• vslachman

Close, Calm Contact

Updated: Jun 8, 2019



The day Dorian successfully had his teeth floated came following a year and a half when another equine dentist, a man, attempted it three times but Dorian would not allow him into his mouth. Dorian would pull back, jerk his head up, charge forward, shake his head violently until the dentist felt he was a danger to both of them.


After examining him, the vet, on the fourth try, said she was not going to administer sedation until I had him examined by the regular veterinarian. She felt something could be seriously amiss with him.


He was a racehorse (bred by Team Valor International) and got scoped a lot, so isn’t great with anyone trying to mess with his mouth. But he’s particularly not good with men. So, given that, I wasn’t sure what to think about the new vet’s concern about his health.


I thought about all this a good long while and finally, come spring, I made an appointment with the barn vet—Dr. Olivia—who did all manner of work on equines in two states. I looked into Dorian’s eyes, and had no doubt that there was not a thing wrong with him. We set an appointment for April, a week after his birthday.


In Dr. Olivia’s initial exam, he checked out fine physically and she administered the first dose of tranquilizer then inserted the speculum into his mouth, getting her three-foot electric grinding file plugged in and ready. Then she rinsed out his mouth well and felt along his back teeth saying they weren’t all that bad, but there were some sharp points that needed grinding down.

A different dentist working on the fidgeting D, who is keeping an eye on me!

But Dorian was having nothing to do with that whining silver power tool getting near his mouth. His head flew up, and though I hung on to the halter and to the strap on the speculum, neither Dr. Olivia nor I could get him to hold still long enough to get the tool in his mouth. So, another dose of meds and a heart check, a blindfold on him, and we both tried again.


Still, nothing doing. Dorian was lunging a bit, pretty knocked out, but he still wouldn’t let Dr. Olivia into his mouth. She took a step back and we talked about it.


She said she wanted to try a bit of Ace—she’d already given him two other types of tranquilizers. Dr. Olivia said if the Ace didn’t work, she’d have to lay him down and put him on ketamine at a later date, which I really didn’t want to do. Who knows what might happen with the drug they give for surgery—he might never come out of it


So, I agreed and Dorian got dose number three.

Dorian in his winter coat. That's a big head to hold up!

After the shot, his knees buckled, but he stood his ground. I literally held his head in my arms while she got the power tool into his mouth and that horrible whining sound began.


Horses’ heads weigh are about 10% of their body weight. I was holding up 120 pounds! I had to brace both my legs and keep my arms around and under him. Dr. Olivia made quick work of it, rinsing the tool three times. In about 15 minutes he was done, thank goodness.


The strong connectedness we experience with horses originates in the truth that we’re all more than we appear on the surface.

She helped me get him into his stall and he nearly fell over once, but he stood there, leaning against the side with his head nearly touching the shavings. He was sweating like mad, and having a bit of hard time breathing.


Once I got him situated with his head resting against the front of the stall and his body leaning on the side, I mucked out the stuff he’d left behind the night before and then knelt by his head, which was still nearly touching the floor. I whispered to him, just letting him know I was there and then went about the stall mucking.


I talk to him a lot like this and he always listens. And it always, always has a healing effect.


In about an hour, he was ready to take a walk, so we headed out in the sunshine. Once his head got outside the barn in the sun, he stopped and whinnied weakly to his pasture-mates who were right across the way. Soon, I murmured to him, pretty soon big boy, and we headed to the outdoor arena where I walked him around and around to more quickly metabolize the drugs.

Physical connectedness to our horse allows us to be present in an authentic and attentive way.

After a bit, I stopped and he laid his head in my arms. I stood with my body touching him, talking to him about his safety and that I didn’t want to be anywhere else on earth but right where we were.


His eyes became more focused, his ears twitched and he sighed. I took a step back to let him have some room. He glanced groggily my way, his head lowered, then side-stepped to me, leaned on me, and laid his head in my arm, heaving a sigh of relief and contentment.


I sensed he needed me there, and felt safe in my presence and what we were knowing together about his safety.


We stayed that way a very long time, me softly speaking to him at times, and him soaking it in. We walked some more, stopped and stood again, leaning together, me holding his head, simply existing quietly together.


It took about three hours for him to totally come out of it, but then there he was, bright eyed and ready to rejoin his crew. We’d weathered it together, just as we always do.


There’s research about the beneficial power of this physical connection to our horses when we come with calm and a focused centeredness into in their presence.

Dorian and his pasture mate hanging out.

In 2012 Mount Sinai professor Keren Bachi published an article in Society & Animals: Journal of Human-Animal Studies (volume 20, pages 364-380). In it, she reports on the calming effect in the horse/human connection and that equines increase[e] clients’ attentiveness and their ability to be present in the moment (Esbjorn, 2006).


She further notes “A unique pilot study considered the human-horse interaction by examining physiological changes in the subject and the horse. It tested heart rate variability (HRV) in both human and horse subjects while they interacted (Gehrke, 2006).


Electrocardiograph (ECG) recorders indicated increased, coherent HRV patterns for both humans and horses when they were in close, calm contact. The researcher suggested that such HRV patterns resulted from positive emotions that facilitated brain function.


In other words, when we’re in “close, calm contact” with a horse, we form a synchronous physical union that can have a beneficial effect on brain and heart functioning, and our emotions.


Most importantly, I think, we’re able to be in the present moment in an authentic and attentive way.


This is why, as Bachi observes in another published article, horses are so healing for trauma and abuse survivors, who, in my experience, find it nearly impossible to inhabit their bodies and be present (“Application of Attachment Theory to Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy” Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 2013).


I think the strong connectedness I experience with Dorian is something we’re all capable of—and, to me, it originates in the truth that we’re more than we appear on the surface, either to ourselves or to others.


We’re not bustling, bumbling beings struggling in vain to find ourselves, our purpose, and our place in life.


There’s a deeper level to us, where a profoundly whole person exists. The clarity of that being is what allows such a beneficial union with horses, and, I think, translates into other areas of our lives.


In our quietest moments, we can all feel the presence our “real” identity, or at the least, intuitively know it exists even if we can’t access it at the moment.


You may not come to it as I do, along the same path I’ve taken—each of us in on our own, unique, individual journey . . . but I do believe living the truth of our identity is something we all have a right to.


And something we all can have—it’s right there waiting for us!


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