I Was a Middle Aged Barn Rat, Part 6, “Colic.” This is a ten part blog series about the year I decided to pursue my lifelong interest in horses, based on an article that appeared in Equus, March 2015.
The older one gets, the higher becomes the learning curve for horsemanship. I’m learning things most people in the horse world pick up when they are, at most, in their teens. The really lucky ones start when they’re four or five. In my late fifties, I’m a good forty years behind.
I try to make up for time by reading. It’s a little depressing, since reading books about horses was all I had when I was a child. Can’t have a horse? Here, read a book. Watch a TV show. They were truly poor alternatives. As a writer, I’m all for books and reading, but with some things there’s just no substitute for experience. As a barn intern, I too often feel like Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D. seeing a hatch for the first time, knowing all about it but unable to recognize it on sight. I could know something, but without ever having seen it in the real world I was effectively clueless.
The first time I saw colic, though, I was glad I’d done my reading.
One evening when I arrived at the barn, I found poor Pepper down in her stall. At that time I knew just enough about horses to understand that this could be a bad thing. I wasn’t sure, as I’m hardly ever certain about anything, but I’d read about colic, knew what caused it, knew it could be deadly, and knew the most obvious sign was lying on the stall floor. As much as I wanted to believe she was just resting, I knew I couldn’t assume it. Then she began to roll and kick, obviously in pain. I’d read about that, too, and decided it was time to call Pepper’s owner, Kristen.
But Kristen didn’t answer her cell phone. I left a message on her voicemail, but now I was undecided. Should I try to get Pepper standing? I had no idea how to do that with a writhing horse, or how much strength it might take, which I might not have. So I called Kristen’s boyfriend, Chris, hoping either she was with him or he would know how to get hold of her. Again voicemail, and I left another message.
Kristen called back about a minute later. I told her what was going on, and she told me to get Pepper on her feet and walking, and explained how to do it. I hung up, got Pepper’s halter, and put it on her. Sweet horse that she is, she let me do it and required only a slight tug to get her to stand. I had thought she might accidentally kick me, but she almost always does what she’s told and didn’t give me the slightest guff.
I was bringing Pepper out of the stall when Kristen arrived. She must have been close by; it had only taken her a few minutes. So she took over the care of her horse while I started on my regular chores around the barn. She determined that Pepper did have a mild case of colic, and administered some mineral oil through a tube. Then walked her. And walked her. And walked her. Around and around the arena they walked, and were still walking when I finished my work and was ready to go home.
But I didn’t want to go. I was worried about Pepper, and didn’t know how serious her illness was. I hung out some, waiting to know whether there was something I could do to help. Kristen kept walking, and was still walking when I finally went home after sunset.
Pepper ended up fine and got over her colic that evening without further treatment. I hate that she was sick, but have to admit the experience was invaluable to me. Now I’m confident to recognize the signs of colic in a horse, and know what to do if I see it. And I’m learning to trust the knowledge I have from books and magazines. Had I not studied up, I might have misinterpreted Pepper’s actions as just back-scratching or something similar. I’m feeling a little less like a Boob.