Thursday, July 29, 2021

Speaking Horse

The experience I had the other night with Cowgirl and Epona, her first night back, got me thinking about how much we understand what our horses say. I translated the moment into human language, based upon what I heard from their whinnies, and how they responded to the whinnies. Each was short, and soft:

Epona: "I'm okay."

Cowgirl: "I'm here." 

Each horse was comforted by the other, and each remained calm. I cried tears of happiness to be part of that moment and know what it meant, and how deeply each felt it. I was allowed to be a temporary conduit between them. If not that, at least a witness.

I fully understand that it is a bit of anthropomorphizing on my part, but it's not far off from what they were communicating to each other in that moment. It was a rare glimpse into our shared communication styles However, there is much that remains a mystery to me about how they communicate, and I often miss signals I should have received--and get the interpretation too late. 

I was leading Tweed away from the herd yesterday, when he pulled back suddenly, and tried to break away to go back to them. He has only ever done that once before, on one of our long walks away from the herd. I'm always ready for it, but I wasn't wearing gloves, so I did get a teensy burning sensation on my palm. If I hadn't been prepared, it was one of those moments that could have ripped my hand off. I got to his side quickly, setting him off balance, brought him back to me, patted his neck, and proceeded to walk him to his stall.

What did I miss? I think it's safe to guess I missed a lot of signs leading up to it. I've been too singularly focused on Epona and Cowgirl, and not tuning into the rest of the herd.

Last night, I went to work with him at dusk--when it had cooled down. He was grumpy. We did what we needed to do, on the ground, and then I groomed him and returned him to his stall. At that point, I was super tuned into him. I noticed his eyes were hard--a look of worry. Then, I saw that his manure was loose--a possible sign of stress. I responded by giving him Pro-bios, spending time in his stall comforting him, and bringing Foxy into the barn, in the stall next to him, said goodnight, and hoped for the best.

This morning, he was a happier horse, and his manure was forming again. I locked up Cowgirl, who we're trying to keep out of sight of Epona, and let him back out with the herd.

Remember that study a few years ago about horse expressions, and how horses share more expressions with humans than even dogs do? That's pretty amazing. And it gives us a lot to work with when trying to 'Speak Horse.'

I will say this, the few people I know who are exceptionally good at 'speaking horse,' my trainer Sarah, for one, are more quickly accepted by horses. I'm certain our horses take comfort when we begin to understand what they're saying. It reminds me of human toddlers who haven't developed language, but are trying to make their needs clear. Misunderstanding leads to many a tantrum.

I am constantly trying to learn about their language, to earn their trust, and to help them before it's too big, or too late, but it's a slow process. Even when we get it right, the corresponding action--what do we do to address what we see--is equally complicated. Sometimes, when we think we're helping, we're hurting. 

And this brings me to the issue of raising an 'orphan foal.' The best of us at 'speaking horse' are just not that good at it. We are no replacement for an actual horse. What we see as being mean, can actual be a comfort to a foal. What we see as being loving, can actually make them insecure. 

I had several auditions for Epona's caretaker yesterday--Cowboy, Tumbleweed, and Leah. By the end of the day, I circled back to Cowboy, because 1/ Tweed isn't ready to be separated from the herd, and it caused him more stress and 2/ Cowboy likes to be separated from the herd, and he loves having his own stall and lots of food. Leah didn't take much interest in Epona, and was happy to be put back out. She may not want to intrude on the Cowgirl / Epona connection. 

And here is where it gets weird--anthropomorphizing alert!--I had a talk with Cowboy about being Epona's caregiver. I don't know why, but it just seemed right. He was staring at me, and I felt like talking, so we had a conversation about how he is the perfect guy for the job. He'll get his stall, and his food, and a sweet little companion who needs him. I told him that as an orphan foal himself, he might sympathize with little Epona missing her mama. And I went on and on, like that, with his full attention, and I think, understanding. The tone. The eyes. The intention. It sometimes all comes together in our communication and understanding. After all, if we can understand them, why is it hard to believe they can understand us, too?

At any rate, they spent the night next to each other again, and I saw them being very sweet to each other through the bars of their enclosures. Maybe I'm misreading it, or maybe not. Time will tell.  But I kinda think Cowboy agreed to the terms of  his new employment.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Epona's Homecoming

After meeting with our veterinarian last night, who gave us a lot of encouragement regarding Epona, and instruction on how to continue her care, we hauled her home alone. I was worried about that, but she did really well. We had to stop for gas, and I went into the trailer with her. She was concerned, but quite calm.

We didn't know what to expect when we got home, but it didn't go anything like we would have imagined. All the horses ran to the west pasture fence line, curious about the trailer, but calm. Epona stayed very quiet. As we went to open the doors, Epona finally whinnied out, and Cowgirl's head flew up--her eyes wild. She started running full bore through the field, up through the North Pasture, and into the turnout, where the gate is directly in front of the barn and trailer. She was frantic. She looked like she would break the gate down.

Epona unloaded calmly, with a little push from me, and walked nicely into the barn, even though the herd were all running wildly and the dogs were barking. When we got her into the stall, Cowgirl began running back and forth through the turnout, which got all the horses running--and it was completely crazy. Still, Epona remained calm and even started eating and drinking.

