The C Word
By April D. Ray
It’s something every horse owner dreads. The telltale signs are restlessness, pawing at the ground, faster breathing, kicking at the stomach, rolling. It’s the threat that’s always lurking behind the curtain. And it makes us careful. We feed small, frequent meals; provide access to clean, fresh water; avoid working our horse on a full stomach or an empty one; cool out well after a hard ride. The list of things we do to protect our horses’ sensitive tummies is an endless one. And sometimes no matter what we do, we find ourselves facing the dreaded C word – colic.
This past weekend was the first horse show of the year. Warm-up day went well, despite the reuniting of my mare, Fire Foot MR5, with her codependent neighbour and the ensuing screaming fit that forced us to go lunging until I could safely get on. Once I was on, Fire was perfect and jumped around like a total star, albeit a tired one. The first day of showing went off without a hitch – not counting her exit-stage-left before we even got to jump one jump in our third round. But day one left me excited to come back the second day to work out all the kinks and enjoy the relaxation I was starting to find in the show ring.
Fire and April on the first day of competition. Photo: Soul Touch Photography
On the second morning, I left Fire’s braiding until last because she likes to rub her braids out. I thought she was acting a little extra antsy, but chalked it up to her losing patience. She flipped her lip a few times, but I thought it was the lavender braid gel I was using. Admittedly, I got mad at her a couple of times when she was dancing around and just generally not behaving. Once I was finished braiding, I put her in the stall and grabbed some hay for her… and immediately knew something was wrong. I have never seen my horse not eat; even when she is eating she wants more food. Then she started pawing, and when she went down I knew something was wrong. I felt terrible for not listening to her in the cross-ties; the signs were all there. But hindsight is always 20/20, and on less than three hours of sleep, I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
As someone who can go from zero to sixty in about .003 seconds flat, I told myself to take a breath and watch. That’s when Fire got up, pawed some more, went down. And that’s when I called the vet. Having to say to the answering machine, “This is an emergency!” opened the floodgates that weren’t tightly closed due to little sleep and all of the added stress a horse show brings. I put her halter on and we went to the indoor ring to start marching, and she kept wanting to go down; her breathing was heavy, and she seemed very uncomfortable.
Fire exiting out the open in-gate in the first Baby Green round, for which she got eliminated. Photo: Soul Touch Photography
Panic set in. I texted a few girlfriends saying, “Fire is colicking,” and didn’t feel bad for sharing the panic. Another friend pulled up to the barn and came to check on us, and I couldn’t even get the words out. Support at times like this is priceless. In my head, I was already on the road for colic surgery. My friends were able to calm me down and be rational when I wasn’t.
Once Fire stopped trying to roll we went out to see if she would eat some grass, as our vet had suggested. Sure enough, she put her head down and started eating like a champ. About 15 minutes of this and I started to feel a little sheepish about all the panic. That sheepishness doubled when the vet showed up and Fire looked just fine.
After a thorough exam, some Banamine and Gastrogard®, we were instructed to feed small, frequent meals and monitor her for any changes. I am happy to report that she seems to be just fine after our little scare. We have a plan in place for the next horse show to avoid any further tummy troubles, and while for a moment I was disappointed about not being to show that day, I am thankful that my horse is okay. There will always be more shows, but only one Fire.
Main photo: Soul Touch Photography