Let us sing.
Cleaning of the sheath! The Cleaning of the sheath! We will come rejoicing, cleaning of the sheath!
The vet came by the other day, proving that some doctors still make house calls. It was not an emergency, but a routine maintenance. The horse had reached 25,000 miles. It was time to have his teeth floated and his sheath cleaned.
I’m pretty new to the farm animal game. Sure, I’ve been the overseer, feeder and beater of plenty of domestics in the past, including some that could be called animals. In the past, we’ve kept dogs, maids, cats, gardeners, fish and in-laws by choice, as well as housing mice, rats, snakes and at least one insane chipmunk. I’ve been present at births, held pets during their last moments on Earth and scraped several off the road to have them stitched back together again, Humpty-Dumpty style. I’ve buried a few and kept others from digging them up again.
However, nothing prepared me for the horse’s routine maintenance.
The Vet unpacked her instruments of mass inspection as I tried to convey to the horse that we couldn’t possibly attach a metal clamp to his gonads again. They were no longer there. That particular inconvenience was a once-in-a-lifetime amusement park ride that, I assured the big fella, would never, ever happen again. There’s no reason to pin your ears back, I told him. The Vet just here for your 25,000 mile check up and tie rotation.
That’s about the time the doctor came in with the biggest set of metal files I’ve ever seen. From what I could tell by the way the horse was rocking back and forth and looking toward the pasture, they were also the biggest set of files he’d ever seen.
“Don’t worry, big guy,” I told him. “I don’t think that’s for your sheath. I believe she’s going to use those on your teeth.”
A lot of reassurance that brought.
It was then I discovered how close humans are to the animal kingdom. You see? None of us likes to go to the dentist either. For horses, the experience is completely frills-free. There was no easy-listening music to relax him. There was no cool chair to grip him in place. There was no poster of the beach at Maui tacked to the ceiling to take his mind off what was going on in his mouth. There was only the Vet, a huge set of files, a bucket to catch his blood and me.
Did I say, “Catch his blood”?
See? Just like when humans go to the dentist.
I’m not sure what the term “floating” the teeth means. The actual process turned out to be filing the teeth down. As medical procedures go, this one was rather simple. To file a horse’s teeth down, the veterinarian takes a gigantic file, sticks it into the horse’s mouth and, well, files until her little arms quiver.
To think that at one time, back there in high school metal shop, I was so close to becoming an animal doctor and didn’t even realize it.
A visit from the horse doctor requires participation from the horse owner. While my teeth were not filed and my sheath was not cleaned (at least, not by the doctor) I was needed to hold the valiant steed’s head up while the Vet filed away, deep inside his many-toothed mouth. This was not, as I suspected, because the horse would be scared and want to run away. It was, instead, because the horse was drugged and wanted to lay down. Once again, just like in college, my job was to keep the big smelly guy who was full of drugs upright until it was time to go home.
It wasn’t easy.
As Jethro Tull once sang, horses are heavy.
His teeth having passed muster, once again ready to chew corn right off the cob, our new favorite hobby animal was now prepared to have his sheath cleaned. If you’re like I was (up until a few days ago) you probably don’t connect the word “sheath” with any part of the anatomy, either human or equestrian. To help you along, while trying to be as non-offensive as possible, I will describe it in this manner.
Our horse is not Jewish.
Compounding this problem is the fact that he has no opposable thumbs.
Frankly, he can’t do it himself. If he could, I’m sure that’s all he would be doing.
That is, if he wasn’t a gelding.
Although he has been surgically qualified to sing soprano with the Vienna Horse Choir, his equipment does need the occasional tune-up and cleaning. For this, the veterinarian put on rubber gloves.
I must pause in this story for a moment to let you know how funny I think the word “penis” is. It’s one of those formal, medical words that no one uses unless they’re in an embarrassing situation; therefore, I have always found it hilarious. Clinical words make me laugh. If my company provided free analysis in our so-called medical plan, I’d get it checked out. Until then, let’s just say penis makes me laugh and leave it at that.
Because I am a relatively new horse owner and this was the first visit from a relatively new vet, she found it necessary to explain each procedure she performed, making sure to say the word “penis” about eleven hundred times in fifteen minutes.
Later, I explained to the horse that I was not laughing at him. “Really,” I said. “You’re just fine. It’s not funny looking at all. It’s just the word. As a matter of fact, to be frank, you’re hung like a horse.”
Midway through the sheath cleaning, the doctor noticed that my boy had become sunburned.
All we white boys have a problem with that. Ask anyone who just returned from his first visit to the nude beach.
“It’s an easy problem to fix,” she said. “You can just apply some regular old sunscreen, just like you use.”
You mean like I use on my penis? I wondered.
After the horse received a good report and his new inspection was stuck to the inside of his windshield, the Vet left with some of my money and the two of were left alone. He was still a bit woozy from the drugs. I was still a bit tired from holding him up. But neither of us were too tired to talk. After I reassured him that he’d only have to go through this exercise twice a year, I told him that, if he didn’t mind, he was going to be sunburned this year.
I like you, I told him.
I just don’t like you quite that much.
Stay out of the sun.