I wrote the majority of my article on vital signs a few days before it was posted this week. It was already planned.
I didn’t realize I would need to put the information to practical use a day later.
Coming home from work Wednesday morning I received a phone call from Zac that Happy and Blade were both laying down and something didn’t seem right. I told him it’s possible that they were napping as horses need REM sleep too (just less of it than us). I asked if they looked to be in distress or if they were biting their stomachs, etc….typical colic signs. They weren’t. I was only 5-10 minutes from home at that point so I wasn’t worried.
When I came home Happy was eager to see me and Blade was laying down seeming to be snoozing. He didn’t appear unhappy, in distress, or ill; it seemed to have been a nap.
I went inside to get into my “barn clothes” and went outside with Bardi to get the feed ready. Both Blade and Happy were up and things appeared to be business as usual.
It had been a week since I cleaned the paddock so I grabbed the pitchfork and wheelbarrow and began to pick. The horses finished eating and they were beginning to graze. Blade rolled and then rested, seeming to nap again. He normally gets vocal when he rolls and this time was no different as he groaned. He didn’t look at or bite his tummy and after the initial roll he relaxed and “dozed.” After a few minutes he got back up and joined Happy. Five minutes later, however, he went back down for a roll and “nap.” By the third time he began to paw so I put down the pitchfork and grabbed the halter and leadrope. Something wasn’t right.
I brought Blade out and began the steps outlined in yesterday’s post, Equine 101: Horse Vitals.
His respiratory rate was normal.
Pulse was normal.
Gums were slightly pale but normal for him.
Capillary refill time was a little slow…3 seconds.
What worried me most was the temperature. I took his temp a number of times and it kept reading different numbers….97.5, 95.3, 93.2, 97.5…..
Surely this had to be an issue with the thermometer, I tried some vasoline to make sure I was actually getting the temperature probe where it needed to go. Same thing.
I tried measuring Happy’s temperature and she was a steady 100.0.
Blade has very quiet and polite, and didn’t try to go down while on the lead line. His face told me he wasn’t 100%.
Once I had the information I decided to call my vet.
Dr. Laura was out within 20-30 minutes. I walked Blade around until she arrived.
I went over my previous measurements with Dr. Laura as she grabbed the current vitals. I felt a little proud when she asked if I was a Pony Clubber or 4H-er. I’m not but I certainly try to do whatever I can to ensure a good life for my animals.
We did a rectal exam and found lots of gas (which explains the sporadic temperature readings) and more fecal matter. She explained to me that the feces was still shaped into the small balls as they should be, which was preferable to a more serious blockage.
Once finished behind we moved on to a tube. A tube was run through his nasal cavity and down his esophagus to his stomach. Dr. Laura gave me the once in a lifetime opportunity to smell the gas contents from his stomach.
The tube created a siphon to the contents of the stomach….essentially removing anything that could further create an impaction. Next a bucket filled with mineral oil and electrolytes were pumped into the stomach. The mineral oil serves as a marker…essentially we are looking for the oil to come back out the other end to show it had passed entirely through the digestive tract. The electrolytes are to encourage drinking and water retention, replenishing Blade’s body with what it needed.
For the rest of the day I kept Blade confined to his corral shelter with only water to drink. I hand walked him every 2-3 hours as instructed. When he passed the first waste I was allowed to give him a small amount of soupy grain. After three defacations he was allowed a half flake or wet hay.
Blade was extremely polite the whole time despite being cooped up.
We enjoyed several walks around the property.
On one particular walk I decided it was a good time to work on a bit of simple training. Trying to get him to cross the stream. This stream has mostly dried out by now, it’s flowing but you can’t hear it babbling at this point. It’s really just a little wet. I stepped in it first to show him the depth. He was on my right.
As I stepped away to allow him to come across I turned away ever so slightly to see where I was going.
Then I was on the ground. Blade was over the top of me.
He didn’t step on me but at 1100-1200 pounds he’s a little too big for piggyback rides. Nothing was broken but I could tell I’d have a couple of good bruises.
Blade must have been more worried about the stream than I anticipated. Since he was focused so much on how to cross he forgot to look where I was and I must have been right in his blind spot.
Although he was promptly reprimanded I could tell he was quite upset with himself already.
You’re too big for piggyback, Blade!
I iced my leg the rest of the night, walking him two more times before going to bed.
The next day he had passed 4-5 poops. I touched base with Dr. Laura and she advised me to keep him on wet hay for the remainder of the day….then back to normal if he continues to be happy and alert.
I was very pleased Friday morning to let him out of his shelter and go back to normal. He rolled at first, which made me nervous, but got back up and trotted around. A much different animal than what I had dealt with only two days before.
My leg is pretty bruised and I have some bruising on my foot and elbow, but it’s completely manageable. The day after it hurt to walk normally but it didn’t bother me during my riding at all. On Friday it was merely a bruise.
I spent most of Friday keeping an eye on the horses. Happy was chasing him from the water (there are two buckets) repeatedly so I decided to separate the buckets in order to make sure he took in enough fluids. While they settled in to munch on some hay under the tree I began to practice my archery in the paddock. As long as I stayed away from them both Happy and Blade continued to disregard me and eat their hay. In fact, Bardi was the most skeptical about my practice. He was either laying near the horses or keeping at least 20 feet behind me.
I am so happy with my vet and I can’t say enough great things about her. She was very informative, educating me and talking through the whole process with me. She could tell how involved I try to be in Blade’s health and made sure I understood every step.
From the rectal exam to the tubing her job wasn’t (isn’t) easy. At times she had to use her mouth on the tube in order to create the siphon. Between the gas and the fluids I can assure you it isn’t a job for the faint of heart….and to think this is not the worst of it. Remember to think of your vets and the work they do to help keep your loved one’s healthy.
In addition to the dirty work Dr. Laura called me several times throughout the day to check on his status. We chatted before bed and again the next morning to discuss the next steps. The level of care she put into helping us through this was well worth the vet call. It also did a lot of good for my own personal state of mind as well.
So I reiterate to you my dear Green Horsemen and Women….keep records of your horse’s vitals. It’s not a common practice but it will help you catch subtle trends and issues before they get worse (and impress your vet). Blade’s colic may have been mild but could have become much worse quickly.
It’s worth the peace of mind.