colic · stupid human tricks

The Craziest Barn I Ever Boarded At

Somewhat inspired by Carly’s recent post at Poor Woman Showing.

When I was relatively new to horse ownership, I had to move from one state to another for work. I did a lot of research online, and made a series of onsite visits to find a new boarding barn. The one I eventually chose was, on paper and via introduction, a great fit: right on a huge state park with connection to miles of riding trails, multiple riding rings, one of the biggest indoors I’d ever seen, close to where I’d be living, big enough to be open all the time, instructors I knew of (think local BNRs) and barn staff who said all the right things.

So, I moved Tristan down. Within two weeks, I had more than a vague sense of unease and started looking for another barn, but only casually. Everything was still so great on paper! All of the other barns I looked at didn’t work: the great ones were full, and some that came highly recommended were really really not the right fit – see also, the trainer who spent the entire tour chain smoking and ground his cigarettes out on the aisle floor. NOPE.

I continued at this barn, taking lots of long wonderful trail rides, and the promised instructors never materialized. The tack room was so disorganized I actually moved my things to a back corner of the hay loft, and STILL occasionally had to hunt down missing things. There were 45+ stalls in the barn, and they were all full, mostly with rank lesson horses and lease horses attached to families who had no idea what they were doing. One lease horse was quarantined outside because – I shit you not – it had Cushings.

Turnout was huge, and turnout time was ample, except it was in large herds with zero attempt made at supervision. Horses were turned out and brought back in by the expedience of creating a chute and then opening stall doors. Imagine, if you will, 40 horses galloping up a hill and into the barn, and then finding their own stalls. Now imagine that the entire barn is poured concrete. Imagine two, or three, horses going into a stall to steal another horse’s hay, all of this supervised by 14 year old working students.

My search for a new barn intensified, but still nothing ideal came up – I was still stuck on the idea of staying relatively close to home, and not driving an incredible amount.

Then one day I stopped by the barn, and with one glance in Tristan’s stall knew something was very badly wrong. He was standing, splay-legged, with his head nearly to the ground in a far corner, very still. His hay was untouched. Not only that, but his evening grain had been poured on top of his morning grain, which he hadn’t touched. His water buckets were bone dry.

I had my cell phone out to call a vet within seconds. He spent the next four days touch-and-go with one of the worst colics I’ve ever seen to this day. I slept in a camp chair in front of his stall 24/7, save for a few brief absences to shower, when my mother stayed with him instead. He started colicking on a Monday; by Thursday, he was well enough to get on a trailer, and we literally loaded under cover of darkness. I gave my notice after he was on the trailer, and forfeited my deposit.

The next barn was not ideal, but it was safe, and well-kept. (If anything, the people there were way over-neurotic; they flew a farrier in from Tennessee and had a vet out to do x-rays of every single foot every single time every horse was shod. Not even exaggerating.) He had his share of health problems there, but they were all recognized, treated, and non-issues.

A few months later, my former barn was in the news because the ex-husband of the BO’s daughter drove up to the barn on a Saturday afternoon and rampaged through it, screaming and yelling. He finally cornered the BO’s daughter and her young child in the barn apartment (where said daughter was living at the time) and pulled a gun on her. He pulled the trigger multiple times, but it jammed. The police arrived before he could un-jam it, thankfully.

And thus ends the story of the craziest barn I’ve ever boarded at.

adventures with the vet · blanketing · colic · winter

The New (New, New) Normal

Yesterday was not the best day ever.

I forced myself out of bed early to ride, and I was mounted by 7:10 am. It was 32 degrees, foggy, a crisp and damp morning. I had to be at work by 8:00 am (5 minutes away), so I only intended to do a mile. Tristan had already had his grain maybe 15 minutes previously; he was nibbling on his hay when I got there. He hadn’t finished his grain, but had left the scrids of it mixed in with his supplements. Not totally out of the ordinary for him.

