Sunday, December 8, 2019

As Gone Becomes Gone

Even now, I know 
I'll look back and wonder
why it was so hard 
to let go. 
Time will blunt 
emotion, stunt 
the onslaught of memory, 
the true knowing 
of what was lost, 
now, so fresh, 
but soon distant, 
as gone becomes gone, 
and life, 
unable to stop, 
moves on.

(For Miss Penny)

We lost a good one last week. Miss Penny.

It was a roller coaster, with many ups and downs, and times I thought we were in the clear, but eventually, the trajectory was only down. Her quality of life diminished, the hope for a positive outcome disappeared, and the choice was very clear.

There were many tears for this girl. It was a tough loss, much harder than I imagined. Just when you think you've grown so used to losing your beloved friends, tough as nails inside, purely intellectual with older age--celebrate the good times, remember them at their best, etc.--you find you never get used to it, and you're every bit as fragile at 52 as were you at 8.

The lasting sting of salt,
zero point three milligrams 
per tear, 
yet, still they drop, 
tapped into an ocean 
where I swim, 
like a child, 
through the salty grief 
of letting go.

The picture above is from a trail ride we were on about five days before she went down. But we had been on a trail ride the day before, too.

It was a shock that the next day she could be in such bad shape.

She has left a gaping hole since she was the hardest working member of our herd. The grandkids, kids, husband, friends, nieces and nephews--ALL, rode her. And, she had a reputation that preceded my ownership. A huge fan club of people also affected by her death. We had bought her as a 19 year old and had her six years, but she had been my friend's daughter's horse before that--and all her/our friends rode her at one time or another and LOVED her.

Someday, I do hope to have another horse like her. Most likely a younger version that can be there with Tumbleweed. The kind that you can trust 100% and will do absolutely anything for you. But man are they RARE! I love my Cowboy, as you know, but he is anything BUT a horse who does absolutely anything. I'm not at all ready for that special horse yet, but someday--I will be looking, and she (and Red) will be my standard. (What is it with sorrels?)

I'm happy to think that Tumbleweed had so much time with Penny and that she was one of his mamas. They tried to get to each other until the very end, but on the last day, the top mares would not let them get close. I'm sure it was for his safety. A dying horse might shed disease--salmonella--who knows what--so instinct has taught them to preserve the herd.

And that's when I knew, in my heart, it was over. The herd let me know.

Murphy's Law, I received more bad news. My longtime farrier, the one who saved Cowboy 13 years ago, is also very sick and forced to retire immediately. What a blow. He was a two time world champion Pro farrier. He even had his own magazine. He also has a huge community of farriers he has taught and who apprenticed with him--one of which has been helping him here since the first days with Cowboy, and then on and off throughout the years, and more lately as he geared up for retirement.

But there is NO REPLACING Scott. If my horses had so much as a hiccup, he'd be to my house in a flash and assess them--for FREE--then tell me what I should do. If he said he'd be here at 9, he'd show up at 8:30. He's been a friend, too. There just aren't farriers left like him in the world.

It's a closing of an era.

Cowboy is on borrowed time and he, and half of our herd, are in their 20's.

I guess it's time to start looking harder toward the future.

For now, we have to get through this season of loss.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Horse Miracles: The X Factor

miraculous: highly improbable and extraordinary and bringing very welcome consequences.

(Penny doing her thing, training the young ones, 2018)

In my post about Penny last week, I wondered if I'd be able to look back from the future and consider her recovery another miracle.  And here I am, doing just that.

I came so close to having her put down based upon these facts:

1. Low probability of survival through the first few days.

2. Lack of improvement after IV and plasma infusions.

3. Her general demeanor.  She appeared to be on the verge of death.

4. High probability of secondary factors, even if they could get her through the antibiotics: adhesions, laminitis, diarrhea, colic. 

5. Cost. We were at just under $3,000 in the first couple of days. (I know it's not ideal, but cost is always a factor in these decisions. I told the vet where I wanted to be, and she thanked me for being so clear. She said it is what they prefer.)

6. Age. Penny is at least 24-27 years old. But the vet said she would have the same low odds, no matter the age.

7. Lack of definitive primary diagnosis. Despite all the tests and the ultrasound, they could only speculate on what the primary cause was. They knew the colon had been damaged and leaked, causing a bacteria infection, inflammation, and peritonitis, but whether it was a temporary thing, like a sharp object or stick--or a long-term issue, like cancer--they weren't sure.  

However, walking her out of confinement, into the sunshine, seeing that little spark of life in her eyes--something else entered the equation, the


What is the X Factor?  The X Factor is what I have found over and over again in keeping a large herd of horses.  It's the thing you can't quantify or test.  I would say, it's the will to live. 

