Sunday, April 3, 2011

This too shall pass.

All things come to an end; both the good, and the bad.  I know this to be true, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to come to terms with the ending of one of those good things.

Last week, I finally came to terms with the fact that it is not a good financial choice to continue to have Rose in our lives.  I think if I'm honest with myself, it's been weighing on me for a few weeks and it's certainly been hovering beneath the surface for a couple months now.  I hated to admit it to myself.

Life always just comes down to choices.  I want to start a family, and I want to be able to maintain commitments I made before Rose came along.  Rose just turned 9 years old in March, she's healthy and fun and a great horse, and for someone else she will be a wonderful friend - just like she was for Teri and I.

Yesterday a young woman came out to see Rose.  She and Rose got along famously from the very start and I feel like a huge load has been lifted from my shoulders, because I have a really good feeling about Amber.  Amber has five acres and one mustang gelding, and she's been searching for a mare with a big heart and a lot of spunk.  She rode Rose, and seeing them together was bittersweet, for sure.  On the one hand, seeing someone else ride her made me feel sick and sad.  On the other hand, I could see how well they went together and I just knew that I was doing the right thing.

When I put Rose up for sale, Amber was the very first one to contact me and immediately I felt good about her.  She emailed me not an hour after the ad went up.  Things that are meant to happen fall into place sometimes, isn't that funny?

Anyway, I wanted to tell you all because you are important to me and you followed our journey with Rose and Remi, and I know you guys know how much the horses have meant to me.  I feel certain that someday, Teri and I will have a couple horses come into our lives again, for us and for our children.

I want everyone to know that what I need right now is just support of the decision I've already made.  I don't need to hear lament about not being able to keep them and how it's just too bad, or questioning if selling her is really the best choice.  I've already made the choice to sell her, and Rose already showed me that my choice of her new owner is a good one.

This is the right thing for everyone involved, and knowing that Rose is going to a wonderful, loving home makes my grief just a bit lighter.  The lump in my throat has almost dissolved and the knot in the pit of my stomach is loosening its grip on me.

I appreciate you all and your friendship very much.

Love always,
Ashleigh

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thank you.

The days and weeks passed us by in a flurry of activity. It seemed that our lives had finally begun to level out. In the middle of November we celebrated Remi reaching four months old. Teri and I each spent quite a bit of time reminiscing and talking to friends and family about the colt and our experiences with him. Every day brought a new cute or funny or frustrating story to tell. I spoke to my great aunt over the phone (she and my great uncle live in a small town in Iowa) and told her about Remi. My mother sent her photos and we talked about his life and my struggles. I confided in her that money was a problem, simply because we did not anticipate having to pay for all the extras that a new baby entails.

Although a foal certainly is not as expensive as a child, they do come with additional financial liability. There's the cost of all the vet bills, extra feed they both consume, an increased farrier's bill, and the cost of the vaccines and boosters Remi would require, since Rose was not inoculated properly as a pregnant mare. And those funds don't even include all the money we spent on lumber, hardware, paint, and labor hours to make both the foaling and now the weanling stalls safe and livable.

My wonderful aunt, whom I refer to as Auntie, offered to send us some money to help.
"Oh Auntie, I couldn't take anything from you. I really didn't mean to insinuate, I just needed to complain."
"Honey I want to be involved! I live so far away that I think this is my only opportunity to help you right now. We're not sure if we'll be able to come out for Christmas this year so please let me help." she assured me.
"Well, it would be very helpful... Thank you, thank you so much." I assented gratefully.

As much as things have appeared to happen easily for us concerning the horses, I can tell you with confidence that we have had a difficult time. We could not have possibly hoped to make it through Remi's birth and first few months without the support, time, and money that our friends and families have contributed. My aunt is only one of many people who have offered us help. I feel so very fortunate to have such wonderful people in our lives, truly every bit of assistance has made a big difference - not only in our lives, but in Rose and Remi's lives as well. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you to my wife, Teri. Teri has been forced into this situation even more so than myself, as I bought Rose without Teri's knowledge over a year ago. Teri accepted this major purchase with grace (and some well-deserved anger directed at me). Then after we purchased our home, I discovered the pregnancy. Again, Teri showed me what unconditional love really looks like. She was in disbelief at first, then anxious and afraid of the consequences we were about to be faced with. Both of us were scared. Instead of withdrawing into disappointment and despair, Teri dove headfirst into preparations for the baby. She stayed with me at the barn every single night - enduring scary evenings filled with packs of coyotes, the heat of a Tucson summer and monsoon season, countless insect bites and sunsets punctuated by the smoke from citronella candles. She woke up at four o'clock in the morning every weekday, as my work schedule dictated that I arrive at work at 5:00am. She lifted straw bales and bags of feed, she spread bedding and hauled stagnant water barrels out of the stall to be washed out - my surgery was not even a week before we found out Rose was pregnant and I was not allowed to lift anything. She walked and bathed Rose, she checked on Rose while I was at work. She brushed and combed and picked out feet. She cut plywood, drilled holes and installed it around the foaling stall. Teri put up three box fans around Rose's stall to help keep her cool. On the morning Remi was born, Teri made a five am trip to WalMart to purchase baby bottles, snacks and drinks to keep us awake and a baby name book. When I had to leave for work, Teri stayed with the horses and was able to successfully bottle-feed Remi for his first four hours of life, as he would not nurse. She called the vet out to treat Rose for her retained placenta, she mucked out the stall and replaced all the bedding after the vet had gone. Poor Teri even had to place the placenta into a bucket for later examination. When I panicked and started to believe I wasn't going to be able to raise this foal, she comforted and reassured me that I could do it. She has put herself into countless situations where she was unsure and maybe even nervous - but she has always done herself and me proud. A true "natural", Teri has been able to remain cool-headed under fire and use common sense to get her through the struggles. For all these things and countless others that would fill a book, I will forever be grateful. Teri, thank you for sticking with me, even when I'm less than perfect. Remi has been an exercise in humility and you've made it easier. I love you very much.

Thank you to Gene and LeEllen. If Teri was an innocent victim of my reckless impulsiveness, you two are victims once-removed. You both are angels on earth. For countless breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I am in your debt. You offered to stay at the barn for us when we were spent with exhaustion. You came and spent so many evenings with us and Rose, keeping our minds occupied with laughter and conversation. You were so excited about the baby, even when I was apprehensive. You bought us plywood when we couldn't agree on how to utilize too few pieces of it, you brought another gallon of primer when we couldn't afford the last one we needed. You've transferred money into Teri's account to help us when we couldn't quite make the electric bill - and maybe a little extra (don't think I didn't notice!). You came to visit the morning of Remi's birth and took photos - and you still do that! You have both provided an ear when I needed to complain and an extra hand when we couldn't do it alone. For all these things and more, I will forever be grateful. Thank you for being involved in our lives.

Thank you to my mother and father. Thank you for giving me the gift that started it all - a little grey mare named Dreamer. I was the twelve year old girl who wanted a horse more than anything in the world - just like most twelve year old girls. You were the parents who saw that my obsession was more than passing fancy. You were the parents who used all their extra resources to give me my first horse. When my abilities surpassed Dreamer, you bought me Rocky. When Rocky went lame, you took him to the vet and listened to the doctor tell me that he could never compete again - and when I ran sobbing from the office, Mom followed me while Dad had to pay the bill with tears in his eyes. You bought me a project horse to take to college, you bought me a horse trailer that Zeke would actually get into, and you paid for the farrier and board while I lived in Tucson. When I bought Rose, you were excited for me. Mom came down to visit and took photos of us. You both came to visit and Mom was the first one to comment that Rose was looking a little 'fat' - even when I refused to see a pregnancy, Mom saw it. You both were so excited when we determined she really was pregnant! You encouraged us to try and keep him, and supported me when I cried because I thought we couldn't afford it. You drove the two hours to come see Rose and Remi on the day he was born, and you've made so many visits since then, always making sure to take some of my very favorite photographs. You call Remi your grandhorse. You've slipped me gas money and looked the other way for the past six months when I couldn't pay you the truck payment. You helped me pay doctor bills leftover from surgery when we didn't have the funds. You stood by us and told us we could do it, even when we were full of doubt. You've encouraged me to keep writing and helped me edit entries. For all these things and more, I will forever be grateful. Thank you for having confidence.

