The horse dentist is handsome, with blond windswept hair and a weather-beaten face. There is something Heathcliffian about him, something wild and sexy.
On the other hand, he dresses in overalls, brandishes grim tools, and looks a lot like a medieval torturer.
He cheers me up with his gallows humour, but also he scares me. The overall effect is what you would call a frisson.
He regales me with rude jokes as he gets stuck in with gigantic pliers. Hard to know whether to laugh or scream.
On this occasion, I called him out primarily to look at Tara, the old mare. I had been through the usual expensive vet visit, which consisted of me telling the vet I knew exactly what was wrong with the animal I had owned for 20 years, and the twentysomething vet telling me my instinct was completely wrong.
I told this vet: ‘Look, she’s got a dodgy tummy but there’s nothing else wrong with her. She’s very old. And the last bale of hay was particularly sharp. So I reckon her teeth have taken a turn for the worse, she’s struggling to chew her food and she’s swallowed some sharp hay that’s irritated her gut. She needs a dental and something to bind her up.’
The vet put her hand in Tara’s mouth and declared her teeth fine. Then she took blood and poo samples and went away to test them for everything exotic and drastic from salmonella to liver failure.
The tests all came back negative, as I told her they would. But at least I had the cynicism to call the dentist out anyway.
It was approaching dusk when he drove down the track and, as he wound down his window to greet me, I voiced some concern that he wouldn’t have time to do all three horses. But I should have known. This guy doesn’t hang about.
He usually flirts with me, but as he unpacked his tools from his flash BMW he peered at me like I was an exhibit in a museum — a fossil or relic. Looking me up and down, he said: ‘Good God, what happened to you?’
‘What do you mean?’ I said.
‘You’ve gone grey.’ ‘Oh yeah, that,’ I said, smoothing my fuzzy hair down. ‘I’ve been meaning to get my highlights done but I haven’t had time.’
‘Grey doesn’t suit anyone. But you look particularly terrible.’ ‘Thanks,’ I said.
He did Gracie first, not even asking me to hold her, but trapping her neatly against a round bale in the barn and filing down a sharp back tooth with his power tools in about 30 seconds flat.
‘What does this one do then?’ he said, perusing the skewbald pony as she began eating hay without even a second’s hesitation to suggest she had just had a dental.
‘She does everything, thank you very much.’
‘Funny little legs, hasn’t it?’
‘Are you going to insult all of us today, or just me and Gracie?’
‘Next,’ he said, impervious, and I went to get Darcy. We put her in a small enclosure between the field entrance and the barn. She was good as gold and he spent about 15 seconds filing with the loud power tools before declaring her done.
‘Right, where’s this old one then?’ he said, and I went to get Tara. ‘Take it easy, she’s recuperating,’ I said as he put on the headgear that keeps the horse’s mouth open and stuck his hand in.
‘Bloody hell!’ he shouted. ‘These are a mess! Right, I’m gonna need bigger tools.’
‘Bigger that those?’ But he was marching to his shiny black 4x4.
He took out from the boot the most frightening piece of equipment I have seen since the builders broke up my cellar floor with something called a Kango, and marched back declaring: ‘Displaced molar. Loose. Needs to come out.’
Seconds later, after some grunting from him but not a peep out of Tara, he held aloft in the claws of his tool a molar the size of a misshapen potato.
He declared the hole had ‘bled nicely’ and took the headgear off Tara who simply strolled away and began grazing with renewed gusto.
‘No wonder her gut was inflamed,’ he said. ‘She probably swallowed some sharp hay because she couldn’t chew it properly.’
‘You might say that,’ I told him, as he packed his clanking implements back into his car. ‘But I couldn’t possibly comment.’
‘Oh, this is a good one,’ he said, and he told me a joke involving a man going to a doctor with an embarrassing complaint.
‘You told me that one the last time you were here. Haven’t you got any new jokes?’
He got in his car and started the engine: ‘Just get your hair done.’ I rang and made the appointment.