It is why we canceled euthanizing Cowboy after he broke P3, which had bone displacement into the coffin joint, and had been misdiagnosed as an abscess for the 3 months. We let him be free the moments before his scheduled departure and, to our shock, he ran from one end of the pasture to the next, bucking and kicking and loving life.  It was obvious he wanted to live, but it was a choice HE HAD TO MAKE FOR US because of the time, and confinement, his recovery was going to take.

There is nothing scientific about my belief; it's all based on personal observation: the power of the herd, the home, rest, time, and the innate, deeply coded, equine survival instinct.  I see it as a spark of life still there--dim, but resolute.  It's what I saw in Penny when I altered course about euthanasia. 

Sometimes, we're asking a lot of them--the cure--the road back to health--can be long and very, very hard.  For example, there is no way we could have injected Penny with one more dose of antibiotic.  Her poor body was just so tired and broken by that point. In fact, there's not a day that went by that I didn't have doubts about my decision not to euthanize.  But I felt she was telling me that she wanted the chance.

As I watched her charge out of her stall into the sunshine today--with lots of healthy, well-formed, and plentiful manure left behind for me to clean--I thought, no matter how this goes down the line, it is certain that TODAY, I did, indeed, get that miracle I wondered about.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sick Horse Funk

Just two weeks ago, we were riding Penny and Cowboy out on the trails, and she was doing great.  She looked awesome, fat and happy--the picture of good health, like all the other 8 horses in the herd.

Tomorrow, will be the second week since I found her laying down.  Even though she's in her mid-20's, and you kind of expect things to starting breaking down with older equines, the difference was shocking.  Healthy to death's door, ... seemingly overnight.

Fast forward to today--she gets healthier and stronger and more horse like--and I am very hopeful we will get to the other side of this.

But what I'm writing about today isn't really that, it's what happens to owners when they're in this time frame--the in-between, doctoring, sicky, weak, roller coaster.  Luckily, I'm not in it very often, but the few times I have been, I can safely say, have been awful.

So, guess what?  I learned to knit!  I've knitted about 10 dishcloths and one long winter scarf.  Why did I learn to knit?  Because to sit and wait and doctor and monitor and worry made me think--I need to KNIT!  I looked it up online, bought some knitting needles and yarn, and now I'm a die-hard knitter.  I'm here to say, knitting helps you get through tough times.  The way humanity has always lived with war and famine, disease--death, I imagine many a woman was driven to knit just to keep her sanity.

And that, my friends, is what happens to people when they're in the Sick Horse Funk. I can barely remember a thing about the last two weeks, I was fully obsessed with getting Penny past her illness.  I withdrew from my friends, my  I just sat in a chair, knitted, looked out the window, monitored her stall on my app, and went back and forth to the barn, day and night.  I didn't even do my yoga or play my piano or guitar!  Often, I'd forget to shower.

It's a good lesson to remember about what other horse owners are going through--like my friend whose horse had the mysterious laminitis and abscesses I was helping her doctor.  She withdrew, too, declining every offer to ride or get together. Now, I understand why.

Today, Penny is out in the sunshine grazing happily. I'm starting to think her colon has healed.  She's eliminating well, so I'm starting to think her GI tract has healed.  Her ascites is gone, which makes me think her blood protein is back to normal and her liver and kidney are healing. She hasn't shown any signs of laminitis.

In two hours, I'm going on my first, short trail ride since this happened.

Could it be life returning to normal?  Could it be light at the end of the Sick Horse Funk tunnel?

I hope so.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

On Death's Door (Week 1 & 2)

She will not be 
the first I've lost,
Yet, there's still much water 
in this rock of letting go.

(Penny the day after IV fluid and plasma.  She is not sedated. When we walked in, she didn't even look up to see us. Death's door.)

A couple of weeks ago, we were riding Penny and Cowboy out on the trails...

and then tragedy hit.

I woke Thursday, November 7th, and saw Penny lying down. Never a good sign.  I was immediately off to the vet, and she was ultrasounded, fluid tapped from her belly, colic exam, & blood tests—diagnosed with severe typhlocholitis and peritonitis.

The outlook was very poor, and they pulled me aside and told me just how dire it was, but to be honest, I didn't understand half of what they were saying.  My husband is a physician, and he did.  He reaffirmed--it's dire. It's really bad. Ignorance is bliss, all I saw was the road to recovery.

They kept her at the hospital that night and administered IV fluids and plasma (her blood had lost protein and only plasma could bring it back up) and there was heavy inflammation of the GI tract--something I didn't understand then would be most difficult in the recovery phase.  They also gave her heavy duty antibiotics (Gentamicin --which is not recommended for animals that sick and weak, but we had to go nuclear on the bacteria-- & penicillin)  The bacteria, which had migrated from her colon through, they assume, a perforation (though by what, we don't know..cancer, ingesting something sharp) that bacteria had entered her gut, and worse, her blood stream.

