I have read that it is important to know your horse’s normal behaviors, mannerisms and quirks, so that you will recognize when he is not normal. In a bittersweet way, this adage helped me last Saturday. In fact, I spent the day accumulating a list of “hmmm, that isn’t normal for Buckshot….” things in the back of my mind. In the round pen groundwork, there was some gooey stuff in his mouth, what is that? Smell his breath (as if that will tell me something!)- smells like horse, and mints (I’d given him a mint after he successfully completed an exercise). Then… in the barn, in the stall we use for grooming and tacking, he didn’t immediately eat the tiny bit of sweet feed I put in the food bucket, which he usually eats immediately. Hmmm. He stood calmly, looking forward, but not excited about the sweet feed. He wasn’t agitated, or nervous. I started brushing him; he finally ate the sweet feed. Good. Then he “let down.” He commonly does this during grooming. In addition, I thought that must be good- a horse in any distress would not let down. But, while riding, he seemed slightly off, low energy, not quite right, but not lame, and after a rest in the arena, he showed great energy, but not for long. After riding, he was fine. Went back to his pasture, nibbling on grass on the way.
A few hours later, I fed the four horses in his barn area their dinner, and Buckshot seemed to be done quite fast, so I checked his food bucket. There was quite a bit of feed still left! Buckshot never leaves any of his feed, so this was a big red light to me. I stood and watched him; he picked at his pile of after-dinner hay, then rolled(!), then stayed laying down. In a few moments, he raised his head up and stayed in that laying-down-but-with-head-up position. Not good. Definitely not normal, but not pawing on his side. I went on to feed the next barn’s horses, keeping an eye on Buckshot’s area, which I couldn’t see clearly as there was a waist-high vegetable garden in my line of sight. When I had completed the second barn, I went immediately to see Buckshot- he was standing again. Whew. Good.
I went to find the BO and tell her, and after feeding one more barn, we went to Buckshot’s pasture. He was standing over a small pile of hay, looking interested but not eating much, and he was doing a little quidding. He didn’t act distressed, just subdued. She listened to his sides (“good gut sounds”), observed him (“he is interested and alert, no signs of fever, ears are not hot, no colic ridge on his belly”), concluded he is having a mild colic, an upset stomache kind of thing, and decided that she would check on him throughout the night, and give Banamine if needed. As we walked toward the gate, Buckshot walked up to her and nuzzled her pocket gently. She must usually keep treats there. So that was a small, good sign.
I worried Saturday night. Our riding had been pretty good, but he hadn’t been himself, and now I knew why! I wondered if I had overworked him, with our round pen groundwork, followed by round pen riding, followed by arena riding, and then a trail ride. He worked almost three hours on Saturday, with two and a half of that being riding work! Oh, I felt guilty. Why didn’t I cut back on the work once I had seen a couple of “not normal for Buckshot” things? The word “colic” scares me, almost irrationally. But I knew the BO would look after him with all the care and expert knowledge of a very experienced horsewoman. Still, I worried. It was hard to concentrate on anything else on Saturday night.
I was out early Sunday morning to see Buckshot and got to the barn before they fed breakfast. As I drove up the long driveway, I scanned the far horizon for Buckshot’s pasture. Both horses looked like they were standing. Good! As I got out of my car, the BO approached me with her thumb up and a big smile on her face. She pointed to Buckshot’s pasture- “Look at them! They’re waiting for their breakfast!” I hurried around the corner and could clearly see Buckshot and Lucky, looking expectantly, ears forward, standing side-by-side, ever hopeful that breakfast was coming soon! Whew – a big exhale of relief went through me! The BO said she had checked him twice on Saturday night and both times he seemed normal. She also thought he had pooped. Great news!
I walked, faster than normal, to his pasture and found Buckshot to be his normal, “is it time to eat?” self! Wonderful! He ate all of his breakfast and moved right away to his hay, all in his normal manner. Wonderful! I gave him a hug, and gushed shamelessly all over him. I stayed with him, hanging around for a few hours, telling him how glad I was that he felt better, cleaning poop in all the stalls, watching him, just hanging out. He seemed fine and, after his breakfast was all put away, he actually seemed energetic and animated. I asked him “Do you want to do something? Do you want to ride?” He said yes (or so I assume). So we rode on Sunday, but only for an hour. He had fairly normal energy, but the ride wasn’t the best. This was not due to Buckshot, rather, another rider was using half of the arena, so we had limited space to do our work. But overall, it was wonderful that he had recovered and felt better.
This was one of those times that I really felt the weight of my inexperience – I’ve been riding and learning about horses for only eight years, and have had my own horse for only two and a half years. There is so much to know about them, and sometimes we only see very subtle signs of something that needs attention. I am ever so grateful for the really experienced horsepeople around me, especially my BO.
(Note: I’ve since learned that my rule of thumb, a horse can’t be in distress and “let down,” is not accurate. Apparently a horse might do so, to help relieve some internal pressure. So even though my knowledge was lacking, it was still good that I was observing him so carefully. Still, I wish, in hindsight, that I had put the pieces together more quickly and not worked him so hard. )