Shootin' the Breeze

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Archive for the tag “venom”

Hollywood Survivor

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.  Read more…


My trophy wife, Sugar, was outside with the dogs while I watched Chisum.  As it turned out, viewing the John Wayne movie was a good way to prepare for my imminent deadly showdown.

I heard my wife’s alarming scream.  Then she called out to me, “Al, come out here.  Hurry!”  I moseyed up from the couch, ever obedient, ever vigilent.

I still did not know what she was frightened about.  (Girls can be overly dramatic and mysterious).  I empathetically inquired about what was troubling her.  Her response was not responsive to my question.  She uncalmly commanded, “Get a gun.”  Well, that was the main idea.  She was much more eloquent.

As an aside, in order to give some background to the scenario, I want you, gentle readers, to be informed that Sugar grew up in Texas.  Also, she is of Italian extraction.  You may combine your prejudiced stereotypes as you imagine  her emotional communication.

Further, Sugar’s desire that I bring a gun was not unrealistic.  I possess several firearms, including a pair of Colt .45s in a quickdraw holster, various rifles, and a couple shotguns.  They are part of the decor of our mountain cabin and readily available.  The NRA sends emails to me daily concerning unconstitutional threats to gun ownership.  I also am a member of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) which sponsors cowboy shooting competitions.  My SASS alias is Big Bronc.  Her’s is Miss Sugar.  Clearly, it was not unreasonable for her to ask me to get a gun.

So I emerged from the front door unarmed.  Sometimes I opt for hand-to-hand combat.  I wanted to assess the enemy’s strength before selecting a weapon.  I try to make it a fair fight.  No sense wasting ammo.

“Who needs killin’?  It don’t make me no nevermind.”   I stated the obvious.  “Womenfolk got nothin’ to fear when Big Bronc is around.  I will fight to the death anyone that threatens you and them yeller dogs.”   This little gal surely knew she could count on me.

“Oh, Big Bronc, there is an evil rattlesnake down there.  Please protect me and our precious pets.  You are so brave and strong and handsome.”  Those were not her exact words, but I knew that was what she desired to tell me.

“Get the shotgun with the snakeshot shells!,” Miss Sugar daintily suggested.  “Shoot it from up here on the porch so you don’t git yerself kilt.  I ain’t in the mood to call no hearst.”  She doesn’t talk like that either, but it would sound more like an authenic western story if she would have.

So I went to the toolshed and got a shovel.  I know she wanted me to use a gun, but this particular shovel is a narrow type of spade known in these here parts as a “sharpshooter.”   It is a weapon with which I have beheaded unfortunate snakes in the past.  Yes, this was fixin’ to be a fight to the death.

Miss Texas noticed what I had selected.  “You dang fool!  That rattler is going to bite you.  They can strike further than that little shovel.”  I wish she didn’t talk like that.

So I walked over to the snake, carrying only the sharpshooter shovel.

It was coiled and shaking its rattles.  It was a mean one, poised to strike.

Women are no help at a time like this.  I didn’t need some girly girl weeping about me.  I can take care of myself.  Still, through it all, I could hear Sugar’s sweet voice.  “Watch out, you idiot.  He is going to strike.”  I supposed that she was addressing the snake, giving him one last chance to retreat.  That is certainly how I took it.

Members of the general public are not usually quick enough or coordinated enough or brave enough to attempt what I was about to do.  That mean old snake probably did not recognize who he was facing.  He probably thought I was a member of the general public.

Instead, he was dealin’ with Big Bronc, the toughest hombre north of the Pecos, or at least the North Poudre Irrigation Canal.

I met his steely glare.  He didn’t show any fear as he hissed and rattled, but I had a feelin’ that, deep inside his cold heart and reptile brain, he knew this showdown would be his last.

My calloused hand was ready for action.

“Say when.”  I confidently offered him that advantage as I smirked.  (I have found that smirking intimidates.)

The tension grew.  Then Old Snake Eye made his move.  It was the moment of truth.   Or consequences.  One of us would soon be dead as a doornail.  He had my vote.

A blood-curdling scream broke the tense silence.  (Sometimes smirking alone is not intimidating enough.  One has to be adaptable when engaged in a fight to the death.)  I should not have called it a scream.  It was more like a war-cry.  A manly war-cry.

Well, I’m here to tell you that with one lightning fast blow, I pinned that coiled snake to the ground.  The blade of the sharpshooter got it right behind its open-mouthed head.  I did not let up until I cut its head clean off. Sugar warned that the venom is still dangerous, even after it was beheaded.  Like I don’t know that.

I scooped the detached head into the shovel and proudly showed her the proof of my victory, waiting for her to praise my skill and courage.  She did not express her admiration in words, but I could see it in her eyes.

“Shucks, M’aam.  It weren’t nothing any old hero wouldn’t do.”

I could tell she longed to reward me with a kiss.  There was things I had to take care of first.  After disposing of my vanquished foe, I put my trusty sharpshooter back in the shed and quietly rode off into the sunset.

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