At some point, Cowgirl could see that Epona was safe, and she started to settle down. She stood at the fence most near the opening to the barn--and remained there most the night, at least until I couldn't watch anymore.

I had thought it might be the opposite--Epona going crazy and Cowgirl remaining calm. I didn't realize how much Cowgirl loved her, I guess. I thought that after five days she might be a little over it. But no, she knew her baby's whinny, and she wanted to keep her baby safe.

On my last trip to the barn, around 11 last night, I laid with Epona and petted her all over. She allowed me to touch every part of her body without flinching. She even picked her head up and laid it on my chest as I stroked her neck and cradled her. When I left the barn, I saw Cowgirl in the same spot, staring at the barn, and I walked to her and held out my empty palms. She buried her nose in them over and over, smelling her baby. Epona whinnied, and it sounded like, "I'm okay." Cowgirl answered, and it sounded like, "I'm here for you."

I cried.

This morning, I went out to the barn to sit with Epona as she ate. She does better if you're near her and petting her. I'm sure it reminds her more of the intimacy of nursing. 

She drank about 1.5 gallons of water, and quite a bit of timothy hay. As in the hospital, she isn't quite up to speed on the milk pellets, but getting there.

She dropped weight at the hospital, and the vet said it will be about a three week transition, where she will look thin and scraggly, but she will eventually start to thrive and gain weight again, like a normal foal.

Cowboy wasn't the best babysitter. He was a bit too mean, and she didn't really like him. He was an orphan foal himself, and always an omega in the herd. I switched him out for Tumbleweed, who Epona seems to like much more. She was, after all, raised by an alpha mare. Two months with an alpha mama, and she has developed preferences for alpha horses, of which, Tumbleweed is also one. So is Foxy, but Foxy developed that can't happen. Here are some clips of Tumbleweed and Epona.

And in the barn, from the barn camera view.


These are minor things, and I'm really happy about how she is transitioning. We will continue the auditions if we have to, but Tumbleweed might be the guy for the job. We will see.

The mares all stand around Cowgirl, as she changes places to where she can see Epona best. I have to say, I admire horses even more after seeing all of this. When we left Epona at the vet, the herd stood near Cowgirl at all times, and seemed to be comforting her the best they could. There was real concern and love on their part. It continues now. There's such a grace extended by them to her. It's all very beautiful to witness. Other-worldly. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a movie about horses, it seems so surreal and almost unbelievable. Can this really be happening? Are horses really this noble? 


On another note, my daughter has started cramping, and is on bed rest. I think all of this has been too stressful.  She also found out that she was exposed to Covid at work. 

We told her not to worry about Epona anymore. We will take it from here and make all the decisions, arrangements, and follow-up visits to the vet. 

It's an interesting season of life around here. Never a dull moment. Lots of love, faith, grace, surprises, beauty beyond belief, life lessons, and the unknown. Always the unknown.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Epona is Coming Home


(Epona at the hospital, a rare moment sleeping. The vets all said she was up and alert, and fully entertained by watching the many horses go by, even a Clydesdale, that was being seen when we took this photo. Apparently, she was pretty impressed when he walked by! We saw him through the exam window, and he was HUGE!)

We have had many things break our way in the last couple of days, 1. They identified the bacteria in Epona's lungs, and the results came back earlier than predicted, with a medication that should be successful, and 2. She is eating and drinking well at the hospital, and has maintained a great deal of energy and gregariousness. She does very well eating and drinking at chest level, and can even tolerate eating hay at lower headsets.

The overall prognosis, right now, is very good. They want us to continue this form of eating indefinitely, but expect that she will mature out of most of it. If there are any lingering effects, when she starts her athletic training, there is a surgery that can be performed when she's older that pulls the flap forward where food and water go down. It doesn't retract properly in her. I'll write more about that later, when I understand it better. But the vet said that is way, way down the road, and might not ever be necessary at all.  It's good to know there are options down the road, if needed.

Her eye is completely healed, and she has started the new antibiotic regimen, so she is ready to be picked up tonight at 4:00 pm, when the vet can talk to us more about follow up here at home.

Concerns now are keeping her on solid food once she gets back here and sees mama, and dealing with behavioral issues she has developed, what my friend calls "typical bonding security issues of foals". The vet doesn't want her anywhere near mama, or any mares that might start lactating (such as Foxy). She said it is very common for mares to develop milk when they're around babies, as we saw Foxy do a couple of weeks ago. And mamas will take their babies back even months after a separation. For that reason, she suggested giving her a gelding as a companion. 

A gelding as a companion? That really leaves us with Tumbleweed and Cowboy, and since Tumbleweed is being pulled out a lot, and needs the space to run with the herd, I'm thinking it must be Cowboy. I'm not sure if Cowboy has what it takes to curb an athletic foal like Epona, but we will give it a try. In the near future, they will only be stalled next to each other, and not let out together, so we'll have plenty of time to evaluate.

My "empty hands" lesson in life has already helped resolve many lingering issues. One, I had someone close to me hurting, and I had intervened, thinking I had just the right words or advice to help. I did not. It backfired spectacularly and damaged our relationship. Yesterday, I sent a text to that person, apologizing for my poor choice in words, but making myself available to them, should they need me, and expressing the fact that it was done in love, however misguided and inept it had been. They responded back immediately in love and appreciation. Empty hands, extended in love, letting go of the outcomes that are beyond our control.