To Berto, Katie, Julie, Becca and Mya. Thank you all for going the distance. Berto, Becca, and Mya all slept next to Rose at some point during the infamous 26 Tucson Sunsets it took to get us Remi. Everyone spent innumerable evenings outside Rose's stall with us. All of you have donated your time and effort and love to these two horses, and to me and Teri. None of you have horse backgrounds, yet all of you have stepped up to learn how to help us. Berto has come to visit and work with Remi, and spent eight hours helping us paint and put up plywood in the weanling stall. Katie brought a router from Centennial Hall and also spent the day working in the hot August sun. Becca and Mya consistently come to play with Remi, taking hundreds of pictures and watching him grow. They even have ridden Thumper! Katie has taken a number of lessons on Thumper and is becoming quite the accomplished rider, and Julie has begun learning how to ride as well. Berto spent that first anxiety-ridden evening working on Rose's foaling stall with Teri, running back and forth from the house to the barn with forgotten items and helping put up the plywood. He drove out to the barn at 2:00am to see Remi when he was brand new, he struggled alongside us to get Remi to stand and nurse on his own. He took some of the very first photos of the baby and new mama. For all these things and more, I will be forever grateful to you all. Every single one of you has been so vital to Remi's little life, and you've been a support network that I could have only dreamed of.

Thank you to Catherine Carlson. A good friend and a veterinarian who I had the pleasure of working with, Catherine spent many nights on the phone with me when I was worried about Rose's pregnancy, or vaccinations, or care. She was the first to respond after the foal was born, even at 1:30 in the morning. She came from Casa Grande to visit Rose and Remi, and offered to come down to stitch Rose's nostril up when she cut it. For answering all my questions, commiserating with my annoyances, giving me sound advice and convincing me that everything would be fine, I'm so thankful. I also want to thank Catherine's mother, Ruth Carlson, for supporting us and coming to visit Remi and Rose.

Thank you to my cousin Nathan, Venus and kids, Metal, our old family friend Blake Bedell, Katy, Virg, Bionic Barb and kids, Tiffany, Kian and James, Pat from LeEllen's work, Bat and Pat, Katejordan, Rebecca, Berto's girlfriend Tiffany and her mother, my great aunt and uncle, Becca's parents, friends and their daughter, Boom, Iva, Shannon, Eric, Ben, Aunt Claudie and everyone else who came to visit us and the horses.

Thank you to Grandma Nan, my grandparents, Dennis and Carrie, Dave, Christina, Jill, Erin, Jen, Jocelyn, some of my first horsey friends Merlena and Kayla and Melissa, Sam and Matt, Ryan, my brother Hayden and his girlfriend Jen, and all those others out there who have wished us well but been unable to come and see Remi.

A big thank you to Linda MacDowall, the woman who adopted Rose out to me. She has been so wonderful throughout this ordeal, helping us figure out who the sire is and get in contact with those people, as well as expressing her sincere sorrow that she inadvertently sold us a (secretly) pregnant horse.

Thanks to everyone at the barn who has helped in some way. Our good friend George donated a mist system to keep the horses cool, and offered us his ear for sorrows and complaints. Our friend Kate checked on Rose every day and happily let me yammer on about pregnancy and birth at every turn.

I'm sure there are so many more people who have been involved and need thanking, but my brain is burned out and I cannot remember any more. If anybody knows of someone else who deserves my thanks, please PLEASE leave a comment and remind me.

Throughout this experience, I have been overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of spirit that have been shown us. I simply can't thank everyone enough. I appreciate every single ounce of support, every single cent, every minute of labor, every precious photograph, every smile, every kind pat given to the horses, every comment and note of encouragement. I am full of gratitude.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back in the saddle again

I was so ready to start riding Rose again. And then she cut open her nose. I could have ridden her with the injury, but I didn't think it was the wisest idea because she was on twice daily penicillin injections. I waited until a few days after the injections were completed before saddling her up again.
I put both Rose and Remi into the large round pen and worked them both in circles to get some of the excess energy siphoned off. After a few minutes, I stopped them. Remi was still young and easily tired and Rose had worked out a few of her wild oats, which would prevent her from feeling completely wild and crazy when I got on her back after a four month break.
I left them in the round pen to wander while I trudged back into the tack room to gather my saddle and bridle. I put the saddle on a railing and hung the bridle off the saddle horn. Then I caught Rose and tied her to the fence. I lifted the saddle pad onto her back and settled it over her withers. I swung the saddle up over her back and adjusted it into place.
Up until now, Remi was wandering the fenceline, munching on the few weeds and pieces of grass that sprung up through the gravel. But when he saw that saddle being swung onto his mother, he was intrigued. He had never seen such a thing before in his short lifetime and it was high time to investigate. I pulled the cinch under her belly and tightened it up, then reached around her chest and grabbed the breast collar. I buckled it at her shoulder and connected the strap between her forelegs to the cinch. While I was working at Rose's left side, Remi was coyly examining this new strange piece of equipment. I peeked around Rose's chest and Remi had one stirrup clutched between his teeth, chewing on the rubber cushion. He pricked his ears forward and looked at me guiltily, as if he was saying,
"What? I wasn't doing anything..." and then he promptly dropped the stirrup.

He sniffed and nosed every inch of the saddle that he could reach, making sure to lick and chew on all the leather straps he could get into his little mouth.
I unbuckled Rose's halter and let the nose piece slip off her muzzle, then re-buckled it around her neck. I slid the bit between her teeth and pulled the bridle over her ears. Took the halter off and flipped the reins over her head. We were finally ready to go for a ride.


Horses can understand when their handler or rider is agitated, scared, excited, reckless, confident, or petrified. They are very attuned to body language, to how tightly you grip the reins or how rigid your body is in the saddle. However, they cannot judge these emotions by anything other than body language. Over the years I've taught my body how to relax even when my heart is racing and the blood is pounding in my ears. As I led Rose to the middle of the round pen, I did my best to appear relaxed and confident, which is what Rose needs to perform her best. Rose needs a person who knows what they're doing and who is brave enough for both the horse and rider. She gains confidence or fear from the person on her back.
I know Rose. She knows me. She and Teri and I had experienced a terrifying, wonderful, rewarding period of time together and that only improved our relationship. But I was still nervous about our first time back under saddle.
I took a deep breath and stroked Rose's forehead. I put my left toe in the stirrup and lifted myself into the saddle. I settled myself into the seat and put my other foot into the right stirrup. Rose stood and waited for me patiently.
"Alright Rosie, walk on." I nudged her forward. Her ears swiveled back to listen to me, then pricked forward as she energetically stepped out.
Remi found the idea of me sitting on Rose to be quite unusual. He trotted alongside us for a few minutes but quickly bored of trying to keep up. He fell back to a walk and contented himself with nosing through the sand. Every once in awhile he would come careening towards us at full tilt and then skim off behind us at the last second. Rose ignored him. It felt to me like she was refusing to allow him to take away the first bit of "personal time" she'd had since he was born.


She worked proudly underneath me, quickly performing each turn, stop, and gait change. We trotted and loped circles, changed direction, performed large figure 8s. I didn't ride for very long, Rose was out of shape and needed to work back up slowly. But for that precious half hour, all was right with the world. The fading sun shone on our faces, the breeze lifted the hairs off our sweaty necks and together we felt joyous.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When it rains, it pours.

