Sunday, November 13, 2011

the senior horse, 7 and 8: in which Salina and Keil Bay add to my silver hair count

It's taken me awhile to be able to sit down and write about this - it was one of the most stressful times I've had since we started living with horses and donkeys, and in some ways it was a trial run of one of my worst nightmares.

A little over a week ago, Bear Corgi burst through our back gate as I was heading out to feed breakfast tubs. He does this periodically, but usually he runs huge laps around the perimeter of the arena, barn/barnyards, and our outer fence line. He's generally good about coming to me when I call, and he gets a pat for listening and goes back to the house/dog yard.

Last week his "outburst" coincided with his morning "crazed Corgi" energy run - which he usually does inside our house - AND with the horses and donkeys having gathered in close quarters up near the barn as they awaited being let into stalls for breakfast.

This was a terrible mix - wild Corgi and clustered herd - and Bear proceeded to run like a banshee up and down the paddock, going in a straight line back and forth THROUGH the horses. It all happened lightning fast, and suddenly Bear realized that Rafer Johnson was in the arena alongside the dirt paddock, and he went in and started chasing Rafer. Rafer held his own and we tried to stop Bear, but he was in a frenzy and could not really hear his command to come.

I managed to get his attention and he left Rafer to come through the paddock to me, in the front field where I had gone hoping to get him completely out of the area of the horse hooves, but as he made a path to me he decided to take another pass through the herd. Salina went after him.

Bear went back and forth one last time and Salina whirled around like a reining horse, intent on getting this little monster away from her donkeys.

On the third "whirl" Salina went down. The momentum, soft footing (we'd had rain a day or so before), and her still not quite healed abscessing hoof gave way. She landed hard (albeit on soft earth) on her right hip, and she was flat out on the ground.

I got Bear and put him in the house, and ran back to check Salina while my daughter put the geldings in their stalls. I let the donkeys stay with Salina, knowing their presence would be good for her, and knowing too that they would likely refuse to leave her.

She was fortunately lying flat with her good eye up, which I suspect helped her stay calm. She didn't struggle at all. She just lay there flat out, both hind legs stiff and sticking out in a way that made me think she had done something bad to her hip or stifle joint. Blood was coming out of her mouth, but it appeared to be from her biting her tongue.

I called the vet. The office manager told me to administer Banamine immediately and that she would get someone over here as soon as she could. She told me not to try to get Salina up if she was calm.

Unfortunately there were two emergencies going on ahead of us and she had already pulled in one vet to help with that, but we were going to have to wait. The vet on call checked in by phone and told me to stay with Salina and call her if she began to panic or struggle.

Salina lay perfectly still for most of two hours. My husband came home from work, both my teenagers were with us, holding Salina's head and blocking her eye from the morning sun. The donkeys stood by her side and at one point laid down beside her. Rafer rolled nearby as if he were trying to show her how to get up. As you can imagine we were all in tears.

At one frightening point Salina closed her eye and I thought she was leaving us. I made the goodbye speech I had imagined briefly but never been able to get all the way through out loud before - thanking her for all her wisdom and help in keeping November Hill under control. I told her we would do everything we could if she wanted to stay, but that we would manage without her if it was time for her to go. I promised to take good care of the donkeys, and I swore I would teach Bear Corgi not to chase them again.

She seemed to be listening intently and I really thought that when the vet arrived we would be saying goodbye and dealing with burial.

Around that time the donkeys each went up to her and sniffed her face. Rafer then went down the paddock and into the front field to join the geldings. We'd fed breakfast tubs and put them in front. Redford went down the paddock and was considering going with Rafer but he ended up grazing near the gate. I didn't know if they had said goodbye and were going to join their herd or if they knew things were okay and were taking a grazing break. It was heartbreaking.

Five minutes before the vet arrived, nearly two hours since she first went down, Salina decided to get up. She tried two times without success and then the third time she made it. She was on all four feet but leaning precariously to the right. I was terrified she was going back down, that something was truly not working right in her hip and that this time she would panic. But she held herself upright, defying gravity, and in a few moments took one step, then two, getting her balance, getting her equilibrium back, and then she walked slowly but very steadily down to the gate to the front field.

