Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sunshine on My Shoulder

Horses I Have Known: Part 7

Si was colicking, and it wasn't good. The vet came out. Doses of drugs, mineral oil tubing and all the right medications eased his discomfort enough that we thought he'd come out of it. The barn owners set up a cot for me in the aisle and we put Si in the indoor arena for the night.

We didn't make it much past midnight. He started pawing and trying to roll, obviously once more in agony. I called the vet back and soon it was apparent we were in big trouble. I called one of the other boarders who lived nearby--by this time it was going on one AM. My tow vehicle was at home, some 15 miles away but she was already hitched up and only a few minutes out.

We had arrangements to take him to New Bolton at the University of Pennsylvania's vet school, the only place at the time that did colic surgeries. The drive took well over an hour--going on two, and by the time we got there it was nearly 3 AM. Si, once again in pain after the banamine wore off, was in real distress and a standard exam confirmed our fears. He needed immediate surgery.

But there were other cases ahead of him. They gave him whatever drugs he needed to be comfortable, and with no other transportation available, I drove back home with my friend.

Once I was home, I simply sat by the telephone, waiting for the call from the surgeon. It took hours.

When the call came, quite late in the morning, as I recall, the news was good. Si was resting comfortably. It had been a simple twist, the surgery had gone well and I'd be able to bring him back home in a few days. Relief washed over me and I somehow managed to get some sleep.

I had my own trailer to bring my boy home again, and I will never forget his excitement when we pulled into the driveway at Prime Time. If he'd been able, he would have climbed out of the little front door of the trailer. It was clear Si wanted to be there. He'd found a home and was happy there.

Si back home after his surgery.

Safe again in his own stall, he settled in with his hay, content at last. He had staples in his stomach along what was about three foot long incision. His neck had a shaved spot from the IV, but other than that, he was still the same sweet boy he'd been. Ahead of us were 6 weeks of stall rest with hand walking, then some limited turnout before things would be back to normal. We were in for the long haul.

Hand walking was a challenge. Si was feeling good. Too good. He would bounce on the end of the lead rope, spin around me, act like one of those really bad racehorses you often see heading for the post. He'd settle a little when I'd let him graze, but as the days went on, I was not having a good time of it. But walk we did and finally, after two weeks, it was time to take out the staples.

Si with me in the barn after his surgery. Look at his sweet face.

The man who owned the barn was a small animal vet. I bought a staple remover for him and he did the job neatly and quickly. Si had passed the first phase of his recovery and it was looking good.

Then, one afternoon, I got a call from the barn. Something was wrong. This time, I drove my tow car so I'd have it in case we needed to go. Si was pawing in his stall, clearly once again in pain. The vet didn't hesitate. Within an hour, I had Si loaded in the trailer and was off again to New Bolton. I knew the way by heart.

This time, Si was ominously quiet and calm in his pain. And again, there seemed to be no choice, he was headed back into surgery.

I had to go to school that day, to teach. I don't remember much except that I'd left a message at the main office to page me when the phone call came. It was the longest day I'd ever spent in the classroom. Eventually, the vet called to tell me Si was out of surgery in in recovery. This time, they had had to remove a part of his intestine and it had "died." Once more, he seemed OK, but he'd have to stay down there for a while.

I never saw him again. School and obligations kept me from taking the two hour drive to the hospital for the next two days. Then I got another call. Si wasn't doing well. The vet wanted to do a third surgery to see what was wrong. Perhaps a stitch had slipped.

We had a long discussion. How many times could a horse have colic surgery before the quality of his life would be in jeopardy? What if more of his intestine was dying? How far should we go in trying to save his life?

I made the painful decision. If it was just an easy correction from the second surgery, we'd go on, but if more of his intestine was compromised, then he would be euthanized on the table.

Before the day was over, my sweet boy was gone. There had been no hope. Si was only four years old. He'd never had much of a chance to enjoy life.

To this day, I cherish the memory of seeing him in that trailer when we got back home after his first surgery. He was one of the happiest horses I'd ever seen. I've thought about it a lot, agonizing about what might have been and why he died. But that moment, when we pulled into the driveway comforts me. I think it was the first time in his short life that Si realized he had a home. He had a place where he was loved and cared for, and I'd like to think he knew he had someone to truly love him as he deserved.

Sometimes a horse's soul is just too beautiful for earth.

God works in mysterious ways, they say. I like to think that God chose me to be Si's person for the short time he had on this earth because I was worthy to be his caretaker. It eases the pain just a little to think that, but it will never quite stop the tears.


  1. Anonymous6:51 AM

    It is so wonderful that he got to be happy with you for the short while he was with you - there is comfort in that.

  2. What a sad story! You had me in tears.
    Do you know what was the cause of his colics.

    Two horses at our yard had colic surgery and both of them survived and have a comfortbale life. But it was a LOOOOOOOOOONNG recovery. That's for sure!

    My friend lost her TB to colics too. Is it a pathology more frequent in TB?

    SI had really a gentle look in his eyes.
    I am so sad for you.

  3. i think it's the one thing we all dread, more even than a broken leg or something, because it's so drawn out and horrendous and you can't explain it to the horse...

  4. Si had a short life but with you he was truly loved and cared for, and that's really all anyone can ask for. Still it's sad that his life was cut so short, he was a wonderful horse. You made a hard decision but it was better for him than to continue lots of surgeries that may not have worked.

    I lost my own horse two years ago to a bad colic. The surgery was so long and in the end they couldn't save him because his insides were dead. I had to let him go. We all have painful decisions to make but it's always made in the best interests of our horses.

    In answer to Muriel, I don't think that TB's are any more prone to colic than any other breed. My horse was a Dutch Warmblood, and I've seen lots of other breeds colic too.

  5. How sad; that was a tearful one. He had such a beautiful look in his eyes. I'm so glad that you were able to show him what home was. That's a beautiful thing.
    I agree; colic can be heartbreaking. I think Mosco (my TB) took a few years off my life when he colicked. It took 14 hours of monitoring & walking and then POOP! Glorious poop! It's tough when you can't explain the situation to them when they're suffering.

  6. "Sometimes a horse's soul is just too beautiful for earth."

    Oh, that quote sent me crying. He looked so happy in the pictures. I'm sure he's in a better place now, away from the pain and confusion of colic and surgery.