by Jennifer Schmuck, Hennef, Germany
In 2008 we were looking forward to travelling to Missouri in April of 2009. Of course, waiting for something that great seems to slow time down to an eternity. Thankfully my friend Cindy sent me back issues of Mules and More that I could read to pass the time and learn about mules!
In one of those back issues was an article on equine dental care, stressing how important it is to have your mule’s teeth checked regularly. I put that on our “to-do list” at once. Of course, that “to-do list” changed considerably once the mules were here. Checking teeth got overshadowed by finding a fitting saddle, Larry sitting on his butt and needing a chiropractor to put his back right again, hoof boots, Steph taking riding lessons, working on Larry’s hind feet, etc., etc. I did talk with our friends here who own several horses and a mule about this, and they said they have a nice equine dentist who comes once a year and checks all their equines. They also believe it is important to have teeth checked and if necessary treated. So after having the chiropractic over for a follow-up visit on Larry this spring and ordering a trailer, we decided to continue spending money on our mules left and right and made an appointment with the “tooth fairy,” Mrs. Schmidt.
This lady turned out to be exactly as described by our friends, very friendly and open about procedures and (gulp!) costs. She said the mules would need to be sedated if treatment was needed and that she would come with a vet she’s working with if we would prefer to get it all over with at once. We immediately decided to have them both come over on this first appointment to get it all done with at once if needed.
I dreaded the appointment. I was worried how the mules would react to the sedation, if they would need to be treated, and how the one who would have to wait for treatment would react to what is done to the other. I was afraid one of them might panic because of the noise and smell. I expected both would need some treatment, as it seems that many equines need to have their teeth done some time in their lives. One of the reasons I had made that appointment now was that the chiropractic had found one of Larry’s jaw joints to be locked. She thought he might have some kind of malposition. Katie seemed to be eating less hay lately, as well.
The day came, and the vet and equine dentist arrived. Both turned out to be nice, chatty and excited to do something a little different and treat mules. These would be their first mules, having treated donkeys and horses and seeing our friends’ mule from a distance (that mule hates vets). Larry and Katie were, of course, already at the gate. They love visitors. We put halters on them and Mrs. Schmidt checked their mouths with her hand. Just as I had thought, both needed work done. Katie had some sharp ridges that needed to be done and Larry had the same, plus he needed his wolf teeth pulled. The ladies started to bring all their equipment to the dry lot, where they had decided to work on the mules. Looking at the equipment had a different effect on me than on my mule: I grew a little pale (I’m afraid of the dentist myself, so the instruments looked pretty scary to me!) and my mule got more obnoxious.
Katie wanted to be first, whatever was being done. The more equipment accumulated in front of the gate, the more excited the mules got, crowding the gate and quarrelling. The last time something interesting was brought to the gate was when Larry’s chiropractic came with her big box to kneel on, and Katie had thrown a hissy fit when it turned out the lady came for Larry and not for her, too.
Larry can be scared of new things, so we decided to start with him. The vet sedated him while I tried to keep Katie away. The sedation worked wonderfully, and Larry snoozed peacefully while the dentist put something in his mouth that looked like a torturing device and kept his mouth open. Then she started to work on his teeth. She used a dental drill and a rasp. It smelled of rasped tooth material and it was loud, but Larry was completely relaxed with his sedation and Katie was mortally offended that once again Larry had all the fun. She had tried several times to butt in (also literally, by trying to get the nice lady to scratch her butt instead of making a fuss about Larry) and was sent away. So she resorted to standing in line and sulking.
Then, at last, it was her turn. She was injected and snoozed just as peacefully as Larry, who had started to come around again. Now Larry often behaves like a little boy, but this time he was one tipsy little boy which made him a handful! Obviously he either had totally forgotten that he was already done, including the wolf teeth removal, or he was just very interested to get a different point of view of the situation. In any case he ambled once around the dry lot and then was back trying to peer into Katie’s wide open mouth and/or help the dentist get some work done by standing obnoxiously close to her, probably in case she needed a “hand.” Getting rid of him proved to be difficult as he wasn’t very coordinated yet plus didn’t react to being shushed away. I myself couldn’t believe anyone would like to stand there in the dust of tooth material and the racket of the dental drill. Our mules thought it to be great afternoon entertainment! The whole atmosphere was similar to a nice tea party. The ladies were having a good time with our mules, chatting happily and laughing about mule antics, and our mules had a great time having dental work done. After loading up all their equipment again and petting the mules one last time the ladies left.
They had told us to not give any hay for an hour and be prepared that it could take until the next morning before the mules get used to the new mouth feeling. That didn’t sound too bad, but I hadn’t reckoned with the mule logic that is profoundly different from horse logic. Larry didn’t get the part about no hay for an hour and started calling for the hay immediately. Was he disappointed when we brought it out an hour later! They both dug in and almost at once made confused faces, dropping half chewed hay from their mouths. It took Larry and Katie almost a week to get used to the new feeling while chewing. And, of course, they blamed the hay. If you have difficulty chewing your hay, your hay can’t be good to eat. So they nibbled just enough to not starve, and pulled the rest out to pee on it. Apart from wasting the good hay it really got on my nerves that they would not eat enough. Neither of them is overweight. Both usually sport a hay belly, but have no fat deposits. After a few days finally both mules decided the hay fit to eat again. Phew! The ladies will be back next year for a check-up. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if they would be greeted by friendly whinny-brays!