Second, it helped with Epona. I feel quite free now, when contemplating her future. I'm not singularly cursed, as I saw by spending a week in a veterinary clinic. And I'm not entirely in control of the outcome. No one is. Her vet bill was much lower than expected, which I hope will encourage my daughter to keep full ownership, but if not, and the future is too uncertain, I will gladly take on the co-ownership--whichever works out best for all.

Not having Epona here at the house left an empty spot in our hearts. My husband and I missed her very much, and we're looking forward to this next chapter of her care.

Epona came into our lives for a reason. Her presence has taught us all hard lessons. But she has also expanded our hearts in ways we never imagined. Even our love for each other, as we come together for her sake, in this densely intertwined family journey.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

It's Out of My Control


I have made it to all of the "visiting hours" for Epona. Her caregivers never fail to take a moment and give me updates, and they have gotten better each day.

She only had to have one IV, and since then has been drinking enough water on her own. They take blood tests every day to make sure that she's staying hydrated.

She is also eating more aggressively, and they said she eats everything they give her, which is timothy hay, milk pellets, and Omolene 300.

Unfortunately, she does aspirate when she stretches her neck to the ground, which is a similar stretch to nursing. Everything she eats and drinks has to be at her chest level. Hay doesn't seem to bother her, though--at any level.  

She still does not receive antibiotics, as we're waiting for the culture to come back, but she hasn't spiked a fever, coughed, or shown any signs of being sick.

They put her in a stall that is front and center to where they do all their work, and that keeps her busy watching them all day. It also puts more eyes on her, something her doctor really wanted. 

This morning, I went in and groomed her.

She whinnies as soon as she hears my voice approaching, and as I leave for the day. I do miss her when we're apart! Home isn't home without her anymore. 

We had a chance to go hiking today, looking for huckleberries, and something miraculous happened. Honestly, I needed something miraculous, because yesterday I was really down. I had come to realize that the universe is, indeed, teaching me something this year. It is teaching me that I have no control over things.  No. Control.  I like control, and it isn't easy to come to such a realization. If not control, than what?

I wrote a short poem, as I tried to make sense of it. My feeling is that when I really learn the lesson I'm being taught, I might cease needing it reinforced. Here it is:

The universe told me
Our hands are empty,
They do not contain miracles
Or, even wise words.
Moment by moment,
Only moments,
The brokenness of hearts,
A temporary rise to our feet,
As if to help,
But we didn’t–Did we?
Because our hands are empty.

The baby birds. Epona. The hurting human beings around me. There are so many things out of my hands, though I tried so, so hard with those very hands to save them. I couldn't. It's not within my power to save things--or to even know the right words to bring comfort.

The miracle is this: 25 years ago, I found a strange flower under a tree on a hike. It was like an albino orchid, very magical, mysterious. At that time, I was into finding flowers, pressing them in a press I'd made for myself, and journaling about them. We'd often go in groups, with our kids, searching for as many wildflowers as we could find.  The one I found, in a cluster of 3, was so delicate and waxy. I picked it and placed it in my cooler to take home and press.

But by the time I got home, my little flower was completely ink black. It had, for all practical purposes, disappeared. Back then, there wasn't this big wide world of the internet or smart phones, and I hadn't taken a photo. 

But I never forgot it, and I continued my search to find it again. 

Through the years, I found out that it was Emily Dickinson's favorite flower. She wrote about it, and it is featured on her book of poems, as tribute. Indian Pipe. Ghost Flower. Corpse Flower. No chlorophyll. Monotropa uniflora. Family: Ericaceae, which contains huckleberry, blueberry & azalea.

25 years, or more, and I had never found another indian pipe, another ghost flower, another corpse flower.

Until today!!

My son-in-law saw this little clump first. He said, Hey look at those crazy mushrooms! And when my head turned toward them, it was as if the heavens opened up. They were so white against the forest floor, and I knew what they were immediately. Within seconds I was on my knees on the bank, taking photos and feeling them. My family stood back in shock. Then, one by one, they came to see what was so special.

I waited a long time for this sighting. I've even told other people to be on the lookout for me. But it, too, was out of my control. These rare flowers do what they do.

Seeing them today was my miracle.

'Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
'Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –
Not any voice imply it here –
Or intimate it there –
A spirit – how doth it accost –
What function hath the Air?
This limitless Hyperbole
Each one of us shall be –
'Tis Drama – if Hypothesis
It be not Tragedy –

Emily Dickinson

Friday, July 23, 2021

Epona's First Day At the Hospital

You all know me pretty well by now, so guess how much I slept last night, Epona's first night at the hospital? 

It was a tough night for all of us. God, we love that little horse! 

Hard to believe, but she turned 8 weeks today. It seems like she has been with us for years. 

Okay, enough sleep deprived rambling. Let's get down to business. 

We went to see her as soon as visiting hours opened, but after we'd made a call, as soon as they opened, to check on her. They told us they'd initiated an IV that night, and she had "perked up" this morning. That was NOT a lot of information, so you can understand our need to get there at the earliest possible moment.

