Endurance Riding

Aug 25 2011

A Five Letter Word: Colic

Published by under Endurance Riding

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It was late Thursday afternoon. Gary and I had just gotten back from Durham with a truckload of hay. As I was backing the truck up to the hay shed, I noticed Forest lying down in his paddock. I smiled, thinking he looked really comfortable resting in the shade.

I continued backing the truck up when I noticed Forest didn’t get up. Normally, Forest runs over to the truck and tries to steal hay out of the bed while I am unloading it. This time he didn’t. This concerned me, but I thought I’d go ahead and unload a couple bales, hoping to spark his interest.

Two bales later, he was still on the ground. I looked over at him, puzzled. I entered his paddock to check on him. I forced him up and he immediately dropped back to the ground. I forced him up again. He went down to the ground. Again.

Immediately, I knew: COLIC.

I have never had a horse colic before. I have never even seen a horse colic before. But I knew. And I knew to get him moving right away.

I threw a bareback pad on Asali and a halter on Forest. I mounted Asali and we ponied Forest, at a walk, down Doon Grade Road, a wide, flat, easy trail. He dropped once on the trail, but by the end of the almost 2 hour walk, his attitude seemed to perk up.

I took a set of vital signs. His pulse was 34 – normal. His respiratory rate was 12 – normal. Temperature was normal, capillary refill was normal, his skin wasn’t tenting. He had gut sounds. So, I decided to offer him a little food and water. He accepted both and I thought we were out of the woods. I left, prepared to check on him again in an hour.

One hour later, Forest had stopped eating and drinking. He was standing, not lying down, but something didn’t seem right. I looked over the paddock with a flashlight and realized it was empty – completely empty. He had not eliminated in at least 5 hours. I took his food away.

Another hour later, just before 11 pm, I was back down at the barn checking on him again. Still, he was standing. But this time I noticed some muscle twitching on his haunches and around his belly. Things just did not seem right. I knew: it was time to call the vet.

Dr. Dawn Alves, from All About Equine, instructed me to give Forest Banamine, a pain medication and anti-inflammatory for colic. I did not have any, so I gave Bute instead. She said it was okay to let Forest rest if he was lying down quietly. I was not to let him thrash on the ground and I needed to periodically walk him.

I set up my cot in Forest’s paddock. It was a long night, but I enjoyed being outside, under the stars. More than once during the night, I found Forest lying right next to my cot. He had his big lips right next to my head and I forgave the goobers he left on my pillow because I knew he was watching over me. When he felt well enough to stand, he was perched over me, on alert for any danger as I slept.

Forest never rolled or thrashed throughout the night, and at 6 am, while I was hand-walking him again, he finally pooped. And then he drank. I was so relieved.

The first call I made was to my friend, Melissa Lewis. Forest had originally been her mother’s horse, but when Randi passed away from breast cancer two years ago, Melissa gave Forest to me.

I put Forest back in his paddock, although I did not offer any food. The vet had told me to withhold all his feed, but to continue to offer water. I sat back down on my cot and kept watch for awhile.

Later that morning, Forest began showing signs of colic again. And this time I could really tell he was uncomfortable. He would lie down and moan, paw when he was standing, curl his upper lip, turn his head to poke at his belly. He stopped drinking. I took another set of vital signs: normal. And again, he had bowel sounds – so loud that I did not need my stethoscope to hear them.

Dr. Dawn was on a vet call when I called the office again, so I sent a friend down to her office to pick up some Banamine. After I gave the Banamine, Forest seemed to improve, although I was well aware of the fact that the Banamine might just be masking his symptoms.

He drank. And he pooped again. Another set of vital signs: normal.

I called the vet again to update her. This time, Dr. Brittany Davis took the call. She told me to administer another dose of Banamine and to give Forest electrolytes and some water through a syringe. It seemed to be mild colic, and Forest did seem to be making some progress, so we decided to see how he was in the morning.

Friday night, Forest and I slept on the front lawn. I did not want him to cast himself in the paddock fence (as he had almost done earlier), so I left him loose on the lawn. Friday night was a difficult night – he continued to be in pain despite the Banamine. He began rolling, and when I tried to force him up, he refused repeatedly before giving in. He tried to drop when I hand-walked him and he would plant his feet and refuse to move forward.

By Saturday morning, he seemed to have improved. But this time, I wasn’t buying it. Something in my gut told me it was time to see the vet. Gary had left to go out of town, Jakob had carpooled to his football game with a friend, and I was alone with Declan, three dogs, and our three horses. I hitched the trailer, loaded Forest, and put Declan in his booster seat, with Asia next to him. My mom arrived from Quincy just as we were leaving. She came along for moral support.

At noon, we were at my friend Jen’s house. Dr. Brittany’s first impression was that Forest looked really bright. But I told her he had been doing that for the last two days – looking like he was improving and then a little later, showing signs of colic all over again. He produced another pile of poop in the horse trailer, but still, I knew, something was wrong.

During the rectal exam, Dr. Brittany found the cause of the colic: an impaction. And it was a large one. Next thing I knew, Forest was getting an NG tube down his nose and an IV in his neck. There was mention of hospitalization and possible surgery.

