Tales of tongues and horses

I am standing in the horse shed with my bare hand wrapped around Mage’s tongue thinking, “These are the sort of things you never consider when you decide to keep horses.”

I am standing in the horse shed with my bare hand wrapped around Mage’s tongue thinking, “These are the sort of things you never consider when you decide to keep horses.”

I am also trying to look nonchalant. Like holding onto my horse’s tongue is no big deal. After all, I am a woman who has gone elbow deep inside ewes to reposition tangled lambs, routinely given vaccinations and castrated more lambs and calves than I (or they) care to remember. I have spent the better part of almost half a century helping to care for animals but this is the first time I have ever been asked to hold a horse’s tongue.

The vet glances over at me and I can see by the instant flash of mirth that fills his eyes I’m not fooling anybody.

“You okay?” he asks, trying not to laugh.

The vet is holding an electric file in one hand and a mirror in the other. It’s an exact replica of the mirror my dentist uses only 50 times as big. I am glad I can’t see the expression on my face in it.

It is dentist day on the farm and Mage has ‘a curious tongue’. He wants to use it to explore what the vet is doing to his mouth. It’s getting in the way of the power drill and hence the need for me to hold the tongue safely out of the way.

I am not wearing gloves and I am surprised at how a horse’s tongue feels. It’s not at all slimy or wet like you might expect. Instead it’s just warm and soft. It reminds me of the first time I petted a snake.

I was walking with a group of friends in Victoria trying to find a restaurant and becoming more lost by the footstep.

We wound up in a residential section and stopped a young man walking by to ask for directions. As he cheerfully pointed out where we had taken a wrong turn we started to realize there was something unusual about his attire.

It took us all a few beats before we realized he had a huge live snake casually draped over his shoulders like a thick tie that had come undone.

Some of us pulled back, while others leaned in.

One of the ladies (a leaner inner) asked if she could pet it and then, of course, we all had to do it.

I thought the snake would feel cold and clammy, but it was actually quite warm and smooth.

Just like Mage’s tongue feels in my fist right now.

But that doesn’t stop me from holding my face like someone just drew their fingernails down a chalkboard; or from wishing Mage’s tongue wasn’t quite so curious. Or that I had a pair of gloves.

It always amazes me what a country vet is required to do in a day’s work. Not for him or her predictable luxury of specializing. In the morning she might pull a calf, treat a goat’s mastitis or mend a wound in a…pick one; sheep, goat, horse, cow, bison, elk, llama, ostrich, pig or alpaca. Around here people raise all those animals and more. In the afternoon he could do pregnancy testing, x-ray a possible fracture or do some dental work on a horse with a curious tongue. The emergency situations, of course, won’t fall neatly into her morning or afternoon schedule, but will likely jar him out of bed and send him scrambling for his boots at three in the morning. The only constant is she will do all these things on huge animals that would prefer she didn’t. Animals that can’t be told say “Aw” or asked to explain where it hurts.

I remember considering a career as a veterinarian assistant when I was still in high school; the idea sandwiched somewhere between a florist and a flight attendant. It has often bothered me that there are so many interesting careers to choose from but only 50 years to explore them all. As I stood there with my horse’s tongue in hand it occurred to me that for one afternoon I got to be a vet assistant. And, as the vet finished his work and I released Mage’s tongue, it also occurred to me that once was enough.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from northern B.C. You can catch up on past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.

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