Settling back into our routine after vacation is always a little bit of a challenge. This week I didn’t make it to the barn. But this afternoon we rallied (barely), and headed out for an easy ride.
The horses were way out behind the distant hilltop. As Brian and I walked out, we noticed a dark streak on the shoulder of one of the horses in our herd. The horse in question was a gray, 7-year-old Andalusian named Bean. He belonged to the trainer at our barn. From a distance, both Brian and I thought the streak was blood. As we drew closer, we were relieved to see it was just sweat. We patted Bean on the head and looked him over. Other than being a bit sweaty, he seemed fine. We concluded we must have just missed the trainer working him, and continued on.
We got Steen and Laredo, and had a nice ride in the trees. It was a beautiful afternoon – cool and breezy, and the guys were good. We rode for just over an hour.
When we were untacking, we noticed something strange. Another boarder was out in the winter lot, where Bean was standing alone. And she was on the phone. A few minutes after that, the vet arrived. Instead of parking by the barn, he drove straight out into the pasture.
We finished untacking quickly and went out to see what was up. The other boarder, K, said she’d come out to find Bean leaning against the windblock, shaking all over and covered in sweat. She’d called the barn’s trainer, M, and the vet, who happened to be passing by just at that moment.
But Bean looked horrible. In the less than two hours since we’d seen him in the pasture, his demeanor had changed dramatically. He was shaking and quivering. His entire body was drenched in sweat. His coat was cold to the touch. He’d clearly made it all the way down from the hilltop to the winter lot, which is probably about a quarter mile. But he no longer wanted to move at all. The vet had no idea what was wrong. He gave him banamine, cleared his bladder, and started an IV drip. The horse tolerated all of this, but he was unstable. His legs seemed seized up.
|This is a shot of the herd from a few weeks ago, checking out Nevada. Bean is the one in the fly sheet.|
It took five of us to get Bean into the barn – three people pushing from behind, two pulling on the head. We got him out of the pasture and into the indoor arena, which is a couple hundred feet, maybe. The vet had wanted to get Bean into a stall, but concluded the horse couldn’t deal with more movement. Brian got his lariat and threw the end up over a rafter. We rigged the IV bag so it could be raised and lowered and easily changed. The vet still had no real theories, but he put a tube in through the nose to administer fluids and some compounds that would hopefully absorb any toxins that might be in the system and flush them out.
At this point, things were settling down. The vet said to keep him on the drip all night and monitor vital signs. When he took the tube out of the nose, it started a nose bleed. But the vet was packing up to leave and M was set up next to Bean. Brian and I decided to walk out into the pasture and double check all the other horses.
Every one else in the herd seemed totally fine. By the time we got back to the barn ten minutes later, Bean had collapsed. The bleeding from the nose hadn’t stopped, and the horse was in an increasing amount of pain. M made the decision to put him down. The vet said he thought he’d have died in about 20 minutes anyway.
Stunned, Brian and I did what little we could to help. Finally, a bit before 7:00, we left. We’d patted Bean on the hilltop around 3:00. In retrospect, of course, I wish we had paid more attention to him then. But even if we had, I’m not sure anything we could have done would have made a difference. The vet couldn’t have gotten there any sooner, and whatever went wrong didn’t appear to be reversible.
It’s the kind of experience that leaves you feeling so sad and helpless. It turned out M had not ridden her horse that day. She’d spent the afternoon at a funeral for two 9-year-old boys who died in an ATV accident earlier this week. Tonight she had to say goodbye to a horse she’d purchased as a weanling, who was perfectly healthy yesterday.
We still have no idea what caused such a quick, dramatic crash. The vet was preparing to perform an autopsy when we left. Hopefully he will turn up some answers. In the meantime, we’re just going to keep an extra close eye on all the other horses in our herd, and keep our fingers crossed.
UPDATE – 8/23: Autopsy results indicate liver failure, though the cause is still unclear.
Horseback Hours YTD: 146:45