Coffee up, it’s going to be a long day

It’s an early March morning and I am sipping hot coffee, gazing out onto the fields. It’s a week past a big snowstorm, the snow receding to piles surrounded by dark mud paths. I gaze around to the various fields, checking on the state of the herds.  Even if I can see just one or two horses, I can tell what is going on; someone frantic, or neighing, or focused on something unseen? Then we hustle down to help. Most mornings there is a quiet horse or two, nibbling on some hay, basking in the early morning sun filtering into the valley, peaceful. This morning, I see a horse laying flat out in the lower field, stretched out on a hay pile, far enough away that I am not sure which chestnut mare it might be. And she might be fine, but it’s a bit early for napping, the sun is not yet in the valley. I watch for other clues and notice no horse is near her; No one was guarding her. Hmmm.. I collect the cat bowls, continuing the morning ritual, then look out again. I recognize her now, it’s Venezuela, one of our teenage arabian mares, and I see her picking up her head and looking back towards her body. Trouble. That’s not a normal look for a napping horse, combined with her being alone and it being early, there are too many clues that there is a problem. I pull on tall muck books, a farm coat and grab a rope lead, and head out the door, leaving the dog inside. The farm is entirely mud right now, and I slip-slide down the first hill, then through a smaller paddock to the next hill and down to the lower field where she lay. She’s flat out on a bed of hay that is really squishy, and has created sort of a ‘trough’ where her body is. I call her, ‘Hey Ven…’, and she moves her head a bit in response. Clearly something is wrong but I cannot tell yet what it is. She flinches at first when I touch her, she’s still half-wild and had some rough handling before we welcomed her, so she is very cautious still with trust. I pet her until she relaxes a bit, visually examining her legs, her body, for any issue. No sign of a break or anything catastrophic, just a stuck horse. I see she has pooped several times so she’s been down at least an hour. It appears she is cast (stuck), not colicing, but even a cast horse can develop distal limb paralysis, or other issues if down too long. The first step is to see if she can get up, as soon as possible. I try grabbing her foreleg closest to the ground and pull up to, roll her over (this is called flipping); she begins to struggle, both to free herself from the earth and from me, and then bites my arm. “OW” I shout reflexively, and jump back, before my brain recognizes she didn’t actually get more then my coat. I am wimpy and would like to stay alive. So, I take the rope and wrap it around that knee, high enough to get some leverage, and stand back out of teeth’s way, and try to flip her again, pulling so her legs are almost straight up, flailing, but I cannot roll her over. I debate going and getting help, because this is better as a two-person job, but sooner is better then anything, so decide to try one more time from the hind end. Both back legs are straight out, stiff and cold, worrisome. I get the rope around her rear leg closest to the ground, hoping not to get kicked, and pull her up, trying to pull her over. Legs go up into the air, flailing, she fights and struggles. I pull and pull, I cannot quite get her over, she’s a big mare, but as I release, the counter swing down is enough to give her velocity in the other direction and UP, she stands…Wobbly but up. She stands and breathes. We both pause, I am sure her rear legs are tingly and partly asleep. She wants to join the other horses and begins slowly, stiffly, walking. I walk with her, about 15 feet off her side, watching her stride. She does not consider me her best friend and did not like the ropes on her legs. No sign of a colic or paralysis, just a stiffness that loosens up as she goes. She gets near her friends where she feels safe and stops, breathing, but shivering a bit. I have a few molasses treats in my pocket, and figure that a jolt of sugar is just what she needs. I approach as softly as I can, and Ven cautious of me at first, (I still have that rope in my hand) but I offer the treat. She sniffs it, then takes it gently and chews slowly. Her eyes light up a bit; it’s helping. But now the other horses get wise to the treats I have and start to come around, begging hopefully. I break a few into tiny bits to give a taste to Alice, Violet, Glory, Duke, Nala and Ven’s sister Moon Mist. Then I give another full one to Venezuela. She’s more relaxed now, eats the second treat with more gusto, then takes a bite of snow…then yawns. This is all positive, all indications she is feeling better. I move away from her since the surrounding herd is becoming a bit excited by the idea of snack time, and wander around greeting and saying good morning while keeping an eye on Ven. She’s moving better and has stopped shivering, so she was just cast. “Just”, fortunately freed and will be fine, I think. Very happy that there are no signs of colic! Nearby, I see the tractor in the next field bringing fresh hay to the bands, so I head up to wash the mud off, and continue the day. The regular chores don’t seem so bad now!

(Venezuela on a non-muddy day)