The morning following the vet visit, Teri and I went out to check on Rose. She was standing at the front of the stall, head over the half door. She was whinnying insistently and kicking the door with her foreleg.
"I guess you feel better!" I laughed.
Her stomach had been through a slight trauma so her ration that morning was only half of what she normally gets to eat, but she didn't realize that. I soaked her grain in some warm water to make a mash and gave her some ProBiotic paste to help regulate her stomach and intestines.
Remi was busy napping in the straw when we arrived. Even when Rose was pounding away at the door and calling to us, he simply raised his head to watch what was going on. Only when we put the food in the stall did he finally get up.
I was so relieved that Rose was okay. The night before I was obviously worried, but things were so busy that I didn't have a lot of time to dwell on the possibilities. I tried to just be thankful she was fine, but I couldn't prevent my thoughts from straying to what might have been. I began mentally preparing a list of things that I could do preemptively to stop colic before it starts again.
I walked into the stall while the horses were munching hay and looked at the automatic waterer. It was a three gallon blue plastic bucket mounted to the wall with a water attachment hooked up. It had a float valve so that when the water level dipped below a certain point, it would fill itself up. The problem with this bucket was that it was so large that the lower half of the bucket was never cleaned and the water didn't circulate much. I leaned closer and caught a whiff of the water - it smelled like terrible stagnant fish water! Ugh!
"Teri!" I called over the door. "This water is disgusting! It smells like nasty old fish water. I certainly wouldn't drink it and I can't believe I'm expecting Rose to!"
"Really? That's gross. Do you think it would fix it if we cleaned it out?" she asked.
"Well probably but I'd have to do it every day. I'll clean it out right now and see what we're dealing with. Can you hand me that scoop?" I gestured to the grain scoop.
She handed it to me and I began scooping water out of the bucket - but of course it had an automatic fill so it kept pouring more water in. Luckily I scooped water out faster than it filled. I couldn't turn the water supply off either so I was outta luck. I got as much water out as I could, and then discovered a two inch deep layer of sludge on the bottom of the bucket. It was sand and old food and hay pieces and dirt and algae. It drizzled thickly through my fingers as I tried to lift all the crap out of the bottom but there was just no way I was going to get it all out. I attempted to mix it into the water and then bail more water out of the bucket but I just couldn't get all of it.
"This is ridiculous. I'm not doing this every day." I muttered to myself. I let myself out of the stall and walked over to the old foaling pen. Rose had a big water barrel in that stall, so I just took it and washed it out, then brought it into the box stall and filled it up with water. As soon as Rose saw me putting water in the big barrel, she dipped her head into it and began to drink deeply.
"Looks like Rose was feeling colicky last night because she was dehydrated - didn't want to drink the fish water." I was so upset that their water had been neglected and she simply stopped drinking it rather than make herself sick. And then she got sick anyway from not drinking. Teri walked up to the stall door and peered inside.
"Wow she's really drinking. Think this new barrel will fix the problem?" Teri asked me.
"Yeah, I'm willing to bet that she'll only drink out of this now. I can't disconnect the automatic waterer anyway so that's good I guess." I stood and held the hose into the barrel so it would continue filling.
Later that night she got her full ration of hay and grain, but I soaked the grain to make a mash again. Just to be safe.
Finally I felt confident that I had solved the water problem. I knew they were healthy and safe in that stall and they had good food and clean water. What a relief.
Everything had been going smoothly for us after the colic scare. Remi was behaving great, picking up his feet and leading like a champ, Rose felt wonderful and I was exercising them in the round pen in preparation to start riding her again.
I came home from work the following Friday afternoon (I got out of work at 1:00pm) and made myself some lunch. I plopped down on the couch after a long week to watch some television. Around 2:30pm my phone lit up and vibrated. I glanced at the display. "Nancy Florez is calling." my phone told me.
"I don't have the energy for you right now." I told the phone, and pushed the 'Ignore' button. A minute later my phone notified me that I had a voicemail.
"Yeah whatever. There will still be a voicemail when I have more tolerance for Nancy. And that is not now." I cackled to myself.
Another minute after that, a text message popped up. Again, from Nancy.
"Seriously? What?!" I flipped open the phone and hit 'OK' to read the text.
"UR mare cut her nose and is bleding evrywher. U need to come look at t."
Awesome. Looks like I should actually listen to my voicemail from Nancy. I dialed my mailbox and put in my code. Yes, I know I have one new message. Yes, I know who it's from. Just play the damned message.
"Hi Ashleigh, this is Nancy from Foothills. Your mare cut her nostril open and the guys say she's bleeding pretty bad so you should probably call a vet out to see her. Give me a call when you get this. Thanks, bye."
This is not happening. I knew I needed to go evaluate Rose, so I dragged myself off the couch and pulled socks and boots on. I drove over to the barn, dreading what was waiting for me in that third stall down.
By the time I got out there, it was 3 o'clock and the horses had just been fed. I could see that Rose was eating, that was a good sign. She had her whole face stuffed into her hay and I couldn't see her muzzle.
I took her halter from its hook outside the stall and let myself in. I walked over to Rose and backed her up so I could put the halter on her head and check the wound. She grabbed one last bite of hay before I could move her away from the feeder. Her nostril had hay sticking to it and I couldn't really see the cut very well. I gently plucked the hay out of her nostril and the wound.
On her right nostril, she had a two inch gash that ripped the flesh upward from the outside flap of skin. She snorted and the wound flapped around and sprayed me with hay, snot and a little bit of blood. The cut wasn't actively bleeding and it obviously didn't bother Rose enough to stop her from eating, but it was certainly a concern. I carefully looked at her nostril and felt the edges of the cut. They were slightly swollen and beginning to harden. It was no longer bleeding and was starting to try and heal itself.
This was not a new injury. Well, in the grand scheme of things it was new but in the course of a day it was old. Teri had fed grain that morning around 6 am and Rose was fine. Sometime between 6 am and 2 pm she had ripped her nostril on something in the stall, but it was not fresh. My guess was that she'd done it probably right after Teri had seen her, because this wound was definitely hours old already. The cut itself was simply a cosmetic issue, it wasn't as if she had torn an ear off or ripped her leg open. It would heal itself and be fine if we left it completely alone. Yet I still wanted to try and fix it if at all possible. First thing I did was call my vet friend Catherine for advice. Luckily, she answered the phone even though she was working.
"Hey, I got a call this afternoon from the barn manager saying that Rose ripped open her nose, so I'm out here right now and she's got a nice gash up her nostril. Nancy wants me to call a vet but I just shelled out $400 last week and I can't afford to pay someone to come out on another emergency." I explained quickly.
"Well I can come down and sew her up but I can't leave here until 6. It'll take me two hours to get to you after that." she offered generously.
"Wow that's so great of you. Thank you so much! What should I do in the meantime?" I asked, wanting to make sure I acted quickly on the things I could accomplish.
"You need to clean and scrub it really well, get all the dirt and hay out of it. You can dress it with a salve too, that will keep it cleaner longer and it'll keep the flies away from it. Then she needs to be started on antibiotics to prevent any infection. You can buy injectable penicillin from the feed store, and I'd start her on those injections as soon as possible. You can give her a little bute for the inflammation too. I'll call you when I'm on my way tonight." Catherine ticked off all the things for me to do.
"Okay I'll go get supplies right now. Thanks a bunch, see you tonight." I replied.
"You're welcome, goodbye!" she hung up the phone.
I let Rose go and hung her halter back up. I immediately got back into the truck and headed to the feed store down the road. At the store, I picked up some betadine scrub, rolled cotton, a new tub of nitrofurazone ointment to dress the wound, and a bunch of 35 cc syringes and 18 gauge needles. I took my purchases up to the counter and asked the sales woman if they sold injectable penicillin.
"Yes, we have two sizes. 100 cc bottle or a 250 cc bottle?"
"I'll take the 100 cc bottle, thanks."
She rang up everything and it came to about $85.00. Not really cheap, but certainly inexpensive compared to another $400 vet bill. I hurried back to the barn and stuck the penicillin into the tack room refrigerator, since it had to be kept cool. The betadine has to be diluted for use so I put some water in a shallow pan and added a squirt of betadine. Then I tore a few pieces of thick cotton from the roll and put them in the betadine solution to soak. I brought the betadine pan and Rose's halter back into the stall. I tied her to the bars so she wouldn't escape, although I was anxious about tying her up in case she flipped out when I cleaned out the wound. I didn't have much choice since I was the only one there.
I held the cheek piece of her halter firmly with one hand and with the other, started gently cleansing the outer edges of her cut. This didn't bother her. I cleaned a little more firmly and thoroughly. She tossed her head at first but settled right down for me. I got a new piece of cotton and continued cleaning, holding the wound open and digging out all the hay wedged into the flesh. At my vigorous cleaning, the edges started to bleed just a bit. If a wound doesn't bleed, I know I haven't cleaned it well enough. I stood back and looked at my beautiful mare, with a big ol' ripped nose. When she moved her head too quick, the nostril would flop around sickeningly.
I sighed and set the betadine pan down. I took a scoop of the bright yellow nitrofurazone salve in my fingertips and applied it all over the cut and the skin around the cut. Then I sprayed fly spray into my palms and rubbed it into her muzzle to prevent flies from getting anywhere near the injury.



