Saturday, August 28, 2010

When Your Horsie Feels Bad and Wants to Die

(This is from one of Roger Ebert's blogs last spring. @resplendicity 's beloved horse Luke recently came down with colic and she wanted to see this story. I hadn't saved it. Thankfully, @snowster17 had a copy of it. Here ya go, then:)

And now, for just no reason at all, a little story that just happened.

Our 10-year-old Thoroughbred, Clay, was lying on his side this morning. Horses will bask in the sunshine that way, but there wasn't any yet, and last night Clay had a touch of "colic," as they call it. We thought it had cleared up, but by morning, he was lying on his side just barely moving his head.

Colic will kill a horse quick as poison. They can't burp or vomit, so the obstruction stays inside, their intestines twist up, and they're done for. Apart from how much it hurts to see such a magnificent creature die in front of you, the prospect on a Sunday morning sunrise of where to put a dead animal that weighs a thousand pounds or more is not cheering.

Catt called the vet and I had a little talk with Clay. He raised himself up enough to accept a neck-and-ears rub. He wouldn't take a little apple-and-oat treat, something they adore more than God; that was a bad sign. His breath was short, punctuated with little groans. His rear legs lay under him as though useless. His tummy felt as hard as a rock.

He liked the rub, though. Unusual for an animal as temperamental as thoroughbreds are, which, unlike dogs, don't usually have a lot of patience for it. But Clay was listening to me.

He seemed to remember that yesterday I'd promised him a little free-time outside the corral. The corral is plenty big enough for the lot of them to race around in, but that's just not the same as being outside it. So I fetched his halter and a rope and walked him outside the little gate.

The other horses were stunned, barely able to believe their eyes; one of their own had suddenly entered a distant universe. This poor, huge, dying beast immediately transformed, as good as Jesus emerging fresh and a-glow from his tomb on an Easter Sunday morning. I let him off his rope to do as he wished.

Jesus never reared so high nor galloped so full. My eyes watered up to watch. There's nothing like seeing a horse racing in full gallop all by himself, for fun, freedom and nature's own elan.

Clay raced all around the fence -- it's a simple plastic-wire affair, but the horses respect it more than people did the Berlin Wall. Look at me, look at me, look at meee, Clay snorted! His little herd raced along the inside of the fence, magnetized to his every move, unable to imagine what he would possibly do next! Stop and chew on a little dead, curly shrub? Holy cow!!! Run? Trot? Turn this way instead of that?? OMG!! OMG!!

Four noses touching over the fence in excitement, three on the inside and Clay on the outside. Sniff? Sniff? Snort! Watch me! Around and around he raced, sometimes all fours off the ground, waggling his head and mane with that magnificent neck. Superhorse! The poor captive inmates inside that flimsy plastic-wire fence leaped and charged around too.

Clay forgot all about his death-dealing colic and ambled back into the corral to take his place among the hay-and-horse-treats once again -- this time with quite a story to tell. While the fence means captivity, it also means safety and tasty hay.

It wasn't colic, it was a tummy ache for freedom. A few weeks ago he and two other horses escaped and ran off to the brink of forever-land-for-wild-horses before I caught up with them. My knees still hurt from hiking them back home on ropes. Clay never forgot.

So if you ever have a tummy ache, bear in mind that it may not be Pepto Bismol that you need... maybe a little freedom time.

Epilogue: The following morning I took everybody out for a little hike, Clay on a rope just in case. Shortly it was apparent he'd be fine. He paired up with his girlfriend, Midnight, ready to race, so I pulled the rope off and gave him a slap on the butt, go race, you mighty creature. Clay responded by kicking me exact square in the solar plexus with a rear hoof -- and exact square enough to match the pressure I'd slapped his butt with. Rascal. Precise rascal, too.