Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Eve Colic

Let me preface this by saying that Sofie came through this fine, and is alive and well.

I spent a lot of time at the barn right before Christmas. Far more than I expected or wanted to. I occasionally work at the barn (Judy has quite the arsenal of AM barn cleaners, but sometimes people are out of town or busy with the holidays, and I step in whenever I can). I stayed at Judy's house Wednesday night, planning to work the barn Thursday and Friday morning and go home later in the morning on Friday.

I didn’t end up riding Wednesday night (I was dragged out from my lesson earlier that day and short on ambition), but I free schooled Sofie so she would get a little exercise. She moved well. I rode on Thursday, and Sofie free schooled like a maniac, galloping around the arena like she hasn't in quite some time. She had a fair amount of energy when I rode her, and we rode for a solid 45 minutes, incorporating more trot work. She held up well. I did notice the the girth became exceptionally loose, and when I untacked her I saw that her belly was less pronounced than it normally is. But she seemed okay, so I figured maybe she was just getting into better shape. She has been working more.

I went back down to check on her and give her a bit more hay at around 8:30, and I even got out of bed and went down at 10 to check for gut sounds, because she just seemed off to me. I thought I was probably being paranoid (I have that tendency), but I was just concerned about her. She didn’t seem quite right. Gut sounds were present, and she was eating and drinking. Nothing was overtly wrong, so I went back up to the house and went to sleep until 6:30.

In the morning I went right to her stall to check on her. She had drunk a good amount of water, and there were three piles of manure in her stall but no urine. She seemed a bit dull, not quite right, but again, nothing was overly amiss. I gave Sofie her morning grain, and she cleaned it up. Then she went outside with the mares, we cleaned the barn, and I kept an eye on her. She was eating, so I figured she was okay. But I still had a nagging sense that something was wrong. When my mom arrived to take me home at around 11, I went to catch Sofie so she could take a look at her. When I walked up to her I saw she was very “tucked up”, like a greyhound, and she was clenching her abdomen.

I started walking her, alternating between trying to stay calm and hysterical crying, and my mom went up to talk to Judy and call vets. We couldn't get ahold of anyone at first, (Christmas Eve, remember?) so I just walked her for a while. She wasn't fractious at all, just kind of high-headed and distracted, but after a while she started to lower her head and calm a bit. One of the vets, an equine specialist who's based in Wisconsin (he travels to our area several times a year and does the teeth of many of the horses in my barn) called back and said it sounded like gas colic, and to give her 10 cc of Banamine IM, and put her in her stall with no hay. We managed to distract her with an apple and we got the Banamine into her (Sofie is bad about shots, unless Chiro Lady gives them to her). She stood calmly in her stall, not freaking out or even pawing, and we went into the house to "relax" for a little while. I didn’t feel great about leaving her in a stall, since walking seems more beneficial to a colicky horse than standing around, but I was exhausted and we had no other advice at that point.

I checked on her every half hour for a while, and she remained calm, just waiting by her door. Her belly was still clenching, however, and that worried me. Eventually Annie, our trimmer, called and gave us our local vet's cell phone number (we weren’t able to reach him through the vet office, and we knew she had his number from a recent colic at her barn). According to Annie, it didn't sound like gas colic, since she wasn't passing gas and she wasn't blown up like a blimp.

My mom called our local vet up, and the first thing he asked was "Is she in heat?" Yes. Sofie had peed a couple times in her stall, and she was winking. And she had been having a pretty major hormonal week. He said it sounded like her heat cycle had kicked her into colic, and he said to keep her on Banamine, and that as long as she didn't get worse, he didn't see a need for tubing or anything drastic, but we needed to keep an eye on her.

Somewhere in there I took her for a walk outside, and she walked around happily enough, even lowering her head and pushing her nose through the snow. She happily grazed through the snow (the area where I walked her had almost no snow due to odd drifting patterns) and didn’t look sick at all, apart from not having a belly. I had a little hope at that point that she would be okay.

