In 2004, this very week, a nice young mare of ours nearly died. She was only three at the time. Ironically, her registered name with the American Quarter Horse Association (A.Q.H.A.) is Hollywood Survivor. We call her Holly.
What happened? Well, Holly showed up at the water tank with a grossly swollen nose. She looked like a cartoon character, but it wasn’t funny. A rattlesnake had bit her on the nose. There were telltale fang marks. Now you know why I wrote in a couple other blogs about killing rattlers. We don’t see them every day or every week or even every month, but in the summer, we kill two or three that we come across.
When a horse gets bit on the nose, it is usually while grazing, accidently crossing paths with a snake. Horses cannot breathe through their mouths, so when their nostrils close from the swelling, they just plain suffocate.
Sometimes it helps to put a piece of garden hose in each nostril to keep them open. Regardless, time is of the essence. Fortunately for me and, of course, Holly, our veterinarian arrived very quickly, considering we live twenty miles outside of town. Holly was getting some air, but was not getting enough. She was wheezing. She was weakening.
The vet performed a tracheotomy by cutting a hole in her windpipe and inserting a PVC pipe. If you think of medicine and, particularly, surgery as something mysteriously scientific, let me tell you that this procedure was more like a combination of plumbing and carpentry. Cut a hole and stick in a plastic pipe. Actually, the pipe was jointed at a 90 degree angle so one end went down the trachea and the other stuck out of the horse’s neck. When she breathed out of the pipe, it sounded like Darth Vader in Star Wars. It was off-putting that the air did not come out of her nose but from her neck. Since horses have long necks, the breathing was in a new area, far below Holly’s head.
Besides the immediate need to be able to breathe, Holly had other problems. She was given shots to fight infection. I suppose she got an anti-venom drug too. Another problem was eating with the tube in her throat, but it was removed when the swelling subsided. Still, the interruption of her normal diet caused a serious problem.
Holly had to stay in a pen by the barn, separated from the other horses, so she could be doctored. Not able to graze, I fed her a “complete feed” in the form of pellets. That led to impaction after a few days. The vet had to return for another procedure, which I will not describe. It involved trying to clean out her intestines. Use your imagination. Unfortunately, it did not work entirely. He could not get to the blockage. Gastrointestinal pain in horses is generally referred to as colic.
The vet told me that Holly could go to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital for an expensive surgery with no guaranty of success or survival. I declined, yet worried whether I had made the right decision. I had another syringe containing a dose to put her out of her misery. I felt like Dr. Kervorkian.
She was in pain and wanted to lay on the ground and roll, but I had to try to keep her from laying down, especially from rolling over because if she twisted her gut in the process, that would likely be fatal. So I stayed up all night, keeping Holly standing, and walking her for fifteen minutes, resting fifteen, and walking again. All night. I never let her lay down.
The next day I called the vet to tell him that Holly had made it through the night because he had warned me that she might not. She was feeling better. She was no longer compacted. The crisis had passed. It felt good to hear him say, “I believe that you saved her life.”
Holly seems to believe that too. Since that night, she and I have had a different relationship. She trusts me more. She even seems eager to please me. She is actually kind of possessive of me. When I am in the pasture or pen with loose horses, she gets between me and others so I will only pet or brush her. I guess she thinks I belong to her. She is also the horse we trust the most with inexperienced riders.
I am grateful to our vet and to God for the survival of Hollywood Survivor.