this phase is an end point because these students don’t understand that they have not internalized the process yet. It is not yet an intuitive process done without thought.
If you have ever played a musical instrument then the analogy is that you can read the music but you have not moved your fingers on the instrument enough to make beautiful music. You can play chop sticks on the piano but that’s it.
In the creative-active phase the dentist knows what to do but still thinks through the process. He or she continually analyze their actions and discuss with others what they should have or should not have done based on the reaction and success in floating the horse. They know the personalities but are still learning which personality the horse is exhibiting. They know the hand over technique but fail to use it or they over use it. They are “active” and they are “creating” by analysis of their work and adjusting the process to find what works for them. It is a path for achieving mastery and also for learning bad habits that cause failure in time unless corrected.
What gets the dentist from this stage to the final stage of mastering the process of Horsemanship Dentistry are two things: practice and getting around mentors. Realizing that graduates are still learning is the hallmark of the creative-active person. How long this takes is directly proportional to the number of horses you float. A number to aim for is 10,000 floats (from the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell).
When coming for a certification exam it will be clear to us the students who have entered into the creative-active phase. These dentists are looking to expand their practice into every part of the world and are willing to do the work to overcome any obstacles. These people have committed to working constantly at improving themselves and never accepting what they do as being perfect. Creative-active graduates are ready to become masters but must realize that the time to become one is directly related to the number of horses floated and the desire to constantly improve oneself.
We will know when you come for certification if you are in the creative-active phase. Some of the key points we will see is your ability to help less experienced students with accurate information. Teaching others is a sure sign that you have internalized all that is needed to become a master. But you aren’t one yet.
Phase Three – The Master phase
Have you ever reacted to something spontaneously and without thought and then asked why you did what you did but are left empty in an explanation? This happens to a lot of us driving a vehicle. A deer jumps out in front of us or a car swerves into your path. You react effectively without thought and because of your correct actions, an accident is avoided. This is mastery.
When you are floating a horse and anticipate their reaction to something you are doing or about to do, you adjust your approach without thought. The horse responds to this action of yours and the owner doesn’t even notice an eruption was averted. You continue carrying on your conversation with the owner about the upcoming show while simultaneously converse with the horse about what they are feeling and how you are there to help them. Like two hands at the piano, one keeps the rhythm and the other plays the melody. Masters do this effortlessly. Make no mistake about this – all new students can achieve this level but only if they continue to practice the skills taught in the school, adjust their actions through actively self assessing and creatively thinking and seeking out help along the way.
Remember the pilot who landed the full aircraft in the New York river? He was a master. Through practice in simulators, great training by others, continual assessments of his skills by his peers and long monotonous flights consuming thousand of hours of his life was he able to land the plane on water and evacuate all aboard. Floating thousands of horses, reaching out to others through the forum, hanging out whenever you can with better dentists, going over in your mind what you do and how to make it better (constant and never ending improvement), returning to FL for re-certification and floating more horses than you think you physically can is the only way to achieve mastery in Horsemanship Dentistry.
Steps To Mastery
First, become certified. Prove to yourself that you have learned the basics.
Second, schedule your re-certification. Commitment is important.
Third, float a lot of horses and keep an accurate count of how many you do on a spread sheet. Aim for a certain number of horses you want to do in the next 12 months.
Fourth, constantly self assess and then seek help either through the forum (help others learn) or directly through email if you want to stay private.
Mastery doesn’t have a date. The path to it is different for everyone based on the willingness to commit to the work required to get there. But without question, it will occur and usually without fanfare. You just suddenly realize it. We all are looking forward to the day when we laugh about all the trials we went through to get to mastery. The journey is exciting, fun, rewarding and certainly worth the effort.
We all start by learning the basics. In this case we teach them online before we move forward in the lifelong process of mastering Horsemanship Dentistry.
Books To Read
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Mastery by Robert Greene