A page torn from the diary of one who lives with horses…
“It’s feel good Sunday and today we share with you a little bit of our life and an experience that all who care for horses have lived through, it is the stuff which binds us. Nuff Said. Keep the faith”!” ~ R.T.
Funny how easy it is to lose sight of your center and what is truly important in life. Terry and I live, eat and sleep amongst our equine, canine and feline charges but while picking up the sword for the health, well-being and future security of our American horses, both domestic and wild, the line began to get a bit fuzzy over what and who actually drew us into that fight in the first place and why we were there.
I received a quick kick in the pants and a steaming hot mug of reality this past week when my saddle buddy, Moose, (a young, Belgian draft/TB cross gelding) succumbed to a screaming case of colic during our recent southeast Texas cold snap. Just such a cold spell took the life of my former trail partner, Ethan, some 5 years ago and the reality of the danger of sub-tropical horses not drinking during cold weather came galloping onto our small ranch this past Thursday.
Observed lying down in the back pasture by my wife, Terry, I quickly responded and immediately called out to Moose when I jumped the back fence. He promptly jumped up and I thought all was well until I reached him and found him pawing the ground with a front hoof and kicking at his stomach with a back. I waved Terry off and asked her to run to the barn to get his halter and a lead rope while I kept him on his feet by forcing him to back up and kept him busy.
With all of my traveling I have never been present when one of our equine companions has suffered from digestive tract distress, not even when it came to the loss of Ethan; it has always been the steady and calming hand of my bride who has seen the animals through and I am here to tell you that I was a basket case, I couldn’t lose Moose.
Terry arrived with the gear and I immediately haltered him up and lead him to another pasture, away from the other boys, while Terry dashed off to the fridge to get a tube of Banamine paste. I made the mistake of turning around to close the gate to the paddock when the lack of forward movement gave Moose the time he needed to go down on me. He was in the sand but bless his heart he got right back up when I asked him to as it would have been exceedingly difficult to attempt to lift a draft horse that is very close to kissing that 2,000 lbs mark.
I kept him moving while Terry brought the medication out and I promptly injected the tube’s contents into his mouth. Of course, he would not swallow and all my verbal coaxing and neck rubbing was doing no good but the little horse medic, Terry, stuck both of her fingers into each side of his mouth and tickled his tongue until he swallowed. A decade and a half of caring for a Brazilian horse who would not swallow wormer has made her a pro at eliciting a swallow reflex.
My nerves were jangled, big time, as we walked in circles around the paddock. Moose, at first, wanted to buckle his back legs and lie down but Terry followed behind us with a loose lead rope in hand and would not allow him to back down on me. We walked while Moose would grind his teeth in pain.
Hearing Moose in distress by grinding his teeth cut me to the quick as I am only used to hearing him hum when he gets into a good trot and feels good about himself. Yes, this is true. When Moose is all collected and balanced he feels so proud and is so pleased with how he looks he actually hums. This is an option that we did not know we would experience when we brought him home this past summer but it is a highlight that brings a smile to all who see and hear him; grinding teeth brought no pleasure.
We walked in the cold drizzle but I did not notice the cold temperatures as I kept asking Terry worried questions,
“How does he look, should we call the vet, are you worried, should I be worried?”
And the consistent reply was a calm,
“Not yet, just keep walking.”
Around and around we went, some laps it felt like we were making headway and then the next time around he would want to crash…I was a basket case.
But after about 40 minutes the grinding of the teeth disappeared and the walk up hill in the paddock was now about the same speed as the walk down. I could tell that when we walked down Moose would put it in neutral and coast but at the onset he was having great difficulty stepping on the clutch and getting himself back into first gear to get up the hill, now it appeared that he had slipped his tranny into automatic and I became cautiously optimistic.
“Is he getting better?”, I asked Terry.
“Just keep walking and talking, if his belly ache goes away you are going to be a real hero to him so don’t let him down.” Terry said, “And by the way, welcome to my world.”
I turned to look back at Terry and she was smiling, with that smile my nerves began to calm and I could also hear Moose’s respirations beginning to slow, but we kept walking.
We continued to walk and as we did I began to move away from just being a lead to asking Moose to do a few things for me as we continued to move forward…a little more to the right, then the left, then a squeeze against the fence and he was paying attention to my cues so my mood brightened.
After another thirty minutes or so the equine angel behind us said,
“Why don’t you lead him over to the water trough just to see if he will take a drink.”
“You can lead a horse to water but…”, I replied.
“I know, I know but just try so that we can see how he behaves when he stops moving.”
So we walked up to the water trough, I looked down at it, Moose looked at me and we just stood, nothing happened.
“Take his lead rope off”, ordered Terry.
“Now go back to walking just like you were without saying a word to him or issuing him a command.” Terry said.
Again, I did as I was told and turned to my left and began walking the path we had been walking for the past 90 minutes only to note that Moose fell right in on my right side with his left shoulder only a few inches from me, and we walked, a lot.
No lead, no commands, just the bond of friendship because his pain had gone away…we walked together while Terry sat on the steps of the observation gazebo in the center of the paddock.
Finally I tightened my circle to the left and found my way to Terry with Moose at my side. I sat down on the steps while Moose planted his front hooves at our feet and lowered his head between our heads and he started to hum, or maybe it was more of a purr.
With half-lidded eyes he enjoyed us stroking his head and before long, he was off in horsy La-La Land dreaming of showing off his trot and discovering new trails with friends yet to be met. He was okay.
Without saying a word, we left him there and walked towards the house where we turned before entering the garage to observe that he had not moved an inch since our departure.
“You are his buddy, now.”, Terry whispered.
“I love him, too.” I responded, “and I love you. Funny, from impending disaster good has arisen to re-ground me on why we do what we do. It’s all about them and for the grace and beauty that they bring into our lives.”
“You needed that kick in the ass, you know.” Terry giggled.
“Stop it, I love it, it hurts so good.”, I quipped back and with that we walked hand in hand into the house knowing that our equine children had brought us back to the core of our reality and that both love and life had come full circle.
The “Force of the Horse” is alive and well in our hearts and souls.
Life is good.