While we were outside she saw her friends, and became distracted, especially when they decided to take off and gallop behind the barn. I decided to lead her out back and see if she would drink from the trough (she had yet to drink from her bucket in her stall). She refused to drink, of course, so I led her back into the barn because she needed more Banamine. She was not happy to leave her friends and began acting very herdbound and distracted. I felt really stupid for having gotten her all worked up right before we had to try to get more Banamine into her. We had been told my our vet not to give her more injections unless we had to, because she could get an abscess, so we tried to give her some oral Banamine, and she threw her head violently, nearly giving both of us a concussion. It was clear that wasn’t working, so then we had to try to give her another shot. I realized if I positioned her so she could stare out the window at the field where her friends were, she might become sufficiently distracted for us to get the Banamine into her, and it worked. She was so fixated on the view into the field that she didn’t even feel the shot until it was too late for her to do anything about it.

We stuck her back in her stall, and she stood by the door, staring tensely at the field. I wondered if she would be better off moving around normally with her friends, and my mom called the vet again to find out if she could be turned out. He said she could go out, and that half her normal ration of hay was acceptable. She still needed to be monitored, and it was important that she manured.

I decided to turn her out, and she galloped off to find her friends, who then ran back behind the barn with her. Once they stopped running around, she pawed a little and kicked at her belly twice. I did not want to see that. I wound up bringing her in because I was afraid she was going downhill, and I needed to watch her. I turned her out in the indoor arena so I could keep an eye on her from the heated office, and I saw her lift her tail, so I went in to investigate. Her manure was normal, and she didn’t kick at herself again. She alternated between trotting around a little, standing around with her head really high, and pawing at the door that leads to her friends. The situation was not terrible, but she still wasn’t fully better, and I had no way of knowing if she was just experiencing cramps, or if there was something wrong inside that we couldn’t fix. I also had no idea if we could get a vet if we needed one. At this point, my mom had to leave to take care of our animals at home, and she left me our cell phone and took off. I went back to watch Sofie. I called the vet once, because I was worried about her having kicked at her belly, and he was encouraged by her having manured. He said from what I told him, she sounded okay, and as long as she didn’t get any worse she should come through it.

Judy left for church around three, and I was alone for a few hours. I wound up putting Sofie back in her stall because she seemed calmer in there than in the arena. I didn’t know what was best for her at that point. I wanted to do the right thing for her, but it was so hard to know what that was. Horse people rarely agree on anything, so as an owner you’re always getting a stereo effect of different, and wildly varying opinions. This can make even online research of bits stressful, and when you’re in a situation when something is quite clearly wrong with your horse, something you have no way of knowing the cause of, that could take a bad turn at any time and take your horse away from you, that stereo effect is terribly stressful. I knew overall that the signs were good, and she’d gotten no worse and maybe a little better, but I was still really scared. I’d never dealt with a colic before, and even though people assured me that it wasn’t all that bad, it was my horse. I have never felt anything so horrible as that not knowing. At certain points, I just thought, I can’t lose her now, there’s so much we haven’t done.

I continued to check on Sofie. There was a small amount of hay in her stall, and eventually she began to eat again. She still wasn’t fully better, but she continued to handle it well. My mom got back around 5:30 or so, and we had something to eat (I’d barely eaten all day). She called up the vet, who said to keep Sofie on Banamine. Our instinct was that she should have another shot that night anyway. But we didn’t know how we were going to get another shot into her. Sofie is not a good patient, and she was done cooperating for shots. At around 6:30 we were calling up anyone we could think of who could help get a shot into Sofie. I got ahold of Annie and gave her the update. She had a mare at her barn who was experiencing a similar colic. I said “I know you probably can’t get away, since you’ve got a situation of your own, but we just really need to get another shot into Sofie.” She told me she’d be there in an hour.

Annie is amazing. Truly amazing. She left her own mare to drive forty minutes out to my barn, and she checked Sofie’s vitals, all of which were great. She checked her gums, tucking herself into Sofie’s neck and persisting as Sofie threw her around, until she was able to slide her hand under Sofie’s lip and massage her front teeth. “This is an endorphin spot,” she said, and Sofie quit fighting. Her ears went forward, and she got kind of a dumb, surprised look on her face. When Annie was able to handle Sofie’s mouth, she went to the other side and did the same.

