If you’ve been reading my blog regularly – thank you. If the reason you read it is because you enjoy my sense of humor – thank you again. It is to you faithful readers, that I wish to apologize in advance. For there is no humor in today’s blog. There was simply none for me to find.
I could have lost BJ last week. BJ, my youngest horse, my corral clown, my hat-stealer. That BJ.
There is no single word that strikes fear in the heart of any horse owner more quickly than the word “colic”. To most people, that word conjures up images of crying infants and sleepy, distraught parents. To far too many horse owners, it means death.
When I was eighteen, my family lost a yearling to colic. Arapahoe was born to our mare Strawberry, who we had raised from a foal. Arapahoe was a member of our farm family, and we were all heartbroken.
Eleven years ago, Danny and I lost Pokey to colic. Pokey was a sweet-tempered pony loved by everyone who knew her. I still treasure the crayon-drawn sympathy cards sent by some of the young children who mourned her loss with me.
So, you see, my knowledge of colic is personal, and my fears are not unwarranted.
Unlike dogs, cats and humans, horses cannot vomit. When a dog or cat has an upset stomach, they can vomit and relieve their own discomfort. Since a horse cannot do that, the offending substance must pass through the entire intestinal tract in order to bring relief. If there is gaseous build-up along the way, or if the intestine becomes blocked, the situation can become very serious, very quickly. When a horse is experiencing colic, they have a tendency to roll and twist their bodies on the ground, trying to relieve their pain. Unfortunately, this can lead to the intestines twisting and closing off the offending material. When that happens, gas continues to build, creating more pain. If caught soon enough, emergency surgery can save the horse. If not, it inevitably leads to death.
It is imperative that a horse experiencing colic not be allowed to roll.
It was right about noon. I was washing my hands at the kitchen sink when I glanced out the window and saw all three of my horses grazing. Suddenly, BJ lifted his head and began trotting circles around the other two. At first, I thought he saw something – maybe a deer – that excited him. But the others kept grazing. Then he began running more erratically, kicking out behind him with his hind legs. Although his behavior was quite unusual, I still thought he was just being playful. It was only after I saw him turn his head and bite at his own sides, that I understood. He was in pain.
I immediately went outside and watched him more closely from the pasture fence. I had not called to him, but when he saw me, he immediately came running toward me. It was a very cool day, but as he ran past me, I could see that he had broken out in a sweat.
Suddenly he stopped, dropped to his front knees, and began to roll onto his side.
“No BJ!” I yelled as I shimmied through the rails of the pasture fence. As I ran towards him, waving my arms and yelling, “Get up! Get up!” he lifted his head off the ground to look at me. He got back up onto his feet as I approached him. I had no rope, nothing but my hands, but I hoped he would follow me to the barn. He did. I truly believe he knew I was trying to help him.
As we hurriedly walked together to the barn, I pulled out my cell phone and called my vet’s office. When the receptionist heard that BJ had colic, she understood the emergency and promised that a vet would leave immediately. It’s about a twenty-five-minute drive to our farm.
I put a halter and lead rope on BJ and we began to walk. Walk to help relieve symptoms, walk to keep his blood flowing and intestines working, walk to keep him from rolling.
By this time, both BB and Zip had responded to BJ’s predicament, and both came running to the barn as well. BB walked beside us, and periodically nickered softly to BJ. She did not interfere, but she also did not leave our sides. I truly believe that she, too, knew that I was trying to help BJ. Zip stood a distance away, but watched every move we made, also nickering periodically.
I could tell that BJ was in intense pain. He was sweating more profusely and his eyes were wide with terror. Several times, he attempted to drop to his knees, and I knew he wanted to roll. Somehow, I managed to keep him on his feet and walking. Several times, he bit at his sides, as if the monster attacking him and causing such pain could be crushed by rolling, or scared away by biting.
Twelve minutes had passed since my first phone call to the vet. I called again.
“Has he left yet?” I asked.
“Yes,” she reassured me. “He should be there very soon.” We kept walking.
About fifteen minutes later, I saw the vet’s pickup truck turn onto our farm’s driveway. I had walked BJ, with BB walking beside us, for the entire thirty minutes.
The vet gave BJ two shots, one to relax him, and one to aid his digestion. The effect was almost immediate. He stopped biting his sides. His sweating lessened. His eyes looked more normal. His muscles relaxed.
And then he pooped.
The vet stayed about twenty minutes longer, just to be sure that he would not relapse, but the crisis was over. At least it was for BJ.
For me, the repercussions lasted a bit longer. What if I hadn’t looked out the kitchen window when I did? What if I had gone to town to get groceries? What if…?
The reality is, when you open your heart to love, you also open it to the pain of loss. The two are inseparable. With three horses aged 20, 17 and 10, two dogs aged nine, two cats aged twelve, and two rabbits aged seven, there will be losses. And it will be painful.
But I would rather live a life filled with love and loss, than no love at all.
(There is a photo of Arapahoe with Strawberry in the July – The Filly chapter of my first book, A Year on the Family Farm andI talk about Pokey in the February chapter of my third book, The Return to the Family Farm.)
Next Week: Be Careful What You Wish For