Even under a LOT of sedation, Oliver had been very difficult for our previous dentist and without sedation – impossible. He would fling his 18 hand high head in the air and at the first sign of pressure to try and keep his head down, he was popping his front legs off the ground in enough of a rear to get rid of that scarey dentist. And even tall Jenavive isn’t THAT tall!
I took this video footage in the moments AFTER the breakthrough – I was too busy managing the situation beforehand! And by the way this absolute STAR of a dentist is young Jenavive Dore who works around the South East Melbourne / Gippsland area of Victoria. If you think she might suit you and your horse, you can email her here.
The Keys to our Success are listed below.
We stopped about 5 seconds after the video finished.
So HOW did we achieve this brilliant horse dentist breakthrough?
1. I told Jenavive that I would pay her for her time even if we didn’t get the job done and that the fear and behavior breakthrough for Oliver was more important than getting the job done. I think that mindset of being prepared to walk away with the actual task itself half done or even not done at all, is critical to the horse’s confidence and trust in me. I am not going to allow him to be terrified by myself or anyone else. I’ve fallen into the trap of not protecting my horse from so called professionals before, and I’m determined to avoid that again.
2. After the first disastrous visit, when his bad memories from the previous work in the dental gag made it utterly impossible for her to get anywhere near his mouth, I undertook to re-train him before her next visit. That still didn’t mean he would be good for someone else, but at least there would be some training for him to fall back on.
3. I sat and thought about all the elements that are needed for a successful dentist visit. Firstly there’s always going to be some element of pulling on the head to do the dental work, so we worked on being able to keep his head down when someone was pulling on his head. (Pulling is not something I normally do. 🙂 )
4. I had to be very patient around that – helping him to establish a Comfort Zone around the whole process by being committed to not pushing him further than he could handle at one time. Think about that folks. How can a horse develop confidence with something new and previously traumatic, without being utterly confident in US? So I think this attitude is about more than just the dentist. Oliver knows he can pretty much rely on me. But if I had just met him, he would still know from my attitude that he can pretty much rely on me. We talk about the different levels of fear, the Comfort Zone Model, how to help a horse expand his or her Comfort Zone and a simple technique for Releasing old fear and even trauma, in our free lessons The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse.
5. Techniques are a dime a dozen, so from here on, this is where we can get into trouble if you think that every technique I used for Oliver is perfect for your horse, when we can just about guarantee that it won’t be. I’ll say that again because it’s SUCH a big deal.
We can just about guarantee that the techniques in the same combination that I used for Oliver WILL NOT work for you and your traumatised horse. FEEL is MEGA more important than technique. Knowing WHEN to stop, Feeling exactly WHEN to release my ask on the rope, knowing WHAT technique to use next – these are all elements of the Feel that we are so good at teaching here. (No false modesty around THAT lol!)
If you’re new to my blog and you’re a person who WANTS to be gentle with your horse, then you’ll adore 21 Days to a Quiet Mind – Horse Meditations – this little program is the next step to teach superb Feel for your horse. (In fact I think it’s the only program that does anything like it, anywhere.) And if you don’t adore it, I’ll give you your $47 back. 🙂
6. Then I broke the job of keeping his head down while being pulled downward, into baby steps. Could he bring his head down when I stroked the the rope downwards? i.e. a gentle intermittent pressure? Could he bring his head down if I put just a bit more pressure on the rope? For a bit longer? Could he keep his head down while I had my hand on the side of his mouth? While I swiped a finger along his lips just inside his mouth? Could he keep his head down while I kept my fingers in there a bit longer? Could I rest my hand on his tongue? Could I do that from both sides and have him still keep his head down to a bit of pressure on the rope?
7. And all the time, following the good feelings and using my early warning signal that something was Not Quite Right, to figure out what it is that has to change, to get the result that we’re looking for. (We introduce this concept of something being Not Quite Right in the free lessons The 9 Keys to Happiness and then do extensive work on developing this feel in 21 Days to a Quiet Mind.)
