What Floats Around Texas: He Said, She Said, We Said in the Battle to Sway Public Opinion About Equine Dental Care

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The horse's mouth seems to be the Achilles heel of the horsecare world in this new century of ours, as some states discover it's their sore spot as they juggle back and forth between just who's entitled to care for a horse's teeth.

Should it be done by the people who have always done it or should it be done by the people who are legally entitled to be doing it--and believe they can do a better, safer job? It's not like the public is demanding that the vets come in and take over; this tempest is in a teapot between the two professions and the horse owners, who would usually be right in the middle, seem to be in the audience.

Nowhere is the debate over who will or won't float teeth louder than in Texas and Oklahoma, two states that have recently had court or legislative action swing in at least temporary favor of non-veterinarians' right to float teeth. But don't think that this discussion is over. Persuasive videos have appeared recently on YouTube from both sides; each would like to convince horse owners that their point of view is the one to support.

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Apparently, some people think that veterinarians aren't well-educated about how to float horses' teeth. This is the Texas Veterinary Medical Association's response to anyone who thinks that. I personally wonder how many vets in Texas wear neckties when they float teeth. And do all vet students learn to float teeth or just equine-track students? If only equine-track students learn the procedure, should anyone with a DVM degree be legally allowed to float horse teeth?

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On the other hand, some people are convinced that tooth floaters, a.k.a. "equine dentists", go around injecting horses with powerful drugs and doing surgery on their mouths, among other things that most of us would prefer to leave to a veterinarian. The Institute for Justice is a libertarian non-profit organization that defends small professions whose futures are endangered. They've taken up the tooth floater's cause in Texas.

Hang on...Did this nice guy just say that tail docking was, like farriery, a normal animal husbandry practice that can be done by anyone? I don't even know where to start with that statement. Tail docking is illegal in many states and entire countries and I expect the anti-tail docking league will be swarming over that statement, just as I'm swarming that "anyone" can shoe your horse. Sorry, but shoeing a horse is a very complicated, difficult task requiring mechanical skill and knowledge of horses and the hoof itself.

How do horse owners really feel about this issue? Do they--do you--think it is important to be able to hire the caregivers you wish to hire when it comes to floating teeth, shoeing and trimming hooves, giving a massage, or do you feel better turning over all the decision-making to your veterinarian, making your preferred vet practice a sort of concierge of care services for your animal?

If you choose the latter: will that take us ever closer to an HMO for your horse? Will you be pulling your trailer up to your local vet-owned "equine service center" to get his feet trimmed, his teeth floated, his fecal count checked, his weight recorded and his Coggins test done, all in one efficient visit? It could even be a drive-through...

Of course the way forward is not to outlaw tooth floaters or to give them legal rights to work as oral surgeons, either.

Horse owners should care about this issue. They should care enough to tell both sides to stop spending time and money on political videos and put it into educating the professionals in their ranks to take better care of our horses; their time would be best spent working with all other professionals in the field to make sure that equine care professions will also attract the best and brightest young people into the field. Right now they're being scared away. I'd be more impressed by hearing from the rescue shelters in Texas about the vets and/or equine dentists who volunteer their services to float the teeth of the needy ones than I would be by political persuasion ads, court battles, and lawyers in the barn aisles.

A lawyer is likely the only one who will benefit from this in the end, if decisions about our horses' care are going to be made in a courtroom. Horse people could probably work this out on their own, if the law would only let them.