I did not want to leave Forest. And I didn’t want to take him anywhere but home. I am a nurse and I knew I could take care of Forest, in his own environment. I told Dr. Brittany we would talk about hospitalization if it got to that point.

Back at our own barn, I set Forest up in Asali’s stall. I had 5 Liter bags of Lactated Ringer’s solution, some IV sedation, more Banamine, heparin flushes, and everything else I needed to bolus IV fluids into Forest.

As I sat in the stall with him, running the IV fluids, I texted a few friends to send some good thoughts and “juju” out to Forest. I was holding up really well, in my survival mode, despite the fact that I had only had a few hours of sleep over the last 42 hours.

As I continued to watch the IV flow, however, I began wondering how I was going to feed Declan dinner (who was alone up at the house) and how I was going to pick up Jakob from his friend’s house (my mom had since left to tend to her own horses back in Qunicy). The first person I thought to call was Stacy Mullins, a friend I met through the Paradise Horseman’s Association (her husband is the PHA President). Her daughter’s horse had just colicked a week ago, so I knew she would understand what I was going through.

When Stacy called me back, I answered the phone and immediately started crying. She simply said, “We’ll be up and we’ll bring pizza.” Then she hung up the phone.

After the IV fluids ran out, I walked Forest around the ranch. Declan was with me, and so was Asia, our puppy, and Caine, our black lab. As we were walking, I started thinking about how Forest and I shared the same birthday and how I was the first person he allowed on his back. The bond between a horse and rider can, at times, be as strong as the bond a mother has with her child. I began to cry.

When Stacy, her husband Russ, daughter Ashley, and Ashley’s boyfriend arrived, they took over care of Forest. Russ rubbed Forest’s rump and under his belly. Forest finally started getting things moving, although he didn’t produce a lot of poo. We made him a warm mash (which the vet said we could give him, although I was not to feed hay) and continued to walk him. Ashley picked up Jakob, we had dinner, and I got a warm shower before setting up my bed at the barn and sending the Mullins family on their way.

Saturday night was the worst night only because I was so exhausted and Forest kept me up with his incessant gnawing at the wood on the barn. He was hungry, but I couldn’t feed him. Finally, at about 2 am, I moved him over to the larger barn on our property, which is made of steel. I locked him in a stall and then went up to the house to sleep for a few hours.

On Sunday, Forest was definitely improving, but he still was not out of the woods. He had not passed the entire impaction. Dr. Brittany instructed me to administer more IV fluids. She had given me 4 bags, but those were long gone. Luckily, I was able to buy 3 bags (15 more liters) from my landlady, a small animal vet and horse owner.

Jakob helped me set up the IV fluids for Forest. I even showed him how to do the heparin flush and how to clean the hub of the IV tubing. He sat in the stall with Forest and me, leaving only to check on his brother and get us something to eat and drink. Jakob also brought a horse book down to the barn for me to read. As Asia lay at our feet, I looked over at Jakob and got this sense that everything happens for a reason. I knew in my heart that Forest was going to recover and although I did not know why he was suffering, I felt as though there was a lesson to be learned. It was time to slow down and enjoy each moment life has to give.

After we gave the IV fluids, Jakob fed Forest another warm, wet mash with electrolytes. Declan rubbed Forest’s face as he ate, saying, “Ah, it’s okay, buddy.” I recognized this connection between horse and child, a love that is so innocent and unconditional, it made me sad to realize we adults don’t have much of it sometimes. What Jakob and Declan and Forest and all the other living beings that have touched my life have given me is something so raw and beautiful it cannot be described in words – it is the essence of living, the joy we feel, the energy that keeps us going.

Forest’s impaction cleared on Sunday night, and on Monday, when the vet re-checked him, he was back to his normal self. Forest has made a full recovery and we will spend many more days riding together.


Forest getting the nasogastric (NG) tube down his nose in order to administer electrolytes into his stomach.


Trying to keep Forest calm while administering the IV fluids. He is curling his upper lip up in pain.


The IV site.


Even though Forest was wearing a silly fly mask, I could not smile while he was receiving the IV fluids.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “A Five Letter Word: Colic”

  1. Chrison 26 Aug 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Oh my gosh, this totally touched my heart. I’m so glad Forest is okay and that everything worked out. But next time, if you need help, call me! I am always up to watching your boys if I’m not working! You butt, I’m glad that your mom and other friends were there to help you out though. This story is one for the books!

  2. JayaMaeon 26 Aug 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Hey Chris,
    There were a few horse people in the area that I could have called. In fact, a few friends (like you) asked why I had not called them. When you are sleep deprived and border line panicked, you don’t think straight. I do not know why I decided to call the Mullins family… they were, at the time, the only ones who came to mind. I did not even have Stacy’s phone number. I had to text her daughter to get her number. Lol! You would have thought I would have called one of my friends that I have on speed dial. The only thing I can think is that I remembered reading on facebook that the Mullins’ had a horse that colicked and so I know they would know what to do! I am so thankful they were there for me – we are closer friends now because of this situation.
    Hopefully, there won’t be a next time. But, if there is, I will have you on speed dial to call! So appreciative of all the friends who told me they would have helped had I called. Thank you, guys!

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