8. At some point in that baby step process, I realized that being able to move his feet and move them backwards was a big deal for him. He kind of got stuck and felt he couldn’t move his feet and that was when he’d want to explode and go up, except I never pushed him that far. The dentist can drift with a horse who is moving backwards and still get the job done, but it’s impossible when they explode upwards. And dangerous too! So I had to teach him to move backwards when he felt under pressure – teach him that there WAS another alternative to exploding upwards.
9. Over just a little bit of work here and a little bit there, over several weeks, we got to where Oliver could do all those things FOR ME.
10. Ah but does that mean he can do that for Jenavive? Just because a horse has enough trust in ME to do that, does not necessarily mean that he’ll have enough trust in someone else for the same thing. 🙂
Enter Jenavive Dore, Horse Dentist extraordinaire.
1. Yeah it makes me smile too. She’s worth bragging on – she’s got naturally good Feel AND she was interested in our slightly different approach and happy to flow with it. The combination was priceless in a difficult situation.
2. We started with that commitment to Oliver, with Jenavive knowing that I didn’t care how many times she had to come, that his co-operative behavior was more important than actually getting the teeth done. And it’s my job to pay for that. Do you get that? It’s not the dentist’s job (or the feet trimmer’s) to train our horse for free.
3. We did Oliver first, so that we could rest and come back to him if we needed to (and we did).
4. He pretty well kept his head down for her, so long as she didn’t put too much downward pressure on him, but as soon as the tools came out, “Forget it!” he said and the head was flinging up in the air and the front legs left the ground one time too. Here we go with that “techniques are a dime a dozen” thing again – so don’t assume that the following techniques will work for your horse. YOU will have to keep your eyes and mind open to what WILL work in the moment for your horse. While Jenavive worked her own baby steps and as he chucked his head in the air, I kept variable pressure on the rope to bring him back down again. And bless him he was bringing his head down to my pressure on the rope pretty quickly. It’s my FEEL – my connection to Oliver and the Feel that comes from that – that tells me how much pressure and when to apply it. 🙂
5. We got to a point where we had taken one baby step too far and had to back off to the previous baby step where Oliver COULD say yes and we quit, took the halter off, turned him loose and went on to the other horses.
I thought he was done for the day, but he watched Bobby and UT have their teeth done with Jenavive’s lovely consideration for Bobby’s painful jaw reactions caused by the last dentist and UT’s difficulty in dealing with the dental gag with no front teeth – got comfort from what he saw and that had him ready for another go. Bless him he actually walked up and said “Me again, I’m ready.”
6. This second time, Jenavive encouraged him to move backwards a little (she’d had to encourage UT to move like that too, to help him). Then she patiently worked some of those earlier baby steps around his mouth with that “encouraging him to drift a little” in her mind, then again with one of her rasps around and a little in his mouth.
Then she got the idea that it was time to push the envelope a little and hang in there with the rasp in his mouth while he drifted backwards a little and bam! – Oliver made the quite sudden energy breakthrough into that relaxation and co-operation that you see in the video.
More important than the task itself
The task itself isn’t finished, we sooo… needed to celebrate and appreciate Oliver’s breakthrough AND SOAK UP ALL THOSE GOOD FEELINGS, so that behaviour will be his new normal next time. When Jenavive comes back next week to do another three horses, she’ll do Oliver again and I expect she’ll be able to do his teeth more thoroughly. And maybe it will be that day, or maybe even the time after that before the dental gag goes on so that she can see and feel inside for doing a brilliant job on the teeth themselves.
And we’ll be cool with whatever time it takes, because releasing that old terror and the diabiolical resistance that went with it, was enormously more important than getting the task done and getting this new relaxation and co-operation as the new normal, will save us MEGA time and angst in the future.
You don’t need to be born with the level of Feel and sensitivity of a world class horse person that’s needed to help a horse like this – ANYONE can develop it. Start with 21 Days to a Quiet Mind – Practical horse meditations.
And if you’re in the Gippsland or South Eastern side of Melbourne – Cranburne, Frankston, Mornington Peninsula and you’re looking for a new dentist, I expect Jenavive Dore might just be your girl. You can email her here. Her phone number is 0428 364 387