My old mare Stormy will turn 21 years old in March. In April we will have been together for twenty years. We were bold adventurers and fearless explorers in our younger days, but she’s grown past the age where tearing up and down mountainsides or facing down calves in a cutting pen holds any appeal for her. I’m training a young filly for new adventures, and Stormy has become my daughter’s horse. The quiet life of a child’s trail mount suits her just fine these days.
She is precious to me beyond words, an indelible part of my internal landscape.
This morning as I was getting ready to drive the kids to the bus stop, I saw Stormy lying down in the corral. She loves to take naps on sunny afternoons. Not on cold mornings, on frozen mud. And there was something about the stiff-legged way she lay there that made my heart sink into my stomach.
I went out to her and she got up, but the second I walked away from her she lay back down and started to roll. Classic symptom of colic. Her silvery-white coat was heavily caked with mud and sweat, and by the looks of the ground in the corral she’d been rolling around for some time.
I had to get the kids to the bus, but I ran in, woke up Steve, and told him what Stormy was doing. He came out, got her up again, put a halter on her and started walking her around the pasture. She kept trying to lay down and roll; it was hard to keep her on her feet and moving.
When I got back, I took over walking her while Steve called the local vet. For once old Zaddick didn’t fuss and complain about making a ranch call; he said he’s been getting an unusually large number of colics lately and most of them haven’t ended well. He said he’d be right over, and he was.
He looked rather grim as he checked her out. Her heart rate was alarmingly high, her gums were pale, she was in excruciating pain, and there was deathly silence where the rumblings and gurglings of a healthy gut should be. He shook his head and said it didn’t look good and we shouldn’t get our hopes up for a happy ending. I could barely wrap my mind around the words.
He gave her a sedative and some painkiller, and then gave her the standard mineral oil treatment. If you’ve never seen this procedure, basically it involves running a plastic hose into the horse’s nostril, down her throat and into her stomach. Then a mixture of mineral oil and warm water is pumped in through the tube. If the colic is caused by a simple impaction, this usually gets things moving again. If it’s caused by an intestinal stone or a displacement (‘twisted gut’), then the only answer is surgery, and for a horse Stormy’s age the kindest thing is to just put them down.
Zaddick said the sedative should wear off in twenty minutes or so, and then she could be walked around some more. The painkillers would last longer, a couple hours maybe depending on the situation. By then she should have either had a decent poop or two and feel better, or she would go back to lying down and rolling, in which case we should call him back to give her a humane death.
That was about six hours ago. She’s obviously feeling much better; she hasn’t laid down or rolled since the meds wore off. She has drunk a lot of water, which is good, and she has nibbled halfheartedly at the bran mashes I made for her. She wants to go back in with the other horses. Best of all, when I press my ear to her belly I can hear things gurgling around in there. But…we’re still waiting for that one good poop that will tell us all is well. Until that happens there’s still the possibility of serious problems and a bad ending.
I think she’s going to be okay.
I hope she’s going to be okay.
This has been a very long day.
[Addendum: Right after I posted this, I went out and got her walking around again. And right after that, she made a perfectly lovely poop. HOORAY!!!]