Moose River Farm Blog

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mayhem, Part III; Stuck!

      Good Evening,
      Colic is not the only condition that changes the mood on the farm from serene to chaotic.  More frequently miniature episodes of mayhem appear out of thin air.  They usually require quick thinking and brute strength to fix.  Sometimes, the animal will have to correct the situation on his own while we wait and watch helplessly on the sidelines.  
     Occasionally, horses become 'cast', or physically 'stuck' on the ground.  This happens when the animal lies down too close to a wall or fence.  His legs are blocked by the barrier if attempting to roll completely over on his other side.  Panic or complacency may result depending on personality and temperament of the individual.  Careful human intervention may be the only way for the horse to correct his position and prevent injury.
    At MRF, these episodes usually take place when deep snow complicates a horse's effort to rise up onto his feet.  One midwinter day I drove up the driveway and was greeted by a most undignified sight.  My horses, Zambi and Easau were nibbling on Murray’s, (Where Attention Goes...Energy Flows), hooves which were sticking straight up in the air!  Murray was lying on his back motionless.  The bolt of fear that jolted my heart rate also convinced my brain that the still form was a dead horse!  I jammed the car into park and exited quickly.  Through the fence rails I squeezed wearing my good coat and school clothes.  The deep snow resisted against my muscles pumped full of adrenalin.  The closer I got to Murray the more confirmed I felt that he had in fact expired!  
      Suddenly, one of his legs contracted reflexively when Easau chomped down with his teeth onto Murray's hoof.  The prone horse also tried to move his head so that his ears, submerged in snow, could tune into my approach.  He was alive!  However, it was clear that he was stuck; really stuck.  Despite the vulnerability of his position, Murray was not panicking.  There was no telling how long he had been like this.  He must have dropped down to roll in the snow and while his feet were straight up in the air, his massive bulk compressed the snow beneath him causing him to sink into a hole!
        Urgently, I ran to the house to alert Rod.  After collecting a shovel and lunge line from the barn, I met up with my husband out in the paddock.  We needed to dig out the snow that was creating a wedge on either side of Murray’s spine.  Only then could he lower his legs to one side and obtain leverage to stand up.  Once on all fours the horse stood thoughtfully for a minute or two before moving about the paddock.  He seemed none the worse for wear.  However, his neck and mane were covered with ice from lying in the snow for what we calculated to be at least two hours.
      Zambi found himself in the same predicament earlier this winter when in the middle of the night he chose to lie down out in the field behind his stall.  During his nap, the snow melted underneath him causing his torso to sink to a level lower than his limbs.  This left his legs at a useless 45 degree angle to his trunk preventing him from being able to rise.  All he could move was his neck.  The next morning when I went out to feed the horses before school, Zambi screamed many times to catch my attention.  When I finally tuned into the urgency of his panicking whinnies I found him in the field.  The big horse could only thrust his neck in an attempt to get control of his body.  It was clear that Zambi was exhausted from straining to no avail.  How long he had been stuck was unclear.  Once again a shovel was required to dig him out of the snow.  Rod arrived on the scene to help Zambi by pushing against him from the other side.  Finally, the horse was able to get his legs underneath himself and heave his body out of the trap.  Back in his stall, Zambi stood trembling while I, trembling too, examined him from head to toe.  His wet blanket was exchanged for a dry one and an extra layer of fleece was added.  Zambi refused to eat choosing to just stand quietly while his body recovered from the ordeal.  Eventually, I had to hurry off to my job.  Rod kept a close eye on Zambi throughout the morning.  An email received at noon assured me that my horse was looking better and nibbling hay.  By the time I returned from school the gelding was fully recovered with just a bit of soreness in his neck. 
      These occasional episodes remind me how fragile serenity is.  The older I get the more appreciative I am of the days that go by without frantic incidents in the barn.  On the rare occasion that mayhem comes knocking, I am thankful that the chaos is brief and just a temporary reminder of the fragility of all these gifts that my life continues to receive. 

Zambi, (with me), and Murray, (with Karly), look much happier in the upright position.

          

Monday, March 25, 2013

Only a Year Ago...