There was a thick frost on the grass and I wore my winter tall boots. We went a mile in 19 minutes, just on the flattest of dirt roads and then on a loop up and around the outdoor. My goal right now is to just keep him moving for 20 minutes a day as my bare minimum. Most days we do far more than that, but today I just wanted to sneak in a quick ride before morning meetings and then have the afternoon at home to do some much needed cleaning & relaxing.
I put him back in his stall and pulled his saddle, He nosed his hay, and then pawed at it, and I could feel my stomach start to knot up. He pawed again. He circled his stall. Then he kicked at his belly with a hind leg, then the other hind leg, then he circled his stall. The bottom dropped out of my stomach.
I listened for gut sounds – quiet, but present. Under my hands as I was listening, I could actually feel him start to tuck up, feel those hard stomach muscles clench, and when I stepped back he had clamped his tail down tightly. I went to the other barn and found the trainer’s barn manager, M., and asked her to come look at him when she got back from turning out the horse she was holding.
When I got back to his stall, his flanks had started shivering. This was maybe 10 minutes elapsed time after I’d put him back in his stall. I pulled him out and brought him in to the aisle and started pulling blankets off shelves. He ended up with an Irish knit, a wool cooler, and then a midweight on top of that, none of which were his or even close to his size. Under the blankets, he started full body shivering, and I reached for my phone.
The barn manager got back just as I started dialing for the vet, and while on the phone with her we took his temp – 97.9 – and tried to get a pulse. He’s tricky to pulse at the best of times, and I fumbled the stethoscope repeatedly before handing it over to the barn manager, who couldn’t get a good read either. I would get 3-4 beats and then lose it. It was clearly a little fast, but I couldn’t put a number on it.
Vet and I decided to go ahead with IV banamine, and I told her I’d check in in 30 minutes. While I was on the phone with her he started visibly relaxing and his shivering slowed, even before he’d had the banamine. It eased up even more, and then he got 8ccs of banamine IV. I started walking him – he’d never shown any real inclination to go down, but it gave me something to do.
In another 5 minutes, he had totally stopped his shivering and was looking around and considerably perked up. I walked him for another 5 minutes, and then brought him back to his stall. He attacked his hay and cleaned up his grain, and then I removed his hay from his stall. He was pretty ticked about that, but then took a good long drink and peed up a storm. He hunted around for the last little scraps of hay and started kicking his door to be let out.
I went into storage and dug out his fleece cooler and turnout sheet, and pulled the borrowed blankets off him to swap for his own. He looked and acted 100% normal at that point, barely 45 minutes after the whole thing started. I went into the tack room to brief our barn manager (main barn and trainer’s barn have different BMs; sounds confusing but actually works just fine, since trainer’s BM goes south with her for winter). 
A few minutes of conversation and we had fleshed out what the vet and I had thought: he got too cold. Many Cushings horses lose the ability to regulate their own body temperature. I knew this, and was watching him like a hawk in the summer, but he handled the really hot days just fine. It did not for a single second occur to me that cold might affect him more than heat. In any case, it wasn’t really all that cold – it must have been high 20s at the barn overnight. That’s chilly, but it’s not downright cold, not relative to what it will be in January and February.
I left him to go to staff meeting, and when I got back he had been turned out in one of the round pens, which functions as a dry lot.
He’s just to the left of the tree, in the light blue sheet. I checked in with him and he was happy and relaxed and just fine, nibbling on the hay bits on the ground. He was wearing the fleece cooler + turnout sheet (no lining) and it was about 45 degrees and sunny. I felt underneath the blanket and he felt cozy and warm – not too warm. If you’d told me this time last year that my horse would be wearing layers in 45 degree weather, and not sweating up a storm, I would’ve said you were crazy.
I put out a call on Facebook for some blankets, and as it turns out a good friend of mine – who was already planning on coming to give Tristan a massage tonight – has some that she’ll bring. We’ll go through what she has, and I’ll see what gaps I still need to fill. I had a long conversation with the Smartpak customer service rep this morning and picked out a range of blankets that I will order tonight after seeing what J. brings.
adventures with the vet · colic

They do make us worry…

Running late from work last night, I got to the barn with the intention of longeing briefly and then heading out to meet the boyfriend for a movie date.