As sad as Epona looks here, there were horses there that looked MUCH worse. It was a reminder that many people go through heartbreak with their horses. There was a beautiful fresian with a foal with a deformed front limb. There was a beautiful dunskin, that looked just like Tweed, laid out on a large table/mattress for MRI, that looked dead, but I don't know what state he was in. Seeing all of that, and more, I was rather relieved at Epona's condition.

Just like with us, she has refused any milk replacer. She also refused to drink water, and that is why they had to initiate an IV. She has eaten hay, about a flake, and started drinking a little water before we arrived. Her eye looks normal now. 

She was very, very tired from worrying all night, but happy to see us. We petted and loved on her, and tried to get her to eat milk pellets mixed with Mare and Foal. She wasn't interested. But then a palomino mare came in for examination, and when Epona saw her, she definitely thought it was her mama. 

Of course, it was not, but a sweet, sweet, beautiful mare, all the same. She reminded me of Rosalee. 

All the other horses seemed tuned into her, and she to them, and she seemed to take comfort in their presence. The techs  and interns, who live there (there are two, and they were the ones who started the IV last night at 12, with a little sedation) were very attentive to her needs.  She loved their scratches and hugs.

There is no way we could have provided the support they're giving her. We had to deal with all these things in 100 degree weather, and we knew that dehydration and starvation--coupled with stress--were killers. Hospitalization is the only way to go, in this situation.

I felt good about her energy level and health, but a little discouraged at her stubbornness eating. The vet is going to introduce alfalfa, which she also had here, and they will work to tweak a feeding regimen that works before the release her.

As you might have guessed, it's expensive. And, add to that, my daughter is expecting her first baby in 2 1/2 months. That is an added stress for them, even though we have helped them with a little bit of the burden.

As we were driving to the vet today, she made us an offer of co-owning Epona. 

To be honest, it is something I had already considered, but did not want to broach to her.

My husband and I are very attached to Epona, equally as much as our daughter and her husband. She is here with us everyday, and a big, big part of our lives.

There's a part of me that wants to do this, but another part that wants Epona to remain hers, and just help them with this. The issue, in my mind, is that there may be more costs along this road, costs that are insurmountable for them. And, she will be busy with the new baby, and I will have more time to train Epona. 

I think we will evaluate this decision as the week unfolds.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Time To Do or Die

Our good options ran out, and only two options remained: 1. Leave Epona on Cowgirl, and watch her get worse, and possibly, most likely, die, or 2. Hospitalize her, teach her to eat independently, support her, and see if she can make the transition. There really was not a 3rd option after today.

Epona was still strong, but we were starting to see her sleep more yesterday, and more milk come out of her nose, rather than less.  It seemed to us, that when she was weak, her nursing became very inefficient. 

Also, she had one swollen eye yesterday.  It was better today, but we had them look at it at the appointment, and it was a slightly torn cornea, they think from dirt. They told us that babies don't have developed nerve endings on the cornea, so they lack sensation, and they often have them wide open when they shouldn't. It could have been lying in the dirt, or hay, that caused it, but they don't really know. 

Her lungs were about the same, but mildly worse. Nothing too bad yet. However, her white blood count had increased, suggesting that she is fighting something that is antibiotic resistant. They had to culture the fluids in her lungs and send it in for results in order to know which antibiotic to try next. That was a complicated procedure, which required sedation.

(fluid from her lungs mixed with saline they had inserted)

All that said, we cannot allow anymore aspiration pneumonia. As she aspirates, she brings foreign bacteria into the lung space--from the air, dirt--anything she touches. Being weak with pneumonia causes her to drink less effectively and aspirate more. The vet said she nurses really well for about 3/4 of the time, but at the end, it's as if she gets tired and starts to aspirate.

We were prepared for the bad news and had packed all her transition items: replacer, selenium, and pellets. They think they will keep her for approximately one week, at least until they get the results back about the culture of the lungs, and know which antibiotic to place her on. If she deteriorates, they will make their best guess about an antibiotic.  If she doesn't eat, they will tube feed her. If she doesn't drink, they will give her an IV.

It is out of our hands now, and all we can do is pray for the best.

Cowgirl didn't take it well, but that was to be expected. She keeps returning to one little pile of Epona poo, and smelling it, then whinnying. She acts like Epona is lost somewhere.

But she still takes time to eat.

If Epona makes it through this, she will not be placed back with Cowgirl. We had begun creep feeding her, and she was showing real progress this morning, eating more aggressively, and not caring that mama had left and was on the other side of the stall and turnout.  The two weeks Shiloh gave her did give her time to mature, and that's a good thing. 

She is two months old now and, for all practical purposes, an orphan foal. But Cowboy was orphaned at one month, and many other foals are orphaned--so it is up to Epona to choose to fight and survive, and she has the help, and the good care, to support her fight.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Changing Colors

Epona is doing very well, still nursing, running, and bucking, ...and changing colors.  As you can see, the area where she is shedding off around her eyes is very dark.

It will be fun to see what's under her baby fur. 

In the meantime, we continue to pick up her feet, lead her around the turnout, and groom her. She still takes medicine, and selenium, and still nurses from mom. But she is eating more and more solids, and drinking more and more water independently.

Tonight we're setting up a creep feeding system, which I'll post about later. It will give her a way to go under, and into her own area where she will have 24/7 milk replacer pellets. That will be a big first step to getting her off mama.