I left her haltered and tied in the stall and took the salve and betadine pan out. I jogged back to the tack room and took my penicillin out. I started shaking it to get everything mixed together, since it separates in the cold temperatures that are required for its storage. Once it was fully agitated and mixed together, I stuck the tip of a 35 cc syringe directly into the rubber stopper on the bottle and drew out 30 cc of penicillin. I topped the syringe with its needle and took the syringe into the stall.
I told Rose how brave she was and how tough she was being. I rubbed her forehead and stroked her neck while talking to her quietly. Slowly I moved the syringe up to her neck and chose my injection location - the magical triangle where all intramuscular injections go. I pulled her skin up and inserted the needle into the muscle. Rose flinched and took a single step away from me but I just moved with her and she settled down. I drew back on the plunger to ensure I hadn't hit a vein, and since I got no blood in my syringe I pushed the plunger down to inject the first 15 ccs of penicillin. After 15 ccs I pulled the needle out a little and then without taking the needle out of her muscle, I redirected its tip into another section so I didn't overload one place with too much liquid. I pushed the remaining 15 ccs into her neck, and then withdrew the needle. I applied pressure over the injection site with my fingertips to keep the penicillin from leaking back out. After a few moments I took my fingers away. She had a large lump on her neck where the penicillin was injected. It takes some time for the body to absorb the antibiotic, the lump would decrease in a day or so.
Injectable penicillin has to be given twice a day for 5-7 days. Each dose is 30 ccs. Morning and evening injections have to alternate sides of the neck, otherwise it's simply too painful for the horse to endure.
I put Rose's grain in her bucket and added a gram of bute powder to the top, then doused the grain with water. I mixed everything up so she would be forced to eat the powder in the grain. Bute powder is an anti-inflammatory and would make her a little more comfortable, but it's a very bitter medication and most horses won't eat it if it's not mixed in well.
By this time it was 4 o'clock. Catherine was still four hours from being at the barn. In my head, I thought about how old the wound seemed. I used to work with Catherine, and we did a number of lacerations in our time together. I knew that a wound more than 6-8 hours old could not be sutured because the wound edges would start to heal themselves and the sutures would be unsuccessful.
Common sense told me that the wound was already too old for Catherine to sew it up. And in four hours who knows what it'll look like?
I sent Catherine a text message at work. "Hey, so I'm pretty sure Rose's wound is too old to suture. Don't worry about coming down tonight. Thanks anyway!"
A few minutes later I got a text back. "Ok well if its too old then youre right, sewing it up wont work. After it heals I can always come down and cut the edges back and then sew it back up right. Keep me posted!"
I calculated the dosages in my head and realized that I was pretty dumb to only pick up a 100 cc bottle of the penicillin. I could make it two more doses and then I'd need a new bottle. I did not feel like going back to the feed store again so I mentally made a note to go again the next day.
I didn't want to, but I knew that if I didn't call Nancy and tell her what was going on she would call me again. I regrettably dialed Nancy's number.
The phone rang and rang and rang. And then her voicemail picked up. Triumph! I listened to her recorded message and then left my own after the beep.
"Hey Nancy it's Ashleigh. I got your voicemail and I'm out here with Rose right now. I got the wound all cleaned up and she's been started on antibiotics, and I also spoke with a vet. The wound is too old to be sutured, so we're just going to keep it clean and medicated and let it heal on its own. Thanks for calling." I clapped my phone shut, pretty happy that I didn't actually have to speak with her.
I cleaned up all my doctoring supplies and left them in the spare stall, since I would be needing them twice a day for the next week. I put the penicillin back into the fridge and headed home.
Teri got home around 5:30 that evening. As she walked in the door, I was lounging on the couch.
"So, guess what your horse did today?" I smirked.
"My horse, huh? Which horse is that?" she looked suspicious.
"Rose." I answered.
"Oh, Rose is my horse now. Even though you're the one who picked her and bought her without telling me." she retorted.
"Yup. She's my horse when she's good and wonderful, and your horse when she's naughty or troublesome." I smiled back winningly.
"Great. What did she do now?" Teri already looked defeated at the mere idea of something else going wrong.
"Apparently right after you left, she caught her nose on something in the stall and ripped it open. She's got about a two inch gash in her right nostril. Nancy called me this afternoon after work." I recounted.
"That's fantastic. Is she okay? Did you already take care of her?" she queried.
"Yeah, she's alright. She actually didn't seem very bothered by the whole thing. I called Catherine and she told me what to do, then I went to the feed store and bought supplies. I got her all doctored up and started on antibiotic injections." I answered.
Teri grimaced.
"I guess our accidental pregnancy went too smoothly and then Remi was born perfectly healthy and now we're getting our payback?"
"Yeah..." I paused. "I suppose so. Let's just hope that these two weeks have been our punishment."
"They say that these kind of things come in threes..." Teri only looked halfway joking.
So, every day for the next week we had to clean the wound and apply the salve to help it heal, and I was in charge of giving the penicillin injections. Rose was definitely unhappy about being stuck with a giant needle twice a day but she was a real trooper.
The ripped edges of the nostril began to shrink and heal over slowly.