To bring into even simpler terms--getting her past the bacteria infection was doubtful. Getting her past the secondary issues--high temperature (laminitis), antibiotics (liver & kidney failure, diarrhea, loss of appetite), primary problem (the X factor--the colon needed to heal so that bacteria didn't keep leaking out.) AND worst of all, from the inflammation--the very definite possibility of ADHESIONS.

For those who don't know what adhesions of the gut are--I won't be of much help.  My husband keeps drawing me diagrams and, of course, the vet tried her best to explain when we arrived the second day and Penny had deteriorated even further.

You can read all about ADHESIONS here.  But to put it in a way I understand, you know why most colic surgeries start out successfully, but then the horse never fully recovers--adhesions.

So to recap: when we arrived the 2nd day, Penny had gone WAY down hill.  Even without sedation, she didn't recognize us as we entered. She's at least 24 years old--so an elder equine, and the vet gave her a poor prognosis--especially because many of the secondary issues don't show up until later--but are a very likely outcome.

Vets don't tell you what to do, but when I asked mine about euthanizing--she was very supportive of that decision.

This is getting long because this has been a LONG road. I'm going to speed up the telling--

Made the decision to euthanize, walked Penny out of her confinement, the sun hit her, she perked up just a little, walked her to the kill spot with doc and tech, Penny started grazing. I started to change my mind, especially finding out she was drinking on her own. (She had gone off food at the hospital, but not water.) I asked if I could take her home, the vet said yes, but she would probably die.  I decided to give it a chance because at least she'd die at home with her buddies. Vet discharged us with all the medicine & very specific parameters for euthanization should X of Y or Z occur.

I went home and got my trailer and truck, came back to get her, (again in confinement), and she had broke out in full body sweat--(toxic episode) but I loaded her up and took her home anyway.

Upon arrival home, the sweat had dried and she was relaxed and happy.  Her temp had returned to normal, her heart rate had decreased and she was HUNGRY and eager to see her buddies. HUGE TURNAROUND!)

(That's what LOVE can do for you--the best medicine.  Horses are herd animals, and confinement is one of the worst things for them--but sometimes necessary. I always cringe to leave them behind at the hospital for that reason.)

(Penny, moments after arriving home from the hospital)

Unfortunately, that initial boost was temporary.

It has been a roller coaster, with days Penny is comfortable, but appears to be on death's door, and days where she looks like she's walking back toward life. My husband and I administered Gentamicin and penicillin IM for a week (that is a lot of poking), and her fever broke for good on the Monday following hospitalization. We discontinued half doses of Banamine ASAP to lessen the load on the kidney and liver and to speed up gut healing)  We haven't had any diarrhea yet, probably because of the BIOMOS.

But on Tuesday, following hospitalization, the antibiotics were taking their toll--she was getting weak. By the time the full course of antibiotics rolled around, she looked awful, but her vitals were still maintaining without Banamine, and she continued to drink and eat a little. We were very close to euthanizing, but I wanted to give her a couple of days to recover from the antibiotic regimen before making the decision.

I'm glad I did, because each day, she has grown stronger.  She had developed severe ascites, but since ending the antibiotics, her body is reabsorbing the fluid and she's peeing it out.  Today, she looks ALMOST back to normal.

The vet told us to give her whatever she wants to eat: grazing in the pasture, Rice Bran, Equine Senior (with beet pulp base), and hay.  She gets to choose what she wants and needs, and everyday it is something different.  Her eating is good.  Her drinking is excellent. Her will to live is strong.  Her temperature is normal.  Her heart rate is very close to normal.

Will adhesions take her down? Laminitis?

I don't know the answers yet.  Each decision I've made has hinged on the smallest glimpse of this or that hope measured against quality of life assessments.

Time will tell if this is another miracle.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

I Know What Horsemanship Should Feel Like

I know what horsemanship should feel like..for me.  I know all my blog friends are the same way.  We know, and we continue to grow into it, our horses, and ourselves.

I used to hate riding bareback, now I love it...with Cowboy. Everything in its own time and season.  Will I want to ride bareback on Tumbleweed? Probably not...for a long while.

I savor this phase of life--knowing to trust myself and my horses and not being pressured into doing things I don't want to do.

I want to be happy.  I want my horses to be happy.

I don't have anything to prove to anyone...except myself.  And what I want to prove to myself is that I'm a horsewoman who listens...

It can be a lonely world when you go your own way, but the type of people you will attract are those who will make your life better.

And in the end, when the noise quiets down, when all the friends are gone, and you're alone, reflecting on past joy--

all that will matter--

all you'll truly remember...

is how you made your horse feel.

So, how does horsemanship feel? Horsemanship should feel...horsemanship WILL feel like what you know in your gut your horses felt.

(Photos taken by my husband, who feels horsemanship the exact same way.)