Lucy continues to grow. She's very smart. She can sit, lay down, fetch, jump, and shake hands on command.

She has also opened the house door a time or two, and dug a few major Labrador holes in our landscaping.

The pastures have all changed color to solid tan / dirt, but we have 10 tons of hay coming this week, plus all our leftover from last year. This will be the most we've ever had to feed the herd, thanks to the long hot drought we're experiencing, and the fact that our neighbors used to let us use their pasture, but now they're selling their house, and it sits empty for the next buyers.

Which brings me to the topic of neighbors. We had the best anyone could hope for. Good friends who we shared many fond moments with, and who always helped us out. We shared our tractor, they shared their lawn mower, and when our well pump went out, they shared their water. They allowed us to use their pasture during the summer for our horses. They were just the most perfect people to share a space with, and now we don't know who will buy it, and how this will all change. 

It's kind of scary. 

Our neighborhood has a very laid back vibe, since most everyone around here bought land and built their own homes. We surround what was once a very large dairy operation, and is now a much smaller meat cow operation and horse boarding facility. The rising prices of homes really limits the buyer pool. We are curious who will be our neighbors next, and if they will be animal friendly. I sure hope so.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Silly, Silly, Silly Me

Do you ever look back at your old self and laugh, Silly, silly, silly me? That is what I did this morning, looking back on yesterday.

I remember a thought, quite small, and fleeting, going through my head while working with Tumbleweed: Is he going to be so laid back that I get bored? 

First off, a thought like that jinxes you on the spot. An invisible lightning bolt rains down from the sky and zaps the moment. Fate rubs its hands, up in heaven, and gets a gleeful smirk--wait until tomorrow, hehehe. This is going to be fun!

And there you are, innocently walking into your tomorrow, with the foolishness of yesterday, and your horse takes a bite at your arm while you're saddling up.


Me: Ahem, where did that come from, Tweed? Wake up on the wrong side of the bed, er, stall? 

Tweed: Uh huh, whatever. Looks away. Thinks to himself: I've got lots more where that came from, lady.

Sometimes, it is very, very difficult to separate the horse you have today from the one you THINK you have. Both good and bad. You have a bad day with your horse, and the next day, you're still holding it against him, and a bit nervous. Or, in my case, you have several amazing days with your horse, and the next day you think he's still golden, even when he presents evidence otherwise. 

Usually, I put Tweed out to graze in the evenings, and stall in the morning, but for some reason, I let him out last evening, but he wanted in around 9:30, so he was in his stall all night. I have no doubt, that little change made a big difference.

We worked on 4 point turns. No problem. But there was squealing going on over in the mare herd, and Tweed kept looking over.

Off to the large circle work. Walk? yes. Trot. yes. Lope? Um, no. There was some heavy duty bucking going on.  I stopped and examined his tack, but it was all good.  I examined his body, it was also good.  We started again, and continued until he did smooth lead transitions, then quickly ended on a good note, because he was starting to sweat, I was starting to sweat, and it was already getting dang hot!

At that point, it was sinking in that he was, indeed, a different Tweed. And I dug for Sarah's advice--what was that thing she like, if you don't have their attention, don't get on.

But I had plans to ride, darn it! We were going to do pole work, darn it! 

I grabbed his halter and mecate, and figured I'd at least do some bending, backing, disengaging, and softening in the bit from the ground. 

We did this little exercise of bending and disengaging the hind until his front end stays put and he moves with gusto away from me, then resting, as I stand in the neutral area at the fender of the saddle and rub his hind and fore. When he gave me his attention, we rested. When he gave the mares his attention, we moved. 

Mares = move that butt boy. 

Me = rest and love and all good things in life.

He chose Me.

And so, my plans changed again! The horse of thirty minutes ago was not the horse I had after a little bending work. In fact, he appeared to pass Sarah's attention test in spades.

I mounted up and did walk, bends, turns, side-passes, and backs, in saddle, resting after each success while patting his neck and making sure he was still tuned in. We didn't do anything beyond the walk, because I did not discount the possibility that he was, indeed, sore along his back, and I didn't want to push him into discomfort or pain. 

After a bit, I called it good, ended on a positive note, unsaddled, and hosed him down.

Lesson learned: Lord, stop me, if I ever think I might be bored again! Tumbleweed has plenty left to throw at me along this journey! And that is how relationships are built, working through the good, the bad, and the ugly and getting to partnership.

On another note, I am going to go out with him this afternoon and do Masterson bodywork, just to see if there are some ouchy spots along his back that contributed to his mood. I saw him tense him up the moment I laid the blanket on his back, which tells me there is, most likely, something along there bothering him.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Good Outweighs the Bad (By A lot)

Our western heat wave continues, and the fires came early and fierce. They are mostly to the south of us, but the smoke has settled in here.

I continue to do something with Tumbleweed every morning, before it gets too hot. Sometimes we do a light walk / ride in the arena, and some days we just take a walk.

He's so mellow! If he has any issue, it's laziness picking up his feet, but I can't really blame him in this weather.

I lead him away from the barn each day, and onto different types of surfaces.

The clomp clomp of his feet on asphalt. Under the branches of trees. Up near the road, to see the passing cars. Nothing much fazes him.