I immediately got her breakfast tub (wet and mushy and I wanted to get some fluid into her) and she devoured almost all of it as we held it there. The donkeys came back, the vet arrived and did a full exam from head to hoof, and said that other than a slightly elevated heart rate, she was fine.

The vet on call stopped by as well, so she got a second check. By this time she was fussing at the vet, tracking her donkeys, and ready to move on with her day.

We decided to put her on Previcox and keep her on it to help with arthritic pain. I've doubled her Mov-Ease powder, stopped jiaogulan, and started ginseng. It seems amazing but she is looking good. She's back to regular turn-out, the abscess is healing up, and Bear Corgi has had several leash lessons in which he is learning (and doing well) at lying quietly with the horses and donkeys. I waited a week to take him out there, and when I did, at the end of the lesson, Salina and both donkeys came up to him and they licked and chewed while he lay quietly. They shared some breaths and we called that a successful end to that first meeting after such a difficult day.

Looking back, I wonder if Salina felt I needed a trial run of what it might be like when she or any of our equines go. I've never dealt with losing a horse and have barely been able to think what it might be like. Now I know, and although it was terribly upsetting and difficult, I was able to be there and do what had to be done. We all had the chance to say what we wanted to say, and were able to do it without falling apart.

As usual, the black mare who will be 29 years old this spring has much to teach.


Yesterday I went out to feed breakfast and noticed immediately that Keil Bay had a swollen knee. Keil is 22 years old but he is remarkably sound for his age and as most of you know, he's my dream horse, so if I even think anything is going on with him I get extremely anxious.

He ate his breakfast as ravenously as always, and I watched him walk out to the pasture to see how he looked. There was nothing off at all, but the knee was definitely big. No heat, nothing else of note.

I came inside to research some possible remedies and then went back out to watch him some more before making a decision. While I was watching I got the muck-barrow and began to do some mucking in the field where he was.

As I mucked I got more and more anxious. I started thinking what if this is it for Keil, what if his knee is going and he can't be ridden any more. I reminded myself that I can ride Cody, but the idea of Keil Bay in retirement made me so sad I could hardly think about it.

About that time he walked up the hill and went to the water trough I'd just emptied to clean it out. "Hang on," I told him. "I'll fill it for you." I got the hose and added water and kneeled down to check his knee again. I kept feeling around his knee and he kept moving so that his chest was right in my face, almost like he was trying to use his chest to push me over. For a minute I thought he was just being affectionate but then I looked - LOOKED - at the area he was presenting to me. He had gouged himself right at the top of the leg, it had already scabbed over, and his winter coat had covered it up so it was barely noticeable. But it was directly above the swollen knee and suddenly I knew why the swelling was there, why he was so sound even with the swelling, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

At that point Keil Bay put his knee against my hand holding the hose and I thought DUH!  Cold hosing! He stood there for about 15 minutes while the cold water flowed down his leg, then nuzzled me and walked back down the hill.

I gave him 3 doses of Arnica for good measure.

Later in the day as I was working with Bear Corgi in the arena, Keil Bay galloped up the hill, notched back to his power trot down the paddock, and came to a full halt right by the gate to the arena. Cody galloped all the way to the fence and stopped on a dime.

Keil Bay hung his head over the gate and looked me right in the eye. "See," he said. "I'm definitely not ready for retirement yet."

I thanked the universe that I have these two incredible seniors to teach me what they know. I might be completely silver-headed before I read the mid-50s but I will have stories to tell and a huge amount of knowledge to take care of those other 4 equines we live with!


Grey Horse Matters said...

So scary with Salina. I'm so happy she decided she was fine and it was time to get up and get on with her day. She is such a special horse.

Keil is definitely not ready to retire yet after that show of gallop/trot to you. I know we worry about them more than we should, most times they can heal themselves. But it's still nice to be around to help them when they need it.

You've had some disturbing experiences with the two seniors lately but you've come through it. And even more important you know you will be able to handle situations when the time does eventually come.

Bear Corgi sounds like he's in for some training to keep him and the herd safe. Good luck, take a deep breath and smile.

billie said...

Arlene, I guess November has been a month of tests for both of us - I am still thinking of J and sending her hugs and healing energy. And thinking of you too b/c as scary as it is when something happens to our horses, it is even more so when something happens to our CHILDREN!!