Then she took Sofie into her stall and stuck a needle in her neck. Sofie started spinning around her, tensing her neck like only she can and bending the needle. On the second try Annie held the needle in her neck and followed her around until she stood for the shot (all the while Annie was going “Oh, you hate me! Oh, you’re such a drama queen,” etc.). Once she was released, Sofie went back to her hay, simmering and glaring. She was pissed.

Annie told us to make sure she got lots of hay and turnout, but no grain for five days, and to monitor her output. She said Sofie looked good, and that it seemed cyclical (cramps). She told me to check on her at midnight and 3 AM, and left me some oral Banamine to give her if she needed it, but told me not to use it if I didn’t need to, since it’s tough on the stomach. I was willing not to. She was eating her hay and had drunk some water before Annie left and we went up to the house.

At midnight there was a little manure in Sofie’s stall, and she looked good, though still tucked up. I gave her more hay and decided she would be alright until morning. I left a note for the women feeding and cleaning the barn in the morning, asking them to leave her stall and water bucket so I could see what she’d done in the night.

I woke up at 6:30, probably because that was my wake-up time for two nights before, and decided to walk down to the barn to check on Sofie. My mom had checked on her at 4 and then taken off for home to take care of our other animals. Sofie looked perky, and she’d drunk at least a third of a bucket (a good amount for her), and there were three manure piles and some pee in her stall. She went out with the mares and I went back to bed.

Later on that morning I went out to the field to check on her. She was still somewhat tucked up, and was occasionally pawing, shaking her head or glancing at her sides. I was utterly exhausted, and I had no idea if she was getting worse or if she was just in a little discomfort. Annie had said this could go on for another day. I was immensely relieved when my mom showed up. We went out to look at Sofie, and she thought she looked good. She hadn’t had any Banamine since 7:30 the previous night, and she seemed to be holding her own. We took some hay out and watched Sofie while we cleaned out the shelter, and she ate enthusiastically, so we went to lunch at a restaurant that was having a Christmas buffet (it was like the only place open). We ate a good meal and then drove back to the barn. When I looked in on Sofie she looked good. By then 24 hours had gone by, and she’d been off Banamine for 14 hours. It was still hard to leave her, but I was fairly confident that she would be fine. I knew things would have escalated before that point if there had been anything seriously wrong with her, so I gave her a hug and we packed up my stuff and drove home. I needed to be home, at that point. I was ready to stop being a horse owner and just be a boarder for a little while. I continued to check in on Sofie and recieve updates via text messaging, and we drove out on Sunday afternoon to see her in the flesh. She was fine, and I even rode briefly at a walk.

Sofie has been fine since. We don’t know for sure what happened, but the consensus is that the colic was cyclical (cramps) rather than digestive, which makes the most sense. This winter has been hell for mares in my area, with colics, prolonged, raging heats, etc. Another contributing factor was that Sofie had been missing out on her magnesium supplement due to salt being put in the grain to encourage more water consumption. We weren’t informed of this ahead of time, and I didn’t know what was going on until I saw the salt in the feed cans (and the mound of salt, SmartCalm and coco soya oil in the bottom of her feeder). A lack of magnesium could well have contributed to her crazy heat and the cramping she experienced. The hay recently changed, and Sofie hasn’t been fond of it, so she hasn’t been eating it as well. And we just pulled her off her SmartFlex Senior supplement. She got no supplements for several days after she colicked as a precaution, and we did find out that the SmartFlex Senior very clearly helps with her arthritis (she was quite stiff when we stopped feeding it, and much more fluid when we put her back on it). But her appetite for hay, as well as her general attitude, improved when she was not on the supplement, and declined when we started feeding it to her again. I’ve been slightly concerned for a while, as I felt her appetite for hay was not where it used to be, and she’s been quite girthy for some time now. Her attitude has not been great, and it seems that the Devil’s Claw in the supplement is causing her some discomfort in her stomach. So we’re switching to the herb-free SmartFlex Senior, which will hopefully help her move just as freely, without the negative impact on her stomach.

So we’re still working out some management issues, trying to find what’s best for her, but I feel like we’re on the right track. She is here, and I want her to be as happy and comfortable as possible.


  1. I'm glad Sofie is okay now! That must have been a stressful time for you. I hate the feeling when there is something wrong with your horses and nothing you can do to help :).
    But I'm glad she goo now :)