I measured him the other day, and he was 15.2 hands and 1140 pounds. I imagine all that will really change in the coming years is his body filling out even more.

He is stalled during the day, and let out with the others at night. He gets 1/2 alfalfa, 1/2 grass, and a supplement formulated for our area.

My daughter consulted with several of her friends, regarding Epona, and all of them cautioned her about separating her from Cowgirl. All three of her advisors said that it would cause too much stress on a 6 week old foal, and the risks could outweigh the benefits. She is watching her closely, and gearing up for another try at a separation here at home, that would keep her with mama, and us.

Calf Manna replacer pellets, mixed with Omolene 300.

She has a grazing mask arriving Thursday, and teat tape arrived today.

Stocked up on plenty of replacer, and this doesn't include the bags in my kitchen. We have been mixing up liquid replacer and leaving it in her stall each day. It is good at attracting flies, but not at attracting Epona.

It has to be bucket feeding, at a low level, and not a bottle. All of her water sources have to be at a low level, too--and that includes Cowgirl's.

She eats a little hay, too, and grazes a bit in pasture, but there isn't much left in them nowadays. Everything has dried up.

It has taken a lot of stress off of me to be the support network, but not the decision maker. I'm glad I handed that responsibility back to my daughter.

She's starting to shed off in places on her face, and it is very dark underneath. Hard to say how she will change.

Here she is last night, tearing around their little turnout.

It may not sound like it, with everything we have been through, but the good far outweighs the bad. Despite all the ups and downs, we have loved every minute of being with Epona. 

That can be said for this heat wave, too. I've taken a lot of pleasure in my trips back and forth to the barn everyday, all day. We keep the troughs fresh and filled. Horses sprayed for flies. Masks on and off. Misters, Stalls cleaned.  All of it.

And it's good exercise! I have no trouble getting 10,000+ steps in each day. Pushing wheelbarrows full of manure is a great upper body workout! (That's what I tell myself with each load.) Why would you join a gym, when you can own a horse?

But more, it's just a pleasure to be out there with them each day. It's time well spent. Soul food. Eye candy. 

It's a good life.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Moving Toward the Bright Side

Many blog posts ago, I shared a book I'd read along my musical journey, The Perfect Wrong Note. In it, the author explained that everything we call "mistakes" are really information from which to learn. I can apply the same concept to yesterday. Instead of focusing on what didn't work, I can choose to look at what I learned.

1. It is hard to introduce milk replacer when a foal sees their mama, and mother nature tells it to drink mama's milk.

2. It is hard to milk a mare for 18 quarts of milk a day, but if you can, your foal will like it better than replacer.

3. Mixing replacer with mama's milk, though a great idea, didn't work for us.

4. You can lead a horse to replacer, but you can't make them drink. Syringes. Bottles. Fingers dipped in replacer. Muzzle placed in replacer. Nope. 

5. It was worth the effort to try and make the transition while also keeping her with mama. We really want to minimize the stress on Epona, and being with mama is the best thing for her. Not always possible, but if you can, it is definitely best.

Conclusion: I did my absolute best to get Epona on replacer, but was not willing to starve and dehydrate her and cause her more stress. Therefore, I presented two options to her owner--my daughter:

1. Leave her on mama, introduce replacer pellets in her feed, continue antibiotics and regular vet appointments for ultrasound, and practice small separations each day. Or,

2. Take her to the vet clinic, away from mama, and have them support her while she transitions to replacer. Bring her back when she is fully transitioned.

I successfully de-transitioned her back to mama's milk, and she is strong and happy today.

Therefore, I turned my sights to my own horse, Tumbleweed.

I felt myself drowning in chores and surviving this unrelenting heat wave, but Teresa pointed out, on her blog, that she rides first, and does chores later, because she will always do the chores. It reminded me about a book I read about habits--you need to do the developing habit before you look at your phone or check emails, because you'll always find time to look at your phone and check emails, but putting off the habit will kill the habit formation.

I threw chores to the wind and grabbed my boy! And he was happy I did.

He was so amazing. He stood well. Saddled well. Performed 4 point turns and all his leads on the line, with zero silliness or bucking.

There wasn't a moment that he didn't give me his full attention and effort, so I jumped on and rode. And it was as if we didn't miss a beat. 

It was good for my soul to be back with him. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Epona: First Day Failure Introducing Milk Replacer

(Epona nursing a few minutes ago. Good or bad thing?)

We received our notes on Epona's visit from the treating vet, and are waiting for a call back to discuss options, should the milk replacement switch fail, which it seems to have done.

Here's what we're dealing with:

"Epona was seen today for recheck exam of persistent mild dysphagia and aspiration. Owners have rarely noticed coughing, but she does occasionally have a small amount of milk dribbling from her nares. She is eating some of the mare's food and starting to drink water. Owners have not noticed any drainage from her nose while drinking her own water, but she does have when drinking from mare's bucket positioned higher up.

PE: BAR, excellent BCS of 5/9, BW 220 lbs; normal auscultation of heart, lungs and abdomen. Normal auscultation of trachea at rest and for the first half of a nursing session, then she starts to aspirate a small volume of milk. She coughed once a couple of minutes after nursing.