May be all have calm, quiet Decembers and peaceful ends to 2011 - we deserve them!!

jme said...

i honestly had tears in my eyes as i read this. poor salina! i've been in too many of those awful situations, so i know just how terrifying and heartbreaking they can be. for me there is no worse feeling in the world. but she's a wise, tough mare and i am so relieved she was alright after such a scary ordeal -- most definitely helped by the love and care you were able to give her at such a terrible moment. and i'm so glad you, your family and your herd all found a way through it.

lately i've had people remarking on what a calm person i am, and the only thing i can think to explain it is the time i've spent with horses, trying to keep my sanity and do what needs to be done while everything is going wrong at once! :-\

and keil bay is such a smart guy :-) who ever said horses can't speak? mellon did a similar thing to me this morning. last night during tick check i noticed he had a scab from an old bite above his point of shoulder. no big deal. this morning he had this strange swelling where the skin of his chest was hanging between his legs halfway to his knees. i was baffled. poking around the swelling, he started to nudge me toward his shoulder and then tried to push his shoulder into me. took a minute to register, but under his winter coat he had a giant oozing, swollen sore where the tick scab had been. and i probably would have missed it if he hadn't told me where to look....

anyway, i'm glad all your guys are ok! something weird is going on these days - if i was into astrology i'd be consulting the charts for stray planets or something. let's hope our luck improves soon! sending all the positive energy i can muster :-) and please give salina -- and yourself -- a big hug from me!

billie said...

j, I'm so happy that you are out at your barn doing tick checks and typing on the computer after your ordeal! What a relief!!

Mellon often reminds me of Keil Bay when you or A write about him - how cool that he too told you where to look.

I have often said that I am better in emergencies when the stakes are high than I am with small things that don't really matter much.

Keil Bay is out there this moment doing his hyena squeal at Redford, who must want to play. And now Keil has come to my window. He knows I'm writing about him!

Take care and thank you for the energy and hugs!!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Whoa - you had me seriously choking up there billie. What a relief that wise wise Salina is a-okay... not to mention Keil Bay!

Even horses laying out flat in total relaxation (Val does this daily) gives me a queasy feeling. They just look so vulnerable.

I don't envy you seeing Salina go down. Maybe "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger" - but is there ever a good time for those lessons?!

Happy for your happy ending - extra hugs for Valentino tonight :)

billie said...

C, thank you - it was terrifying and although I wouldn't choose to go through it, I guess on this side of having done so, I appreciate what I learned. :)

Hope you and Val are enjoying your new "life" together. How is he reacting to you in pjs??? :)

ponymaid said...

billie - Gadzooks! I had to lie down with a cold cloth on my forehead after reading this! We too wondered if Salina was doing some sort of trial run with her family gathered so she could reassure you that all will be well, no matter what. Keil Bay? A mere sprog, half Jack's age, and not even ready to consider slowing down, let alone retiring. He is a great communicator and I have no doubt there are many more years of you two effortlessly sharing information.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Ha - it's certainly not my appearance, but what I'm carrying in my hands (and it better be edible) that matters to Val. If dispensing with wardrobe choices makes breakie come faster then so be it!!

Máire said...

Billie, that post brought tears to my eyes. I am so glad that Salina is well again. How vulnerable they make us, these equines. And clever Keil Bay, communicating with you as he knows you can.

billie said...

Sheaffer, glad to see you here, and thank you for the good thoughts all around. Right this minute, Keil Bay AND Salina are standing together outside my window sharing hay in the sun. Life is good.

billie said...

C, that's funny! Mine all love smelling my clothing and esp. if it's not the usual breeches/shirt/muck boot attire. Jackets, sweaters, sleep clothes intrigue them. :)

billie said...

Maire, it's true, and I guess the vulnerability we feel is part of their magic. They open us up, which is a good thing.

Victoria Cummings said...

I started crying as I read about Salina and remembered it was exactly how I felt waiting for the vet when the Erlicha tick bit Silk and I almost lost her a few years ago. And Keil Bay with his knee and his scratched eye -- I hope that this weird stretch of injuries is over and that you have peaceful, healthy holidays ahead!

billie said...

V, they are all doing well today, which is what I am most grateful for this T'giving. :)