I kind of thought that she would always have those weird flaps of skin that jiggled around when she snorted, but the flaps shrank and healed themselves beautifully. The nostril is by no means perfect, but you can only barely tell she ever had such a gash there. Catherine didn't have to come down and perform plastic surgery and Rose did great with the whole thing.
I was so proud.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Remi reached five weeks of age in the end of August. Each day we would head out to the barn to handle and groom the horses, then feed them. Some days they got more attention than others, as Remi's unexpected arrival had caused us to put off quite a few other responsibilities and we were trying to catch up.
This particular day was a Friday. It was the day Berto was graduating from school, and his family was coming to Tucson to sit in on the ceremony. Teri and I were meeting at the graduation, since she was coming from work and I would be coming from the barn.
I walked up to Rose and Remi's stall and saw that they already had their evening hay, but it wasn't all eaten yet. Remi was just starting to eat grain and some hay, but his teeth were still very small, so that couldn't have been an easy task. Rose was standing in the run with her head down. I peered over the half door and called to her,
"Rose! Do you want some dinner, mama?"
Her ears pricked but she didn't move. Typically she's got her head over the door and she's whinnying at me as soon as I enter the barn. I'm a little concerned at how listless she seems. Remi came running into the stall to greet me. I reached my hand out and rubbed his forehead and neck. I decided to go ahead and put the grain in the bucket and see if that got her attention. Rose heard me opening the storage stall and scooping grain out, then opening the window into their stall so I could dump the grain into their bucket without having to actually enter. She ambled in and put her nose in the bucket, took a few mouthfuls of grain and chewed slowly.
I stood in the aisle, arms draped over the door. Remi was his regular pesky self, darting under Rose's neck, pushing her nose out of the bucket so he could get a mouthful, and biting at her. Rose looked uncomfortable and uneasy. She circled the stall and pawed at the ground, and snorted. She stood in front of the hay feeder and pawed at the rubber floor mat repeatedly. Every once in awhile she took another mouthful of grain but it was as if she kept hoping it would taste better or ... something, I'm not sure.
Rose walked back out into the run and just walked the perimeter. Slow, large circles, with occasional pauses to paw the sand. She stopped by one of the walls and buckled her legs underneath and lay down. I followed her into the run and stood still in the doorway, just watching her. I flattened myself against one side so Remi would have room to get by me. Rose sighed and rolled onto her side. Remi thought this was great fun to have his dam on the ground, surely she was doing this to better play with him! He trotted right up to her and sniffed at her belly. He went around behind her and kept poking at her with his nose, biting at her mane and ears and cheeks. She rolled further onto her back and thrust her legs into the air, grinding her back and head into the sand. Usually she rolls because it feels good to scratch her back in the dirt, and it's fun. Today she wasn't being herself and everything I was witnessing told me that Rose was in pain.
Abruptly, she stood up and shook the sand off herself. She resumed her large circles of the outside pen, Remi dancing alongside as if this was some new and wonderful game.
I was definitely concerned. I pulled out my phone and called Teri.
"Yes, dear?" she answered.
"Hi, so I'm out here at the barn and something's wrong with Rose. I'm not sure what to do." I said, sounding concerned.
"What's wrong?" Now Teri was concerned too.
"She's pacing the stall, pawing the ground, and rolling. I think she's colicking. She hasn't eaten all her hay and she's not interested in her grain. I want to give her time to work through it if it's not a big deal but I can't tell if she's just uncomfortable or if it's really serious. I don't want to call the vet but I also don't want to have to nurse an orphan foal..." I trailed off, not wanting to say 'in case she dies'.
"You know her better than anyone, it's totally your call. I don't want to call the vet either but if we have to, we have to." she replied.
"Okay well I'm going to stay here a while longer and watch her, I don't feel comfortable leaving her. I'll text Berto and explain what's going on, could you tell him I'm so sorry I missed his graduation?" I asked.
"Sure. Keep me in the loop, okay?" her voice was worried.
"Yeah, I will. Love you."
"I love you too. Bye." she hung up the phone.
Colic can be a very serious issue in horses. It is a generalized term for intestinal pain, and can be as minor as gas bubbles trapped in the intestines that cause the intestinal walls to stretch slightly and make the animal uncomfortable. But in the most serious cases, colic can be caused by sections of the intestine that actually roll and twist inside the body like a Tootsie Roll, and prevent natural digestive processing. A twisted gut requires a $10,000 surgery and there is no vet in Tucson who performs that procedure - the closest facility is in Gilbert. Some colics start as mild and increase in severity, which is why treating a colic early on is imperative. Some horses will simply work through the colics on their own in time and be completely fine, but some horses colic in the night and are dead by the time they're fed in the morning. Some horses with minor pain act as if they are dying, they fling themselves violently onto the ground and seem to have a very serious problem, while other horses who are very stoic won't show signs of even an extremely bad colic until they pass away unexpectedly. It appears that horses, just like people, have varying pain thresholds and aptitudes for the dramatics. The key is finding out which kind of horse you have, or in this situation, which kind of horse I have.
Rose was on the ground again, being tormented by her colt. She was laying on her side, quietly groaning while he jumped and pounced on her neck and her side. I walked over to him and shooed him off of her, but I also must have scared Rose because she jumped to her feet and looked a little alarmed. I rubbed her face and stood back into the doorway again. She kept laying down and breathing heavily and slowly rolling back and forth. Each time she paused, Remi would prance right up to her and try to stand on top of her. Once he threaded his little hooves inside the crook of her legs and leaned all his weight over her neck, then began biting her. She shook her head and stood up, which pulled his legs out from underneath him and caused him to fall down comically. I chuckled as he scrambled back up to his feet. He did look a little upset by this, but it didn't stop him for long.
Rose walked another few strides, and lay down again. Remi carefully walked up close to her belly and decided he was hungry. He pushed his muzzle up between her hind legs and tried vainly to nurse, but Rose wasn't having it. She straightened her hind legs and again, swept his feet out from under him. His face hit the ground first, then his body weight came up in the air behind him and he somersaulted over Rose's hind legs. Remi ended up splayed on the ground just behind Rose's hindquarters. He looked a little dazed from all the acrobatics. At first I was worried he'd hurt himself but then he jumped up to his feet and decided that it was a better idea to attack Rose from the side of her body that her legs were not on. Apparently, he was fine.
It was just after 5 o'clock, which meant that all the vet offices were now closed and I would have to call as an emergency. I had been watching Rose for about twenty minutes and she still was uncomfortable and rolling around. I didn't want her to get any worse, so I called the clinic I used to work for. I knew one of their large animal vets actually boarded her horse at the same property that we were on, and hoped that vet was available. I left a message on her emergency cell and waited.
I received a phone call only a few minutes later, from the vet who kept her horse at the same stables as us. She was finishing up at the clinic and would head right over, probably only half an hour before she'd be there.
I decided to walk the horses for a few minutes while waiting for the vet. I'm sure Rose was tired of being assaulted by Remi and he obviously needed to get out. I haltered them both and led them from the stall. We walked all around the property, Rose stopping to paw at the ground a few times. After twenty minutes of walking, I had enough. I put them back into their stall but left the halters on and simply unclipped the lead ropes. It would be faster to catch them when the vet arrived.
Fifteen minutes later, the silver vet truck pulled up outside the barn. The vet got out and introduced herself as Dr. H (I won't mention her name because I would hate for her to come across this blog if she ever "googles" herself - you'll see why.) and asked about Rose. I explained the situation.
Dr. H began assessing Rose's condition, starting with heart and respiration rates, and a temperature. So far, all normal, which is a good thing. Horses in bad colics have increased heart and respiration rates as well as a fever sometimes. She used her stethoscope to listen to Rose's belly, trying to see if she still had movement in the four gut quadrants. Dr. H told me that there was still some movement but that it was pretty quiet. She asked me if Rose had been drinking and pooping, which I couldn't give her the answer to because they had a five gallon automatic waterer and the stall had just been cleaned so I didn't know if she'd been pooping or not.
The next step was that Dr. H wanted to perform a routine rectal palpation. This is the only exam that can identify a twisted intestine. We needed more room than the stall could afford and it was starting to rain, so we took both mare and foal into the barn aisle. I stood Rose in the middle and just held onto Remi's lead rope. Dr. H asked if we could tie the baby up somewhere and I must have had an incredulous look on my face as I told her that he was only five weeks old, because she hastily said that he would be just fine there in the aisle. She gloved up and added lube to her whole arm and said,
"Well since she's a broodmare she's probably used to these! I don't think I need to sedate her."
Famous last words.
"Actually," I answered, "she's not a broodmare, this pregnancy was an accident and she's never had any other foals."
"Oh, well we'll just try it and see." Dr. H called back to me from her truck.
As soon as she attempted to push her way in, Rose's head came up and she got agitated. Rose was dancing back and forth, trying to get away from the vet. I was doing my best to hold her still, but she wasn't sedated and she wasn't a broodmare! As far as I knew, she'd never had a rectal palp before in her life. I wouldn't be thrilled either.
Suddenly, Rose pitched her weight onto her forelegs and kicked out with both hind hooves, high and hard. Luckily for Dr. H, she was standing to one side of Rose with just her arm behind the horse. Also luckily, she was not successful in pushing her hand and arm into Rose's rectum because if she'd gotten very far her arm would have been broken as Rose kicked out.
"I'm so sorry! Are you okay?" I was both surprised and unsurprised at what Rose had done, since I never saw her kick out at anything or anyone ever before, but the vet didn't think she needed to sedate an uncomfortable 7 year old Thoroughbred mare that was a new mommy - what did she expect?
"Yeah, I'm okay." she sighed.
Remi was surprised by this as well, but he took it in stride. He was behaving pretty well, considering that I was asking a lot. I was slightly taxed in my duties, as I was trying to hold Rose still and keep track of Remi simultaneously. He was biting Rose's lead rope and sniffing around at anything within reach. He knocked down a manure fork and scared everybody, then kept tying me up by walking around and around. He got more bored as the evening wore on but he never threw a tantrum and for that I was very proud of him.
Dr. H decided that she was going to sedate Rose after all. (Really?) I warned her that since Rose had been on the track, she had a lot of experience with IV injections and didn't really like them. She was known to shake her head up and down somewhat forcefully when the needle was inserted and I thought this was something Dr. H should know.
Dr. H brought the syringes over (one of sedative and one of a painkiller) and occluded the blood flow in Rose's jugular vein. As soon as the vet applied pressure to the vein, Rose began to shake her head around. The vet was fumbling with the syringe cap and continuing to agitate Rose by keeping pressure on her jugular. As it looked like the vet was finally prepared to stick the needle in, I grabbed Rose's top lip in my fist. It is a restraint called a "twitch" and most people do it with a tool, but I prefer just to use my hand. Firmly taking hold on their upper lip just below the nostrils releases some calming endorphins into the bloodstream and also gives me better control of the head. Rose stood still but flinched and jerked a little bit as the vet took her sweet time pushing the sedatives and painkiller into Rose's vein.
After only about a minute, Rose's head drooped and her eyelids fluttered lazily at half-mast. Her ears stuck out to the sides of her head, unconcerned. After five minutes, Dr. H came back out from her truck and looked very happy at Rose's stoned state.
She put another glove on and added more lube and was successful in performing the rectal palpation this time around. The exam had good results, Rose had no gut twist and everything seemed fine.
Next was intubation. Basically, she stuck a big rubber tube up Rose's nostril, down her esophagus and into her stomach. Rose didn't love this idea either but she was still sedated, so she allowed it to happen. The first purpose of this tube is that it will let out anything in the stomach that is building up and causing pressure internally. If the horse is twisted somewhere really close to the stomach, even a rectal palp can't identify it. Horses are big one-way valves, they cannot vomit or belch so once something goes down it does not come back out. This is a problem when they get their guts twisted, because all the food and water they consume backs up in their stomach and even up into the esophagus since there isn't anywhere else for it to go. In order to get the material out of the stomach, the vet has to get a vacuum suction going so they usually suck on their end of the tube a little to get things started. Dr. H put her lips around the tube and sucked in, hard. A ton of greenish tinged water came rushing into her mouth from the tube and she started coughing and hacking and gagging. She spit a bunch of times and wiped her face on her shirtsleeve. It was all I could do to contain myself, I swear I must have had tears of laughter in the corners of my eyes. I'm sure I snorted but it must have gotten lost within all the coughing and retching. There was some water and chewed up hay material in Rose's stomach, but not a concerning amount. Next, Dr. H mixed some electrolytes into a big pail of water. She used a pump to push the electrolyte water through the tube and into Rose's stomach. A big concern with colics is dehydration, so she pumped five gallons of electrolyte water in. Then she pumped in some mineral oil to slick up Rose's insides and make it easier to pass stool. She pulled the tube out and took the bucket to her truck.
I stood with Rose, stroking her forehead and ears and talking to her quietly while Remi took this opportunity to nurse a little. Dr. H came back into the aisle to listen to her belly again and take her heartrate again.
"Everything looks good, I think she was just dehydrated and had a gaseous bubble, so she felt uncomfortable. She's going to be just fine." Dr. H smiled at me.
"Thank you for coming out so quickly to see us." I replied. I thought to myself that I was lucky Rose didn't have anything more serious going on because this vet didn't really seem very competent.
"Walk them up and down the barn aisle for a few minutes and then they can go back into the stall. I'm going to get your instructions and your bill ready, then I'll be back to check her one last time." she told me.
I heaved on Rose's lead rope to get her turned around - she was very sluggish and didn't really feel like walking. I kept pulling on her and she stumbled forward drunkenly. It took her a few steps but she got a little more alert and I stopped worrying about her falling over. We walked the length of the barn a few times and then I led them back into their stall. Since I used to work in the field, I knew to take away the hay and the grain. Rose was sedated so it was unsafe for her to try and eat anything for a few hours.
Dr. H came out of the truck and gave me a paper explaining what I should do over the next few days - all information I already knew, but that was okay. Then she handed me the bill.
Ouch!
I called after five, so it was an emergency and had an extra charge of $100. Then there was the farm call fee of $70, an exam fee, a rectal palp fee, painkiller, sedative, intubation, water, electrolyte, mineral oil... ugh. Over $400 total. Not something I could really afford spending but not something I had a choice on either. I cringed as I wrote out the check and signed the receipt.
Dr. H listened to Rose's gut sounds and heartrate/resp rate one last time, patted her on the hindquarters and left the stall. I watched her make her way through the rain over to her white Arabian's stall in a different shedrow. She dumped some grain in the mare's feeder and then got back in her truck and lit out. It was raining fairly heavily by this time and I was exhausted.
I leaned over Rose and Remi's stall door and watched them. Rose was pretty alert now and she was feeling better, so she was hungry. She nosed around the stall, catching any wisp of hay she could find in her lips. Remi followed her around, trying to nurse. Rose walked up to me and nudged me with her nose.
"I'm sorry sweetheart, I can't give you any food until tomorrow morning." I told her wistfully.
Rose was disgruntled with me. She walked to the back corner of the stall and contented herself with licking the salt block.
I drove home to tell Teri about the vet visit and the bill.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around...

