Lie Still and He Won’t Touch You

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Rocket was a small horse, size-wise. But he was opinionated and spirited. And he was determined that he was going to win the battle.

“I don’t know, Kay,” I said. “I think I am going to have to tranquilize Rocket before I am going to be able to float his teeth.”

“Doc, I really don’t want to do that,” Kay said. “Don’t we have another method to take care of his teeth?”

“Not really; Rocket’s mouth is sort of in rough shape,” I said. “He has a lot of sharp points on the worn edges of his teeth. His eating is only going to get worse if we don’t file those down.”

“Okay, go ahead, but not with a tranquilizer,” Kay said.

“Maybe if I use a twitch, I can get it done,” I said.

“Oh, I hate those things,” Kay said. “I watched another vet float a horse’s teeth once, and he just held the horse’s tongue to one side and did the float with no problem.”

“Yes, it can be done like that, with some horses, but not with Rocket,” I said.

“Would you just try before making a zombie out of him for the afternoon?” Kay asked. “I realize he is high-spirited, but I have been working with him, trying to make him more manageable.”

I looked at Nan, and she shrugged her shoulders, knowing that I was usually a sucker for giving in to client pressure.

“Are you going to use the speculum to hold his mouth open?” Nan asked.

“If he is unrestrained, that speculum just makes things more dangerous if he starts throwing his head around.”

Against my better judgment, I figured I would give Rocket a chance and try to float his teeth without restraint. That would prove to be a poor decision.

“Nan, you hold on to the side of his halter and keep your left hand on his shoulder with a stiff arm,” I said. “That should keep you clear of any problem if he acts up.”

With that bit of advice, I turned Rocket’s head slightly toward me, reached into his mouth with my left hand, and grabbed his tongue. He objected for a moment, but then with some soft voices, he calmed. Holding his tongue to the right side of his mouth, I slid the float file into his mouth and took a stroke on his left upper teeth.

Rocket was done being a good horse. He threw his head from side to side. I pulled on the float to remove it, and he drew back hard. This pulled me in front of him.

I instantly knew I was in jeopardy. One of the basic rules for working on a horse is to be in the right place at the right time. To accomplish that, one had to be in the right place all the time. Now I was in front of a fractious horse.

Rocket instantly struck at me with his front feet. He caught me with both hooves, one on each shoulder, and I was knocked flat on my back.

Rocket lunged forward, and I was completely under him. Nan struggled to gain control of the horse and move him off me. 

I had always been told that it was important to lie still and trust that the horse won’t step on you if you were ever in this situation. 

It only took a brief moment, and Nan had Rocket moved to the side, and I rolled clear. I stood up, brushed myself off, and walked to the back of the truck.

Nan joined me at the truck. With shaking hands, I drew up a hefty dose of Rompun, a potent tranquilizer.

“You’re not going to kill him, are you?” Nan asked.

“No, I’m going to kill him, but that might not be a bad idea,” I said.

I was through talking with Kay about how to handle her horse. I stroked his neck to calm him a bit, and then I inserted the needle into his jugular vein and delivered a full ten ccs of Rompun in an IV bolus.

When given IV, Rompun takes effect rapidly. In a brief moment, Rocket’s nose was nearly touching the ground.

With Nan’s help, I lifted his head high enough to finish floating his teeth. With this chemical restraint, the procedure was completed in a few minutes.

“Sometimes a dose of a tranquilizer is the safest thing for both the horse and the operator,” I said to Kay as I handed her the lead rope. “Rocket will be pretty sedate for an hour or so. Just let him stand in the corral by himself, and he will be fine.”

On the way back to the clinic, I explained to Nan how I had laid still, and the horse didn’t touch me.

“I don’t know,” Nan said. “I was so excited and concerned about getting the horse off you. I guess I didn’t notice.”


The next morning when I stepped into the shower, I noticed bruises in the shape of hoof prints all up and down my body. 

So much for the ancient wisdom. My adrenalin rush had been so intense I never felt a thing.

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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