I’ll let you in on a little secret: we have a document that lists all our horses here at SAFE with all their different stats. Name, height, weight. When they last had their feet done, when they last were vaccinated. It’s a way to keep track of things, helps us organize appointment dates and have a place to house all of the data behind the creatures we know and love. The sense of fulfillment when the document is complete is second to none.


But when a horse first arrives at SAFE, their line on this document is patchy. For some horses, we can fill the lines in quickly. Gentle horses arrive and are measured same day. These are usually the same ones who quickly see the vet and the farrier – two more boxes, filled.


Certain other horses leave holes for longer. Perhaps we can get their height at intake, but having a weight tape around their belly is a no-go. Every horse is different, and we of course give them the time they individually need, but it is always a cause for celebration when that last box is ticked (or at least the completionist in me feels this way).


It may not surprise you to learn that Tiva had many empty boxes for a long while after her arrival. Next to her name, her height, weight, and blanket spaces sat vacant. Even as other horses arrived and were filled in, they were bracketed by her empty spaces. And this is not to sound impatient. The spaces represented all the great work Tiva was doing here, the time it was taking her to feel comfortable, to let people get close enough to touch her, let alone figure out what size rainsheet she would eventually need. The data points were just fun little markers of Tiva’s forward progress, to be added at her pace.


So when we could start filling them in, it was certainly an exciting time. She got her first farrier trim, and while it was only the fronts, it was still a date we could add. Hooves, check. She saw the vet for her vaccines, check! She would tolerate a height and weight tape, check check. Her line began to lose all the blank spaces, dates representing a steady march towards true domesticity.


All this to say, Tiva had her dental float recently, one of the last boxes to be filled, almost a year after her arrival. Despite how far she has come, having strangers touch her can still be a point of contention for Tiva, and she is no huge fan of being poked with a needle (who can blame her), so being sedated for her a dental was perhaps not out of the question, but not firmly in the question either. But we had a day of dental floats scheduled, and decided that it was time.


Because of her contentious history with needles, we felt that it would be better for all parties involved to give her a bit of oral sedation via dorm gel before her IV sedation. The day prior, Tiva and I practiced the whole, ‘syringe in her mouth’ thing, aided by our friend molasses. Really, a syringe tip coated in a delicious substance sounds good even to me, almost like a friend holding a spoon of ice cream to your face and saying ‘open up!’ Ye olde, ‘something yummy this way comes (via syringe)’ is a great way to practice for deworming and administration of other oral meds, but dorming adds a new added challenge – you must get the gel under the horse’s tongue. Efficacy is lowered or rendered inert if the horse swallows it, so proper placement is crucial.

As is so often the case, I shouldn’t have worried. Day of, Tiva let me (and my molasses-tipped dorm tube) root around in her mouth with the patience of a saint, hardly blinking when the contents of the syringe deposited themselves under her tongue – a little less tasty than applesauce, perhaps, but she didn’t seem too offended. And then, thirty minutes later, she was sleepy in her stall, making me wish that I too could get dorm’d before I saw the dentist.


What’s the song, a spoonful of sugar…? ‘A properly-dosed syringeful of dorm helps the IV needle go in’ doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it, but the idea is the same. Tiva sedated like a little dream, and after, as they removed the speculum and I watched her little lip droop in the cradle her head was slung upon, I practically could have shed a tear. Tiva, this previously wild creature, had just had one of her last boxes checked.


For never having had a dental before, her teeth were in good condition. Some sharp surfaces, as was to be expected, but no vampire hooks or other painful stalactite formations. Our vet aged her at around 12. More puzzle pieces falling into place, another little bit of domesticity, cemented.

It will be another year before Tiva needs another float, and considering how far she’s come in the year since she arrived, I can hardly wait to meet the horse who gets her teeth done again next February.