Got to the barn, kissed Tris on the nose on my way past his stall, and went into the tack room to grab the longe line. When I got back to his stall, he was lying down.

My brain went into immediate overdrive. I watched him for a minute or two, and he was alert and looking at me. He stayed lying down when I got into his stall, but that’s not unusual for him – when I catch him napping, he’s happy to have me come in and sit with him.

I put a halter on him and asked him to get up, and he did so immediately. Three piles of manure in the stall, half a bucket of water gone, and the hay he’d gotten ~2 hours ago was eaten to every last scrap. He was interested in me but perhaps a bit quieter than normal. Good gut sounds – but perhaps slower on his left side?

I put him on the cross ties and grabbed his antacids; he ate them a bit more slowly, less enthusiastically than he usually does. He dropped two of them out of his mouth, and at that moment the barn owner came in and I explained to her what I was seeing. I offered him the antacids again and he ate them happily. Usually when I feed them to him before I ride, he mugs me for more, and he was just a little too quiet this time.

I put him on the longe line for about 20 minutes of WTC. He was perhaps a bit lazy again, but he moved out easily enough and did some stretching. I did some belly lifts with him, listened to gut sounds again – still fine – and he passed some gas on the walk back to his stall, then again in his stall. I started to feel a bit better at that.

I picked out his stall, and left the stall guard up so he could poke his head out. Manure was normal, not too dry or too wet. He begged shamelessly for dinner, and we gave him half his grain. I fed him 12 simethicone tablets (generic Gas-X), which he ate with more enthusiasm than the antacids, and headed in to town for the movie. After the movie, I drove back to the barn and he was acting totally normally.

I’m still not sure if I overreacted or if I woke him up from a nap and that’s why he was sluggish. Either way, he’s pulled out of it just fine, and the incident caused me to double-check the banamine paste in my tack trunk. It expired this fall, so I asked my vet for two more tubes – one for my tack trunk, one for the trailer!

colic · nutrition

The Equine Digestive System

Last winter, the barn lost a horse to a long slow colic, and during the two awful days where we walked him and groomed him and changed IV bags and sent him off to the vet hospital, and then got the news and mourned, I remarked to the barn manager my long-held theory that the equine digestive system is proof against intelligent design.

The more I learn about horse digestion and anatomy, the more I hold fast to that theory. The Vermont Large Animal Clinic, the lovely people who did Tristan’s surgery, posted this really fascinating article in which the author sources various items from Home Depot to explain the makeup and progression of the equine digestive system. It’s fascinating and horrifying in its complexity.

The blog that posted the article, Equine Nutrition Nerd, is on my must-read list now. I’ve been meaning to learn more about equine nutrition for some time now to really carefully assess what Tristan is eating and how it can help him.

What resources do you use to understand nutrition? How involved are you in planning and tweaking your horse’s diet?


Oh, pony.

So apparently after his turnout yesterday, Tris came in and laid down. And stood up. And laid down. And stood up. A few times. And then wasn’t terribly interested in his hay.


Barn manager stayed a bit later to keep an eye on him, temped him (normal), left a note for the night check person to keep an eye, and by graining time (2-3 hours later) he was back to himself, then fine for night check. I went out around 11pm and he had pooped, peed, was acting normal, and passed gas when I walked him up and down the aisle to check. I fed him 12 Gas-X tablets, which he ate like candy. He had gut sounds that were a little more than I wanted to hear but was not sensitive to pressure anywhere around his belly. He did not seem obviously bloated – he’s been a bit on the chubby side with his stall rest, so I didn’t see a clear line between fat horse and bloated horse.

Of course I kept waking up all night and looking at the clock and worrying and wondering, in the small hours of the morning, if there was someone doing morning feed yet? and would they call me immediately?

I did check in around 9am and talked to the worker who had noticed he was up and down yesterday, and she said he was 100% back to normal today.

