Sunday, December 30, 2012

The dreaded "C" word

Many horsefolk have what could be politely described as salty language.  With as much poop mucking, genitalia cleaning, and rectal thermometer-inserting as we do, primness evaporates and leaves the coarse salt behind.  The highly offensive "C" word to us is not a crude term for vagina--it's COLIC.  (Horsefolk run away screaming, protecting their sensitive ears.)

What is colic, my nonhorsey friends?  (Horsey friends, feel free to correct/add details in the comments.)  Think of it as a severe stomach ache.  Horses' digestive tracts are designed to be constantly moving.  They eat all day, and thus, poop all day (an average of about 12 daily bowel movements).  If anything slows, stalls, or :::shudder::: stops this process, it causes the horse considerable pain and distress.  Sometimes it can be just gas; sometimes it can be lack of water keeping the foodstuffs from flowing.  Sometimes, however, the cause is far more silent and insidious.

Over time, intestinal stones can form due to issues with feed (too much calcium, for one; swallowing sand with their feed, for another), blocking intestines and causing them die and turn black as they rot within the animal.  Other times, the gut can literally be twisted and kinked like a garden hose.  In those cases, expensive and risky surgery is your only hope.

Usually, though, you can catch the colic before it reaches that point.  Usually.  Signs of distress include a disinterest in eating, lack of manure piles, rolling (they're trying to relieve gut pain), sweating, and eyes bugged with stress and worry.  Instructions are typically keep the horse up and walking, remove food, give them copious amounts of oil as a laxative (sometimes force feeding it through a nasogastric tube administered by a vet), and offer pain medication such as Banamine to keep them comfortable. Once poop appears, you know things are working and the worst is probably over.

I have been very fortunate that in 10+ years of horsekeeping, I have had only one bout of colic. Back in 2006, when my eldest was about 4 months old, Firefly introduced me to this unnerving aspect of horse ownership.  Hubby--finding a colicky horse easier to contend with than a supremely fussy baby--rushed to her rescue.  He kept her walking, watched as the vet oiled her and gave her Banamine, and stayed with her until she seemed improved.  Why the colic?  My theory is it related to the high heat we'd been having and her previous day's exercise.  Perhaps she didn't drink enough water; perhaps the moon was just so; who the heck knows.  Half this stuff with horses is guesswork, and half that guesswork results in permanently unanswered questions.

Enter yesterday.

I tried to race to the barn before the rain hit to lunge the horses on a dry patch of ground, but failed to arrive in time.  Unable to exercise them physically, I let Fly and Tril out to graze to tend to them at least mentally.  I figure a good 45min turned out on the property in the then-light rain would keep the couped-up-AUUGGHHHs at bay.  

They were fine.  Firefly galloped about each time I chased her from the infatuated OTTB's feed and otherwise enjoyed being out and about. Tril did a few spins on his heels and half-rears, trotted about happily (tail so high up over his back he looked like a giant lhasa apso), and grazed contentedly before being led back to his stall for his breakfast.  

I tried Firefly's new driving bridle on (that and the harness I bought with it are subject of a future blog, no doubt) before putting an eager mini away for her breakfast, and I left as the rain went from drizzling to pouring.

I had almost no idea what all those strappies were.  I got it on and she put the bit in her mouth and it seems to fit-ish, or really, be able to be made to fit.  I will definitely be getting help with it and  the rest of that tangled web o'leather.
Ten minutes after I left, I got a call from the man who feeds in the mornings.  Trilogy was lying down in a corner of his stall, would not get up, would not eat his bucket of alfalfa pellets, and was turning his nose up at the carrots he had tried to hand-feed Tril.

Ten minutes after I'd left.  TEN MINUTES.  What the fuck?

I bolted over to the barn to see Tril still lying down in the corner next to Firefly's stall.  She was adorably standing guard next to him, although I question how altruistic her motives were considering the bucket full of carrots that were sitting, uneaten, in Tril's stall.  I put in a call with my vet and left a voicemail--of course Tril is getting colicky over a holiday weekend. 

This was not the same horse I had just left a half hour before. He got back up on his feet as I approached the gate, and just stood around looking worried.  I checked him over; no sign of sweat or shaking, that's good.  He looked at his bucket, but wouldn't eat anything (huge, neon, flashing warning light there--he looooves his bucket of joy), so I offered him a carrot by hand.  He sniffed it, then ate it cautiously, then seemed to seek more.  I handed him a few more carrots while using rainwater to soak his alfalfa pellets; I didn't want to leave his stall for fear of him going back down again, but in the downpour, I was not eager (but certainly willing) to begin handwalking.

Slowly, he ate his carrots, then moved on to his pellets.  

His eye shows he is definitely stressed.  His mouth shows he is definitely hungry.
Poop Watch began. I grabbed a chair and sat in the corner of Firefly's stall (Tril can be a bit twitchy in his own stall when he's eating--it's as though he is so focused on food, the rest of the world is completely blocked out and he startles easily) and waited and did my best to avoid freezing.  

Keeping me company?  Or trying to mooch my coffee?
After 20min, I grabbed my spare jacket in the tackroom.  After 35min, two jackets and a long sleeve shirt proved futile and I was chilled to where I could not get warm.  Tril was eating, standing, and otherwise seeming himself, so I decided to go home before I made myself sick.  

My view from Fly's stall.  Poop, dammit!
I came back a few hours later with a gallon of corn oil.  I was greatly relieved to see him brighter and two decent-sized manure piles in his stall.  (This is another instance where having a horse is so very like having a baby--with both, we obsess over the frequency, consistency, and quantity of poop.) I soaked his evening pellets in water, added some electrolytes and a cup or so of corn oil, and fed them to a happy boy.

Noticeably softer, less-stressed eye.  Happy boy and relieved me.
Whatever this was, it was over not long after it began. He's the fourth horse in the area to colic, though his was the most mild.  (One friend's horse spent a week in the equine hospital--yikes.)  I, Perpetual Noob that I am, was surprised to learn that horses often colic in colder weather because they don't drink enough.  In fact, two of the local colicking horses were at least partially due to insufficient water intake. 

A friend told me she's giving her horses electrolytes--something I typically only give in hot weather or after a sweaty workout--every day in this weather because it makes them drink.

Well.  Now, so am I.


Relaxed, happy boy.  Stay that way.


  1. I've only had to deal with one colic episode concerning my own horse. Of course, it had to be the worst kind.

    Firefly looks kyoot in her bridle. I shall look forward to future block post forthwith.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your one experience with colic. Insidious effer, isn't it?

    May it remain your one and ONLY experience with it.