Shootin' the Breeze

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Saving the Survivor

Yesterday, I wrote about Scamp and how Miss Sugar saved his life.  Now y’all think that Miss Sugar is the only hero at our house, so it is important for my self-esteem to re-post a story in which I save a horse too, especially since not one single person “liked” my original post about my efforts, called Hollywood Survivor.  So, let’s give it another go.

In 2004, 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.  We should call her Survivor!

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, accidentally 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.

holly followingHolly following me in a storm.  I gotta find a better photo…………  This one does not accurately depict how good-looking we are.


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11 thoughts on “Saving the Survivor

  1. Good job, Cowboy! Poor old girl; I’m sure she loves you dearly (much as a horse can.) It’s like the shepherd who nurses the little lamb; he’ll tell you after how that lamb always stays close now.

    Your story rings a bell with one I heard from my Uncle. Maybe you who know about horses can tell me why Grandpa gave this order:
    About 1912 Grandma was in labor, but something was wrong. Grandpa hitched up the horses and drove for dear life (hers & the baby’s) to fetch the doctor.
    He found the doctor and drove back, keeping his horses running flat out the whole way (I’m guessing about a 30 mile round trip.)

    When he got back the doctor rushed into the house and Grandpa gave my two uncles strict orders to keep those horses walking and DON’T let them drink. So they kept the horses walking around the farm yard for a fair while before letting them rest and drink.

    So what would have happened had the horses rested and drank? Similar to what would have happened if you hadn’t kept your horse walking?

    • Horses “founder” from various things: fast travel on a hard surface, eating too much grain or corn or green grass before they are used to it in the spring after a winter on hay, when they are hot and drink water. They need to cool down like race horses do. There are even contraptions called hot walkers to keep them moving. Foundering damages their hooves. You can tell when a horse has foundered because its hooves have ridges and if untrimmed, curl up like elf shoes. Holly had a different problem. Her problem was intestinal, called colic. The pain made her want to lay down and roll.

  2. This is a marvelous retelling and quite moving. We have dispatched 10 rattlers at The Holler. My son is now catching and tagging them for a required project in grad school, scares the beejeezus out of me.

  3. Living in rural desert we deal with rattlers. I hate the damn things. I had one dog who got bit twice by rattlers and once she went up against a gopher snake. I really hate them but we do what we gotta do and you did good

  4. You, Cowboylawyer, make a great team with Ms. Sugar. Wonderful and compassionate hearts… and Ms. Holly sure knows that. I hope the opportunity will come when our paths will cross. That’s Ms. Holly. lol

    My little girl (now 31 and married) got bit by a baby rattler in our front yard; yes, in suburban Los Angeles. It was on Good Friday, 1991 when she was nine years old. I felt pretty useless watching the venom work itself up her little calf.

    I hope you and Ms. Sugar continue with your kindness to your family “pets”…and who is Beau more loving of, I wonder? 🙂

    • ps I clicked LIKE just once this time…

    • I am so sorry that happened to your daughter. It must have been a frightening experience. I am glad that she got through it. I would not expect that danger in L.A. Let’s be careful out there.

    • Beau hangs out with me outside, but is more loving to Sugar. Just yesterday, I wanted to put him in the pen within a stall in the barn, like we always do when we leave. Sadie went in. Beau noticed that Sugar was fixin to get in the car, so he barked at me and ran to her. It seems like he was accusing me of trying to trick him and calling me a bad name. So Sugar had to put him in, luring him with a treat. He does bark at her too when she is not feeding him in a timely manner. We both have the feeling that he believes that he is superior to each of us and sometimes loses patience with how stupid we are. He might be correct.

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