Thoracic ultrasound: Minimal comet tails on the left side in the first 5 rib spaces; moderate comet tailing in the right cranial thorax to ICS 8, very similar to exam on 6/21.

CBC: Mild-moderate neutrophilic leukocytosis, improved from last visit however

Endoscopy (mild sedation required for procedure): Moderate positional dorsal pharyngeal collapse which improved with lifting the nose in the air; normal swallowing regardless of head position; small trail of milk/mucous in trachea.
No abnormalities found in guttural pouches.

Due to persistent positional dysphagia, we will have to transition to feeding Epona from a bucket and wean her from the mare. You can keep mare and foal together if you are able to fashion an udder covering to prevent the foal from nursing OR buy a foal muzzle and keep foal muzzled between feedings (she will still be able to drink water).

Milk Replacer Feeding: Please follow label instructions, but she should be eating about 18 L/qt of appropriately mixed liquid milk replacer, divided into 6 feedings per day. You can initially milk out the mare and add some of her milk to the mix to help the filly transition.

Milk Pellets: Feed as instructed per label instructions in addition to milk replacer liquid. You can soak them slightly initially to get her used to the texture.

I would like to recheck the filly in 10-14 days to ensure that pneumonia has resolved and that she is gaining weight adequately with milk replacer.

Please call if the filly develops diarrhea, or has difficulty switching to bucket feeding."


I feel like this is a good analysis of the situation, and switching her to milk replacer is a wise way to proceed, if we can do it successfully. But we took her off of mama at 9:30 pm last night, and didn't have any success with replacer by 12:45 this afternoon. We did get her to drink mama's milk, which we had nursed from Cowgirl ourselves, but only in small quantities, nowhere near the 18 quarts a day we need.

With temps at about 90 today, we didn't feel comfortable denying her mama. And, they're going to get worse in the coming days. We allowed her a short nursing session, then another about an hour later. My thinking is to keep her somewhat hungry, but hydrated, and keep Cowgirl's huge milk supply from drowning her. The last nursing was short, and no milk came out of her nose. I'm timing them at about every 45 minutes.

So, along those lines, I guess my question for the vet would be, is it better to keep her nursing, but separate her from mama more often, and introduce these new foods gradually? 

The vet's thinking, about taking her off mama, is similar to when a mare dies--go cold turkey, and when they get hungry and thirsty enough, they'll drink. A friend told me I should remove Cowgirl so that she can't even see her. That's about impossible to do around here. They'd still be able to whinny at each other. 

Is the risk of dehydration and stress, during pneumonia, greater than the risk of her continued aspiration?

I know they'd like to see it resolved, and it won't resolve until she's not nursing anymore. Yet, it seems like every decision has a good and bad side, a practical and impractical side. Maybe Epona is still just a little too young to make this transition well. Maybe, if we're going to choose this route, she needs to be hospitalized away from Cowgirl, and monitored by the vet during the transition. 

Here's one of our failed attempts at covering the udders.

Soon after that, we decided to separate them for the night.

All of this has been was worth the try. Doing it at home, near her mama, is much less stressful than if we do take her to the vet to stay. Our vet has tried to make this as humane as possible for little Epona. She said we could keep them together, if we could cover Cowgirl's udders, but that proved to be impossible. (see above) I just saw that in her notes, she suggested a hay muzzle for Epona, and that would be great, except she'd be nuzzling at Cowgirl's udders all the time, and they are sore. (It's an excellent idea for when Cowgirl isn't as sore.) 

Long story short, we just don't feel comfortable following the advice to get her hungry and thirsty enough that she accepts replacer. We know the vet is right, but we don't know how to get there safely, under these circumstances.

Does anyone have experience with milk replacer? We could only find Land O Lakes, ProNurse, which is a multispecies replacer. They didn't have a single option for Mare's Match or any of the others, formulated specifically for foals. In fact, they barely had the Land O Lakes. We had to go from store to store, buying it up. Is it because of the Covid shortages? 

I would have much preferred an equine only formula. Epona hates this stuff. We invested hundreds of dollars into it yesterday, but I don't know that she will ever drink it. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Life Just Got A Lot More Complicated

 Epona had her vet appointment today, and it is bad news--we have to take her off of Cowgirl.

Although, her lungs were a little better, they weren't good enough. They listened to her swallowing.

Then they did an ultrasound of her lungs.

Finally, they did another endoscopy. 

They hope the problem is only when she's lifting her head up to nurse, but we won't know for sure until we start to feed her from a bucket. Nursing from mom has to end as soon as possible. They said if she continues to aspirate, she will start developing lung abscesses, and they are very hard to treat and can scar.

This has left us scrambling to 1) figure out a system to cover up Cowgirl's teats (tape won't work, because Epona can pull it off, and 2) Secure enough milk replacer, which I've just done over the phone at several locations. If we can get her safely through two weeks of milk replacer, she can then transition to milk replacer pellets.

The hope is to keep her with mama, but if we can't figure out a safe way to cover Cowgirl's teats, we will have to separate them in adjoining stalls.

It's discouraging, to say the least.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Staying Alive and Fighting Flies!

We've moved into a stage of moderately super hot days, 90's, full sun. After what we experienced last week, it seems downright cool. Of course, it's not, but the almost 20 degree difference allows us to do things differently around here. 

