You all know Dr. Lydia Gray as the brilliant brain behind our weekly Ask the Vet series, but did you know she’s a rider and horse owner herself? In this blog, she gives you a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to be a vet when your horse is the one colicking.
Talk about highs and lows. One minute I’m receiving the High Point Dressage Award for the Single Horse-Training Level Division at the Driving Trial we just competed in and the next minute I’m frantically searching for some Banamine to give Newman because he’s begun colicking. After a short but stressful trailer ride home he’s looking better—even eating and drinking a little—but still not himself. A few hours later (once the Banamine wore off) he’s acting colicky again so back into the trailer he goes to the equine hospital.
Fortunately for me I had mortality insurance with colic surgery endorsement so when the call came at 3am (“Newman needs surgery, do we have your permission?”) I was able to give that permission. And while this previous surgery means he is not eligible for our ColiCare –the colic surgery reimbursement program driven by SmartDigest Ultra and a veterinary-directed wellness program—I feel better knowing that other horse owners, who may or may not have insurance, can make this same decision a bit easier.
So while I had the financial end of things mostly covered, I was not prepared for how Newman looked at 7am the next morning when I went to see him. I may be a veterinarian, but it’s different seeing your own horse hooked up to fluids, depressed, covered in dried sweat and bedding, and a little beaten up around the head and legs from thrashing. He had a few complications after the surgery—respiratory infection, a cut on his leg—but his GI tract recovered well from the “small intestinal displacement” that was found during the exploratory operation and the incision healed pretty much right on schedule.
Luckily, I was at a small, private barn with someone there almost around-the-clock to provide the post-surgical care that Newman needed. Here’s an example of the Day Sheets I prepared:
6am feeding: _____
11am feeding: _____
3pm feeding: _____
7pm feeding: _____
10pm feeding: _____
30 minutes handgrazing daily, divided into 3-10 minute increments: _____
30 minutes handwalking daily, divided into 3-10 minute increments: _____
Look at abdominal incision daily: _____
Look at catheter site daily: _____
Note nasal discharge daily: _____
Take temperature daily: _____
Note attitude daily: _____
Note appetite daily: _____
Measure water intake daily: _____
Clean hind ankles and right thigh: _____
Newman was kept in a 14 X 14 stall for a week or two following surgery, but I knew his PSSM would start bothering him soon so we allowed him access to the run attached to this stall fairly quickly.
He was handwalked every day, and at six weeks post-surgery I began to put him back to work, starting with lunging at a walk. I gradually, gradually, gradually added to his workload by lunging on a hillside, lunging him over poles, and adding one circle of trot.
By eight weeks he was trotting over poles and being turned out, alone, in the paddock. At nine weeks I got on him for the first time after his surgery, which was an emotional moment. Cantering on the lunge was introduced at 10 weeks as was trotting under saddle and turnout on pasture with a quiet buddy. Three months after his surgery, I was carefully riding him at all three gaits with some lateral exercises and hill work, and he was back to full turnout with the herd.
Today Newman is showing 2nd and 3rd level ridden dressage as well as Preliminary Level Combined Driving. He still colics, and every show we go to is stressful for me, but I have solid plans in place to keep him hydrated while off the farm (what usually causes his colics) and we never go more than an hour or two away, just in case.