Last Saturday night, I had one of the scares of my life.
My family has had horses for as long as I can remember, and it comes with the territory that those horses are going to get hurt, are going to get sick, and are going to get themselves in trouble. I have seen a few bouts of colic (all, thankfully, which passed after the usual anxious hours of walking, Banamine injections and mineral oil administrations) and I’ve chased many a recalcitrant escapee around our front yard. But this past Saturday, something happened that I had never experienced.
I was feeding my horse Haajes: his usual dish of pellets, soaked beet pulp and a bit of flax. He of course, tore into it eagerly. But about four bites in, he suddenly stopped eating, stood there a moment, and then turned away in seeming disinterest. This was not usual.
I watched him for a second, but he didn’t seem inclined to finish his food, so I put his halter on and led him out to the paddock. He seemed listless, so I turned him loose and he instantly started nosing the ground and sank to his knees. I had a funny feeling in my stomach and my throat felt dry. It looked like he was colicking. He rolled half-heartedly and lay on his side for a moment, then got up. Maybe he was just being lazy? But he didn’t go over to his manger of hay, but stood in one place, bobbing his head idly. When he started looking to go down again a second time, I ran over to him. Saliva was running out of his mouth. He took no notice as I ran to the house to get my father, my heart hammering in my chest. On the way I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called our vet.
My horse was choking on his supper. A hunk of half-chewed beet pulp and pellets was lodged in his esophagus. Waiting for the vet to come seemed like an eternity. He was in a lot of pain and walked slowly, his neck muscles tense and his eyes glazed. How could this be the same horse that had almost bucked me off in rambunctious glee while schooling that morning? We gave him a shot of Banamine to attempt to relax his muscles and make him more comfortable. He certainly wasn’t going to be comfortable during what came next: an hour and half of feeding a tube down his throat and systematically pumping water down his esophagus in an attempt to dislodge the blockage.
It worked. By midnight he was back to normal, coming out of the sedation and extremely indignant that he was not allowed to have food. I’m so fortunate that my dad (a doctor by profession) and my amazing vet were on hand and there instantly that night.
Horses can always surprise you. Sometimes they surprise you with colic when you’re on your way to work, a foal in the middle of a thunderstorm, a hoof abscess the day before a show. But other times horses surprise you with a perfect shoulder-in, a jump so round it jars you loose, a spin on the haunches faster than you thought was possible. They surprise you with a nicker of recognition, a nuzzle on the shoulder, a bright face over the stall door. And that makes it all worth it– for horse junkies like us!