The horses gradually adjusted to life in a bigger stall with a neighbor. Remi took advantage of the larger run daily, leaping and cavorting around in the sand. The plywood boards covered most of the fencing, and he could just touch his nose to the top of the wood. He wasn't able to get any higher than that in the run, and he could get his nose up to the top of the half-door into the barn breezeway. This was just high enough so that Suzie could stick her head out of her own stall and over to sniff Remi, although she usually was only able to accomplish this feat for a mere second or two before Rose would rush Remi away from the door and pin her ears in Suzie's direction. I'm sure Suzie was shaking in her figurative boots.
About a week after we changed stalls, it was time to start working on a new skill for Remi. The key with babies is to always keep them busy and learning, but never to overload them with too much at once. The hope is to keep them from being bored OR frustrated, although it's rarely possible.
My mental checklist was coming along nicely. Haltered, check. Lead rope, check. New stall, check. Next was picking up his feet for cleaning and eventually, trimming.
To start working with him on his feet, I began simply extending my brushing from his body onto his legs. Babies are so new to this world that their skin is very sensitive and everything is tickly. Remi had been known to strike out or kick when we would touch his legs, so the first thing was to desensitize him. I brushed firmly to eliminate that ticklish feeling and wasn't dissuaded if he flinched or kicked. To his credit, he didn't try to kick at me, just would lift his leg and stomp in annoyance. When he tolerated the brushing of his legs, I moved to running my hand down his legs. Again, firmness was key. Too light of a touch and he would stamp his feet. Each time he flinched I would talk soothingly to him and continue to touch his legs. If ever he learned that kicking or stomping would get people to leave him alone, we would have big trouble on our hands.



After only a few days of desensitizing, Remi didn't much care about what touched his legs. I started lightly swinging the lead rope at him and it didn't fluster him. I let the rope swing and wrap around his neck, over his back, even under his belly and got no negative response. I began swinging the rope so it would touch and wrap around his legs and feet, and it didn't bother him. Excellent.
The next step was actually picking up his feet.
For this, Teri and I took him out of the smaller box stall and into the sandy run area, for safety purposes. We haltered Remi and left Rose alone, as she followed him everywhere without a halter. We let Remi stand close to Rose and then with Teri holding his head, I petted and stroked his neck and his shoulder, then down his leg. I paused at his bottom fetlock joint, just above the hoof, and applied light pressure. He was still so small that even if he didn't want to lift it, I could easily pick the leg up. At first, he didn't seem to mind much that I had his leg. But then he decided he wanted to try and go somewhere else. This proved difficult to do, since I had one of his legs tucked up underneath his body. He was able to shuffle his hind legs a little bit but when it came time to move that front one he realized he couldn't do it easily. He began to transfer his weight backwards onto his hind legs and then lift his front leg off the ground and lunge forward. Teri was still at his head, trying to hold him still but that was by no means an easy task.
"If he wants to lunge around a bit, go ahead and let him. Don't let him get away and don't let him put all his weight on you. If he falls down, then he falls down. Hopefully it will be a valuable lesson." I advised.
"Okay..." Teri didn't sound convinced about my plan of action. Perhaps that was because she was the one in the line of fire. I was relatively safe, to one side and holding his hoof up still.
The idea here is that as soon as Remi quiets down enough to stop trying to escape, I put his foot down. The more he rears and plunges and hops around, the longer I hold up his foot. If he falls to his knees because of it, he learns that moving around when his foot is in the air equals falling down.
Remi flopped around for a few minutes but quickly exhausted himself. As soon as he stood still, I set his foot down and we both praised him and hugged him and told him what a good boy he was.