Ohhhhhh pony. I do have a new line item for the vet appointment on Monday: what does she think of my Gas-X protocol (which works out to a 300mg dose of simethicone)? and could he be a little bit ulcery? He was on antibiotics for 30 days total, and while he had no obvious outward signs of discomfort it may make sense to do a week or two of omeprazole paste.

abscess · colic

Soaking, soaking, soaking

Not much new to report. Tris is now off at the walk as the abscess processes. He’s definitely draining – if not always visibly, there’s always a stain on the hoof to indicate goo. It seems to be coming both from the coronet band and from the newish hole a bit below the coronet band.

I’m soaking with epsom salt and betadine. Two days ago, I poured epsom salts, betadine, and hot water into a diaper and then did a wrap of that diaper, vetrap, and duct tape over the two holes. Last night, I did a sugardine painted directly onto the holes followed by the diaper, vetrap, and duct tape, and dried off the hoof and tried to get the duct tape to attach directly, in the hopes that it would last longer.

I did chat with the vet the other morning, and despite my valiant efforts to get him to spend my money, he said there was nothing to do but wait it out. Sometimes abscesses just hang around in the hoof and keep channeling around. I forgot completely to check in with them about the gassiness, too, in the hopes of preventing future colics, so I will have to call back this afternoon and at the very least order another tube of banamine for Monday.

I also want to check in with the farrier to see if he can just put eyes on Tris’s foot during his regular rounds on Friday, and call Smartpak to see about doing a digestive supplement. Most of them look formulated for hard keepers or nervous horses – neither of which is a good description of my horse! We’ll see what they have to say.

Tomorrow is a day off to make a Smartpak run to pick up some Animalintex poultice to wrap Tris’s foot with, some assorted supplies for friends, and then to pack up the ponies and head out to King Oak. I am sort-of grooming for Hannah on Friday, then volunteering at King Oak all day Saturday. A bit bittersweet that we won’t be running after all, but with the continuing problems I know I made the right decision, and I have plenty of friends to cheer on.

adventures with the vet · colic

Here we go again

This post was supposed to be all about how I trotted my horse last night, and even bareback around the ring for a few minutes it felt good, and he’s sound, and we’re going to ease back into work, and so on and so forth.

A few minutes after I got off, though, he pawed at his hay a little bit. Okay, I thought, he’s begging. Then he pawed some more, and when I got back from putting his bridle away, he was laying down. Then he got up and circled his stall and pawed some more and wasn’t eating his hay.


So I started walking him, and a helpful friend went to check on the possibility of some IM banamine. No dice, so we dosed him with half a tube and started walking, and walking. About 15 minutes later he really started getting that peaked colic look: hunched and yet distended belly, labored breathing, worried face. His gums were quite pale.

I had my hands on the phone to call the vet when T. came out and watched him walking and reassured me. I had in fact seen him pass some manure not long after I rode him, and he had gut sounds, so there was clearly some movement. We kept walking. Another 20 minutes or so and he started easing up a little bit at a time: his walking became more natural, his breathing a bit easier, his gums a teensy bit pinker.

It still wasn’t fast enough for me so we gave him the other half of the tube and kept walking. All told, I walked him for about an hour and a half. I let him stand quietly when he wanted to. He sniffed the ground quite a lot but never quite offered to roll. When he started mugging me for treats again when we paused, and T. went back up into the house, I put him on the crossties in order to strip his stall – I didn’t want him adding anything to his stomach, and wanted to be able to see every bit of manure he left.

He pawed up a storm on the crossties but it was already starting to look pissed off instead of painful. I put him in his stall and he started rooting around for hay, getting little wispy bits but not much more. He stood in the open stall door and pawed and pawed and glared at me, clearly furious that I’d taken away his dinner before he finished. Within 30 minutes of being back in his stall he’d pooped, peed, and passed copious amounts of gas. Just a little over three hours from first noticing symptoms to being totally comfortable with his recovery.

This is not new for him, unfortunately. He’s a very gassy horse to begin with, and when he adds anything to that mix he can get colicky. I wish he didn’t, and it terrifies me every time, but he has clear and recognizable symptoms and I always keep banamine to hand for precisely this reason. Next time the vet is at the barn I’ll get another tube, and we’ll talk about some maintenance things to help him out.