I haven't used the misters this week, and I allow Cowgirl and Epona to go where they want to go. I watch them closely, to make sure Epona doesn't get too hot, but from what I've seen, they alternate between shady spots and hanging out with the herd over the fence. (Epona often lies in the shade of her mama.)

Epona has her next vet visit Wednesday. We had to postpone the last one, due to extreme heat. This one will be earlier in the day, and the highs are expected around 91 degrees. We can do that.

She continues to progress with independent drinking of water and eating pelleted food. That's the hope, that she will get as far as she can, controlling the pneumonia with antibiotics while she grows and matures. My son-in-law read that this process can take months, but the outcome is usually full recovery. In any event, she continues to grow by leaps and bounds. She is five weeks old.

There was another concern I had with her--her manure production. For a while, it seemed too rare, but now it seems, in my view, normal. 

Tumbleweed is only three, but Epona's arrival has made him seem like an old man. He is definitely maturing physically, and starting to fill out all over. Still has a bit of a baby bod, but most people who see him can't believe he's the foal they once knew. Is that Tumbleweed?!?  Yep, he's a grownup now.  

The pastures are dying early, and hay is going to be a real issue for everyone in the west. That is what I'll be concentrating on for the next few weeks. I still have plenty of hay, but I need to make sure the barn is full, and we're ready for winter. It's easier to be ISO 1 or 2 tons than 12. I hope to get 10 tons put away soon, use what I need, and replenish in fall. Our round bale supplier puts enough away for us, but we need to contact him and make sure he will have it for this year. Everyone's scrambling. 

The flies didn't seem that bad this year, but then yesterday they came out in droves for our 4th of July BBQ. Grrr...they were worse than I've ever seen them. 

I'm ordering these table fans to see if they will help. They have good reviews.

I'm also going to mix up a spray of Lemongrass and water to spray around the doorways and flowers. I found this recipe:

"Lemongrass oil is an essential oil with powerful insect repellent properties. In addition, it also keeps your home aromatic and refreshed. You can use lemongrass oil to make a fly repelling spray that doubles as a room freshener. Here are the ingredients you will need:
Lemongrass essential oil (20-25 drops)
Hot water (about 1/2 cup)

Mix and keep the solution in a spray bottle. Spray along your doorways and windows for maximum effects. Note: If you don’t have lemongrass oil, other natural oils (lavender oil, eucalyptus oil, citronella oil, or peppermint oil) will also work. However, do not expect the same strong results that you would get with lemongrass oil." (Green and Growing. org)

I planted gardenias this summer, and they have done well. So fragrant, and beautiful. I'm a fan.

We also made it to the boat the other day, as planned.

Going to the lake...

On the lake....

Leaving the lake...

Lucy loved the lake. We hope she will be a good boat dog. So far, so good!

Any tips on how to fight flies? I'm open to all suggestions!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

PNW Heat Wave: Day 4, This Too Has Passed


The extreme heat has passed, and we are now in the 90's with higher humidity. Still hot, but not as life-threatening as the last two days. . 

We lost another swallow, but there is still one remaining, who seems a little more cautious about trying to fly when he can't.

His parents keep calling him, and showing him how it's done.

He's like, I'll take a hard pass on suicide by cat. Bring me some worms, please, and a bit of water.

Epona has done really well throughout the heat, and I continue to feed her small bits of grain. She pushes it around with her nose, and makes sounds like she's munching down, but I don't think she gets much in. As far as drinking water, she licks it.

My, what big eyes you have, Epona.

Birds and foals have been the theme of my spring and early summer. Father Robin, who died, but his three babes survived and flew to freedom. And now, the barn swallows, prematurely fledged from their nest, due to extreme heat.

Most years, it may not have affected me the same, but because of the situation with Epona, I feel the parallels in my heart. The sense of failing the birds, makes me wonder what I can save. 

Last night, Cowboy got down and had a hard time getting up again. I know that a decision will have to be made, not now, but in the nearer future. Some days, Epona feels like a success story, and other times, when milk comes out of her nose, I feel dread. 

And my dad is facing struggles with his prostate cancer that seem insurmountable, too.

These are the seasons of life: Birth, struggle, beauty, love, hope, death.

There are moments in life where it is all stripped down, and you realize, more fully, that it is almost entirely out of your hands. We do everything we can do, and still fall short. These are the thoughts of a woman in her 50's. The fragility of life. It's not even so much a thought, as a full realization. 

Shiloh represents the beauty, love, and  hope part of life. It is quite something to see her pregnant and working with her foal. 

I recommended that she introduce Epona to the crop, because when I was leading her the other night, she decided to rear up and strike. She didn't get me, but it was a reminder that we will need to enforce our bubble and stand to her side now.  And, it's not a bad idea to have a crop ready, in case she needs a gentle reminder.

After Shiloh did the gentle rubbing with the crop, she threw it onto the ground and disregarded all of my warnings. It worked out fine, of course. Epona seems to know she is the mama, and she readily follows her everywhere. It might be something that Cowgirl has imparted to her.

Since the heat is more manageable now, we plan to take the boat out in the evening and jump into the lake! It's time to celebrate what we have accomplished so far--surviving the most extreme heat our city has ever seen.