The whole time he was catapulting himself around the stall, Rose was dutifully following us around, ears pricked and watching him carefully. When he was finally finished, she nickered at him encouragingly and nosed his face. I think Rose understood that this was something he simply had to learn.
I walked around to Remi's other side and then picked the same battle with the other foreleg. This one was easier, he didn't jump around as much. I decided that starting with forelegs first was a good way to go, since I didn't feel like dealing with those kicky back legs just yet.
We haltered Rose and took them out to run around for awhile, even though Remi should have been tired out enough already. He always seems able to find just enough energy to run around in the arena.
We continued to pick up his front legs for the next few days, making sure to brush and run our hands down each leg to maintain the desensitization, then pick up each foreleg in turn. Teri got in on the action on the second day and discovered that it's a little disconcerting to hold up the leg of a baby who is very close to falling face first into the sand - on purpose, no less. She got the hang of it quickly and by the third day he was standing still long enough to introduce a hoof pick. The pick didn't bother him any, which was nice. The continuing fight was simply his patience, which babies don't have much of anyway.



Four days after I picked up his forelegs for the first time, I decided everyone was ready to do the back legs. I asked Teri to hold his head again, and I picked out both his front feet. Then, facing his hind end, I ran my hand along his back and his hindquarters, then down his left hind leg. At the fetlock joint, I applied pressure and lifted his leg up towards his belly. He swung his leg around a little but didn't fight me very much. I set the foot back down and praised him. Then I repeated the same exercise on the same leg again and then a third time. The action of picking up his leg was no longer strange to him. I moved to his other side and repeated the same procedure.
Picking up and holding a horse's feet is a very counterintuitive process for the horse and can be dangerous for the person. Laying a sound foundation for Remi was very important to us so he would be well behaved and not fearful. Horses are prey animals, and their main line of defense is being able to escape predators. Allowing someone or something to hold one of their legs off the ground and prevent them from running away is something that takes trust. By getting an early start with Remi we were ensuring he would not fear having his feet dealt with, but rather that he would feel comfortable with the process. Horses who never learned to trust in human beings have been known to strike or kick us, causing very serious injuries or even death. Picking out feet is an every day routine for many horse people but if the animals we handle aren't trained properly they can be very dangerous indeed.
Over the next few days we handled Remi frequently, always picking up his feet and working with him. He still fidgeted and jumped around but his tantrums were getting more manageable and shorter in length. This is a common struggle with foals, I was not discouraged in the least.
Once he was accustomed to his hind legs being handled, I began to ask more of him. I would pick up a leg and bring it up towards his belly, but then I would slowly stretch it out behind him and rest his leg against my thigh so I could pick out his hoof. I was so proud of him because this didn't bother him in the least bit. He was acting like an old pro. The same thing happened on the other hind leg. I was more concerned about his hind legs, yet his front legs were the continuing source of trouble. Amazing. And even the trouble he was giving us was laughable in the grand scheme of things, a little hopping around here and there but that was it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

