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.)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Best Friend Bareback Pad Review

(Loping ahead of the ride, trying out the new Best Friend pad.)

As all of you know, I love to ride bareback.  Up until now, I've ridden bareback sans pad because I didn't yet know which one to buy that would meet my needs:

#1 The closest contact possible--ie. a thin sheet with a cinch and a little padding at the withers to protect the private parts in a fast stop.

#2 Something with storage possibilities for the trail.

#3 A pad that won't slip up and down hills & that keeps the rider's seat in place, too.

(Tacking up for the ride.)

When I was a kid, and the adults would only let us ride alone if we rode bareback, I felt very sorry for myself, and I thought the adults were jerks.  One day, out riding in the desert, my friends took off running back to the barn and my horse, not wanting to be left behind, followed them full-on Kentucky Derby run away. My flimsy pad "slid off", and I ended up on the ground, walking home alone. It made me hate bareback riding, and when I was finally old enough to have my own horses and saddles, I felt like I had hit payola.  No more falling off. I had a horn to hold onto and stirrups to balance myself with--yeehaw!

But a few years back, in winter, I was very cold, and putting a saddle on my horses for a short ride just seemed silly.  So, I didn't.  I went bareback and started to love it. Not only was it super warm, but I could feel the muscles in their backs--which gave me extra information and better communication.  I could feel the tensing up, the release, and the heart beating super fast (fear) or slow and steady (relaxed).  And I started to use that information to get past some big road blocks with Leah.

I'm a better rider than I was as an 11 year old.  I have better trained horses who know me, rather than my friend's super spoiled ones. A better, more balanced, seat means the pad doesn't slip.  I always blamed the pad, but in reality, I think I must have slipped off the horse and made the pad shift.

I've done a lot of research on bareback since then, and read the pros and cons, but I feel comfortable riding my horses bareback for short rides here and there.  My horses seem to love it.  There is definitely a feeling of oneness when riding bareback.  Not only can you feel their every breath, but you're also a bit more vulnerable.  You can't just ignore them and become a passive passenger.  You really have to be thinking about them and actively riding with them.  You must always pay attention to where you're placing your weight--if you don't, you get instant feedback.

I've ridden sans pad now for years, but getting off my horses and having dirty, sweaty butts of my jeans wasn't working too well.  I needed to find a pad that imitated riding with nothing.


I want to introduce you the pad I purchased after reading many, many reviews and talking to many different equestrians who already own one--The Best Friend Bareback Pad.

(My friend is trying it out here on Cowboy.  She ordered one yesterday.)

And here is a video of the first look.

My thoughts:

The #1 thing I wanted out of this pad was for it to be thin enough that I could feel the heat from my horse, the heartbeat, and the movement of the muscles.  As I said before, I would be happy with something as thin as a sheet for that part.  This isn't as thin as a sheet, and it probably can't ever be, if you want to keep the sweat from saturating your pants.  We did a two hour ride in 50 degree weather and the seat of my pants was a little damp--so there is some sweat through--not much though.  It definitely kept my pants clean.  Bottom line: I could feel his heat, his  heartbeat, and his muscle movements very well.

The wither padding is excellent, and if you're a bareback rider, you will appreciate that. It also has a suede type top that keeps you from sliding around. It comes with an adjustable cinch with rollers--which I love. It has pockets and D rings so you can take what you need on the trail. I didn't experience any slippage, and we went up and down pretty steep hills and trotted and loped.

I could have ridden in it much longer than two hours.  I felt great when I was done.  Cowboy seemed to love it, too.  It probably gave him a little protection from my seat.  He  moved so freely and had such energy.  He even gave a little buck of happiness when we first started loping in the arena.  (It was Day 3 of his Equioxx treatment, and he was like his old, younger self.)

I like it so much that I just purchased a second to have when guests want to ride bareback with me.  I bought the blue version.

Here are some more photos from Amazon.

Note: I am not being paid for this review, and I did not receive this product from the company, I paid cold, hard cash! However, if the company reads this and wants to send me another one...I would be very appreciative! (just kidding. not kidding.)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Return to Maine (Part Two)

When we crossed from New Hampshire to Maine, my husband and I were so excited, we pulled over on the side of the road and took a selfie at the sign: Welcome to Maine, The way life should be.

On the third day of the trip, we were entering Limestone, home of the Limestone Eagles, and Loring AFB, home to B52 bombers. Interesting fact: Loring was the closest base we had to Russia during the Cold War, and a single B52 bomber would circle North America everyday from there.  They were on constant standby / alert. 

Limestone was the little town a few miles away from the base, and it's where they bused the junior high and high school kids.  The government built a big, beautiful school with an Olympic size indoor pool and state of the art everything.  One wing was for the junior high, and the other wing, the high school.

Nothing had really changed, physically...

The cafeteria.. 


Band room...


Trophy case...


but, in fact, when the base closed, it gutted the school's population and they had to send the high school kids to the neighboring town.  They closed the elementary and brought it here to this building-combining one wing with it and the junior high school.  The other wing, formerly the high school, became a magnet school for math, science and engineering geniuses.  It is now the #2 high school in the country.  Quite amazing.  

Yet, sad for the community.

The town hadn't changed much, and still had my favorite pastry EVER--the cream rolls from Labadie's Bakery in Lewiston, Maine.  In between school and sport practices, we'd walk to town and buy one of these yummies.

My husband and I bought a few to take home.

Northern Maine (minus the base, which was a ghost town) was just like I remembered, except better. So beautiful. The view from the soccer field, overlooked all of Aroostook County. As I stood up there, I was so happy, and I realized what a gift it had been to have lived there.

We continued our drive along the St. John River through Van Buren, Maine, and up to Madawaska, Maine.  Each town seemed perfectly preserved.  The further you drove north from Limestone, the less the communities were affected by the loss of the base.

As I drove through all those areas, though, I knew I would never have stayed there.  The whole experience was a closing of a chapter.  I had always pined after Northern Maine, but when faced with the reality, an average of 117" of snow annually, few jobs, few horses, was clear I am exactly where I want to be in life and would not change a thing.  Every step, good, bad, or otherwise, brought me to this life I love so dearly.

Oh, my favorite pizza place was still open.  We'd ride our bikes there and splurge for a hamburger and onion pizza.  It had the same owner and my husband and I had a nice talk with him.  Rendevous pizza.

One last thing.  I spent much of last winter reading all of Phillis Wheatley's poems and correspondence so, when in Boston, I was eager to walk from the North Church to the South Church (where she attended) and then to the Women's Memorial, where there is a statue in her honor.

It did not disappoint.

It's great to be home, and today I'm heading out for a bareback ride on Cowboy--two days into his Equioxx treatment.  I have a new Best Friends bareback pad I'm trying out.  More on that soon...