All Work and No Play

In the beginning, we didn't know what to expect in our inevitable upcoming experience. Teri and I knew that although we didn't choose for Rose to be pregnant and we never intended to raise a foal from birth, it no longer mattered because the circumstances had been taken out of our hands. When other boarders or friends or family members asked me how I was dealing with the situation, I just gave a wry smile and told them,
"I love Rose and there isn't anything we can do about what's happening so we are just rolling with the punches as they come along. I think we are meant to have both Rose and her foal in our lives so we just have to wait and see what happens."
Usually the reaction is one of pride and admiration, especially from other horse people who tell us that we're behaving so maturely and that such a surprise couldn't be handled by better people, blah blah blah. It's all very nice and good, but these people don't have to be responsible for this colt's upbringing, Rose's re-training, or paying the bills.
Three weeks into Remi's life, we still weren't sure what to expect but I kept telling myself that the foal was finally born and there would be fewer uncertainties now. Riiiight.
Barn manager Nancy approached us just before Remi was born and suggested putting mare and foal into one of the barn stalls, as they would have more room there. The barn stalls all consist of an indoor portion with three full walls and one half wall, that half wall acting as a doorway to the "run" portion of the stall. Pipe fencing extends the size of the stall, but no shade over top of the enclosure. Most box stalls are 12 feet square and the attached run is 12' by 16'. The particular stall Nancy was referring to actually was two stalls whose runs had been connected by taking out the center divider between the outdoor runs. One box stall was closed off and the other box stall acted as a feeding area and a shelter, then the run was twice the size of a normal run. This was a much better alternative to the 12' x 14' foaling stall Rose was in currently. Nancy said that she could let us keep the horses in that stall for the same monthly fee we were paying already, since she knew money was an issue for us. The caveat was that we would have to fix up the stall they would go into. I eagerly accepted her gracious offer, but told her we would not be moving Rose until after the foal was at least three weeks old. She tried to pressure us into moving Rose immediately but we refused. The new stall needed a lot of work done and I did not want to stress Rose out by moving her yet again, especially with the birth so imminent. The benefit of the smaller foaling stall was that it was already boarded up properly and was entirely in the shade. It is so important to help regulate a newborn foal's temperature in its first few weeks of life, as they cannot do so themselves. Remi was born in the middle of July and spent his first couple of months in extremely high temperatures. Their foaling stall was equipped with a mist system and three box fans to circulate the air, not to mention giant tubs of fresh water and daily baths to help cool both horses.
We tentatively began plans to fix up the stall in the barn, Teri performing measurements and pricing out new plywood. We could only use a select few pieces of plywood from the foaling stall because the new stall needed much taller sections. The bottom rail was removed on all sides of the new stall, so the plywood had to be the regular four feet tall, and the foaling stall plywood was only two feet tall. Another thing to consider was that the horses would be in this stall for the next five to six months so we needed to try and make the wood last as long as possible. This meant protecting it from the elements and securing it properly to the fencing.
Before we knew it, the time to move the horses was upon us. We chose a weekend and decided that we needed to get all the work done on the new stall so we could move the horses by that specific weekend. First we headed to Lowe's to buy all new plywood sheets. We also needed exterior waterproof paint to keep the plywood dry, as well as extra long zip ties, a couple of new drill bits and a reciprocating saw blade. Our good friends Katie and Berto agreed to help with this endeavor, thankfully, because we could not have done it without them. It was the middle of August and the weather was miserably hot and sticky, since we were in monsoon season and the humidity was high. Early in the morning before even going to the barn, Teri and I painted the front and back of about three quarters of the plywood sheets before realizing that the paint we'd bought was really thick and wasn't covering as well as we hoped. We painted all the remaining sheets white on one side, then on the reverse sides of those we painted a dark brown color. It was an exterior paint we had leftover from last Christmas. When those were dry, we loaded them in the bed of the truck and headed to the barn.
Once we arrived, we developed a system of stations that each board needed to pass through, like an assembly line. First, Katie's station was at the bed of the pickup. She brought a router from Centennial Hall to round the edges of all the plywood. She and Teri routered edges, then brought the sheets back to me for touchups in the paint. Then the sheets went to Berto for drilling holes for the zip ties, then he carried them to the stall. I removed a few sheets of plywood from the foaling stall and painted them while everyone was working. I finished the majority of the painting before the rest of the stations were completed, so I went to work on the box stall.
I crouched down and duck-walked all over the outside run and inside the stall, looking for nails or metal pieces or glass or anything harmful. I even chucked large rocks out of the run. I took a shovel and a garden aerator tool into the box stall to even the surface out. It had a large hump in the middle and then a big dip, so the hardpacked dirt had to be loosened and leveled. I wiped out the feeder, cleaned out the waterer, and shoveled old dirt and manure out of the stall. The blocked off second box stall became a highly convenient storage area, where we put the extra plywood, grain bin, extra straw bales, grooming supplies, and a bunch of other crap we didn't want to deal with.
I spread a whole bale of straw in the newly leveled and cleaned box stall and made sure there was fresh water.
By this time, Berto had already touched up the routed edges of the plywood sheets I missed and drilled them. He and Katie began digging a small trench around the stall where the plywood sheets would be sunk into the ground, only a few inches deep. Teri's parents called then, in the middle of the day. I heard Teri answer the phone from inside the barn.
"Yeah, we're at the barn today working on the new stall. Me and Ash and Katie and Berto. Uh huh. Actually, we're dying out here so we'd love some."
She came into the run and asked, "What do you guys want from Eegees? My parents are bringing lunch."
We all looked up and simultaneously chanted, "EEGEES!"
Teri laughed and spoke into the phone again. "Yeah, they all want Eegees. I want strawberry, and I bet Ashleigh does too..."
She looked questioningly at Katie and Berto.
Berto said, "I'll have a lemon one, thanks."
"I'll just have strawberry too." Katie added.
"Yeah, so three strawberries and a lemon. No, nobody wants any food, it's too freaking hot. Okay thanks, see you in a bit." She slid her phone shut and wiped her face on her sleeve.
"They're leaving the house now." Teri leaned on the end of the shovel handle, one booted foot perched on the top of the blade.
Everyone was exhausted and drenched in sweat. My hair was plastered to my neck and forehead, since I regularly visited the water fountain to soak my head in the cold water. We all had drained our water bottles and refilled them numerous times. Katie and Berto resumed their trench, while Teri and I started lining up plywood sheets with where they would be attached to the fencing. We had a small issue with the gate from the run, since the plywood there would have to be the exact width of the gate or the gate wouldn't open. For that, Teri trimmed a piece of plywood with the reciprocating saw while I sat on the piece to keep it from jumping around.
We began attaching the plywood in the areas that the trench was completed. Set the sheet into the trench, then thread the black zip ties through the carefully measured and drilled holes. The person on the inside would push the tip of the tie back through so the outside person could zip them shut. After all the ties were loosely attached, we would make all the ties as tight as possible, always making sure the long ends were outside the stall.
We had only done one or two pieces when Gene and LeEllen drove up in their Nissan Pathfinder. They got out with all the cold, icy Eegee treats they'd brought for us and we all gladly abandoned our work under the full sun. The group of us sat in the shade, spooning sweet and cold Eegees into our mouths and chatting. It was a much needed break from the work and from the sun. Our hands were blistered and raw from the wood and the tools, necks arms and faces sunburned.
When we could no longer pretend there was still some cold Eegee tastiness to consume, we thanked Gene and LeEllen and continued work on our project. Thankfully, there wasn't too much work left. Katie and Berto finished their trench and started attaching sheets of plywood alongside Teri and I. We had all the sheets up and attached firmly by late afternoon, but there was still a gap where a few pieces had to be put up. Those pieces were still being used in the foaling stall, so I told Teri I would come back the following day and finish up. We called it a day. Katie took the router back to Centennial and Berto went home. Teri and I fed and patted the horses, cleaned up a little of our mess, then went home as well.
The next morning, I got a phone call.
"Ashleigh? This is Nancy from Foothills. I just wanted to call and tell you that your little baby got stuck halfway in and halfway out of his stall this morning! He's okay but you really should move them out of there before he gets into some real trouble."
"Oh my god, how did he get stuck?"
"Well honey I don't know because I wasn't there, but the trainer called me to tell me the baby was stuck so I called the guys and they came out and pushed him out from under the rail, then Alison just put his little halter on and put him back in the stall."
"Oh well I'm glad he's okay. I'm coming out today to finish the stall in the barn and I'm going to move them over there."
"Alright well I just wanted you to know he got stuck. I'll see you later!" Nancy hung up the phone.
That was just what I had worried about happening! That's why we line stalls with plywood, to prevent the babies from laying down and scooting on their sides and getting out of the stall. In Remi's case, he didn't wiggle far enough to escape completely and got stuck halfway in and out. The concern is that the baby will panic and try too hard to get up, breaking his back or neck in the process. Luckily, he kept his head and just let the trainer and the caretakers fix the problem. Thank goodness we had just gotten past the whole lead rope issue!
I went back to the barn and finished attaching the last few sheets. Teri joined me after work and we turned them out in the main arena, since Remi had proven to us that we couldn't put him in the jumping arena anymore. They ran around for awhile, rolled and bucked and kicked and had a grand ol' time. When we took them out of the arena, we led them into the barn stall instead of the foaling stall. Rose was definitely upset that she had a neighbor horse who was very interested in Remi, but Remi was excited to be in a new place and didn't seem to notice his nosy neighbor.
Over the next couple days, I stripped all the leftover plywood off the foaling stall, cleaned up all the old zip ties, and raked the leftover straw bedding into the center of the stall. That way the cleanup would be easy for the caretakers. We rolled up the tarp we used to paint on and took the paint cans home.
About a week after our great plywood adventure, I got another call from Nancy. I didn't feel up to talking to her, so I let the call go to voicemail. I dialed my voicemail and listened to her message.
"Hi Ashleigh, this is Nancy from Foothills. I just wanted to ask you to clean up your old stall so I can rent it out, there's still bedding and trash and stuff everywhere so please clean it up as soon as you can. Thanks, bye."
Yeah right! I DID clean up the stall, woman! I raked the bedding into a nice pile, I picked up all the trash by hand and I even washed out the water barrel. All that needed to be done is the bedding picked up and put into the manure dumpsters, which I couldn't do anyway. The dumpsters were so tall that only the tractor could put manure and old bedding in there so there was no point in me picking it all up - I'd have nowhere to put it.
I ignored the voicemail. The next time I went out there, I walked over to the foaling stall and looked around. No trash, no anything but the pile of straw in the center of the stall.
The more I thought about it, the madder I got. Isn't it part of the caretaker's job descriptions to muck stalls? Why should I be responsible for making a stall ready to rent out again? Didn't we spend over eight hours working on the stall we moved Rose and Remi into? Is it right that we had to put in so much work on the new stall and then be expected to fully prepare the old stall to be used by another horse? Absolutely not. I decided I would not do any more work on the old stall than had already been done. Now I was not just annoyed, I was outraged.
Days went by and Rose and Remi adjusted to life in a barn, in a large stall. Before too long, Rose wasn't pinning her ears and snapping her teeth when the mare next door tried to get a peek at Remi. Rose wasn't thrilled that she had a neighbor, but she quickly realized that Suzie couldn't get anywhere near her baby so she wasn't a threat. Suzie was the bay Thoroughbred mare right next door, and on the other side of Suzie was Star, a sorrel Arabian mare. Their owner's name was Susan (weird to own a horse named Suzie when your name is Susan, no?) and she told me that both mares had foals at some point in their lives, and they loved babies. Anytime we took Rose and Remi out, both Suzie and Star whinnied at them as we passed their stalls.
Nancy cornered me once while I was feeding to ask me about the foaling stall.
"So that stall still needs to be cleaned out before I can rent it to someone new." she admonished.
"Actually I have done all the work I am going to do on the old stall, since all that needs to be done now is the old straw removed and new bedding put down. I had to do a lot of work to get this stall ready and it isn't fair to expect me to clean out the old one. Nobody else cleans up their stalls if they move to a different one." I calmly replied.
She looked taken aback. She managed to sputter out something about,
"Oh okay well I'll just have the guys do it then..." and trailed the end of her sentence off. She spun on her heel and walked out of the barn.
Ironically, the next week I witnessed her personally mucking the old straw out of the stall and putting it into a wheelbarrow. Interesting. Maybe she told the guys not to do it in an attempt to get me to do it myself? Ha well that didn't work out so well for you, did it?
I was thankful that Rose and Remi's move was somewhat quiet, even if we did each lose about five pounds of waterweight the day we prepped the stall in the barn. They had more room and I felt confident of their safety. I felt like a burden had been lifted, albeit a small one.