New book logo design; artist, Jessie Farouche, (Fools Journey Tatoo), of Raquette Lake, NY.
Jessie also designed our MRF logo!
      Good Morning,
     Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of my first post published at Finding My Way to Moose River Farm.  What a year it's been!  Each entry has enabled me to share the joys and sorrows of living with a variety of animals.  Your comments and 'likes' demonstrate that I am not alone.  
Many responses have included parallel experiences with  pets who come across as more than sources of amusement.  I love hearing about them and am still holding out hope that you will share anecdotes from your own lives with animals. 
      Last year when I tentatively clicked on the publish button for the first time, it was the bitter cold first day of spring break.  That post announced the mission of the blog; to share excerpts, photographs and video that supported my 'soon to be published' book.  Mission accomplished!  In July, Finding My Way to Moose River Farm will be available for purchase.  In August we are planning an author's fair, here at the farm, so that readers can meet the living characters who appear in the book.  Stay tuned for details.
      To celebrate this one year milestone let me know your thoughts about the posts.  Which is your favorite?  Which ones made you laugh and/or cry?  Which posts can you identify with?  Which animals are your favorites?  Have you watched any of the videos more than once?  Do any of the photographs affect your emotions?  Your responses will help me determine future posts.  
      As I write this morning, the four little dogs are curled up in various beds around the kitchen floor.  Rosemary is waking up under the kitchen table and is looking for food.  Fiona, having returned from cleaning up under the bird feeder is napping in her room.  I can hear her snoring.  The horses are finishing their breakfast and will be turned out shortly. Goaties and donks are foraging for hay in the barn, wondering when it will be time for their daily walk.  And I am contemplating how to begin my next book.  With so much and so many to be thankful for, it is a daunting task.  So off I go and lets see just how far I can get in the year to come.  
      

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mayhem: Colic Part II

      Good Evening,
      Last week I began a series about mayhem.  Although Moose River Farm runs smoothly 99% of the time, chaos throws us into a state of despair occasionally.  These temporary episodes force me to appreciate how really well the farm runs and how vigilant management and acute awareness of all residents combined with an enormous amount of luck are responsible for the smooth prevailing rhythm in which I thrive.
      Colic is the most dreaded invitation to mayhem.  Without warning a horse begins to exhibit the telltale symptoms that clearly communicate abdominal discomfort.  Pawing the stall floor, refusing to eat and excessive rolling on the ground are all signals that strike fear into the hearts of us caregivers.  To date the colic cases at MRF have all ended favorably.  Many friends have not fared as well.  After expensive attempts prove futile, the horse is ultimately put down.  Worse yet, the horse dies an agonizingly slow death on his own. 
      Last week I wrote about one colic episode that did require veterinary assistance when my Thoroughbred gelding Easau was the victim on Mother's Day, (Mayhem: Colic Part I).  His condition was brought under control after hours of intervention.  In today's excerpt from Finding My Way to Moose River Farm my niece Amy's Thoroughbred gelding, Welby is the target of mayhem's sense of humor.
The following event took place in August, 2011.
      "Rod, Welby is dead in his stall!" I shouted as my husband came urgently out through the door alarmed by the sound of my voice.  "I can't believe he is dead in his stall!" I cried.
      Back to the barn I ran as Rod collected his thoughts and dressed for the trek out to the barn. 
      The crisis began on the first morning of summer vacation when I arrived in the barn to feed breakfast.  The horses greeted me with hungry whinnies while I tossed hay into each stall.  As I approached Welby’s stall, it occurred to me that I couldn't see him through the bars.  When I opened his door, I found him lying flat out on his side, completely still with eyes open staring at nothing.  Unable to comprehend what I was looking at, I entered the stall and pushed at his hind quarters with my foot.  He did not move.  That's when I took off for the house to alert Rod. 
      Back at Welby's stall, I stared at the form lying deathly still in the shavings.  With my hand over my mouth, I entered the stall and approached his head.  I squatted down next to him and stroked his face.  My only thought was sadness that he had died alone.  I told him how much we loved him, how much Amy loved him.  Then an ear moved.  As it rotated back and forth to capture my voice his eyes moved.  He sat up on his chest, groggy but very much alive.  I moved to the other side of his body and began to push on his back and hind quarters, encouraging him to get to his feet.  He wasn't inspired to rise.  By now Rod had arrived in the barn.  He approached the stall fully expecting to see a carcass and wondering how on Earth he was going to remove the walls to get Welby out of the barn.    
      "Well he's not exactly dead," I giggled through tears as I realized how absurd I sounded in my initial panic.  "Something is still not right about him."
      With both of us coaxing, we managed to encourage Welby to his feet.  He had no appetite, but there were several piles of manure strewn about in his stall; a good sign.  We surmised that the new green hay delivered just a few days before had probably given Welby a gassy bellyache.  He spent the day quietly in his stall and did not eat much until later in the afternoon.  By the next morning, he had recovered completely.  After a few days’ rest, he was as good as new.

Welby, very much alive! (with Amy)


     
      


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mayhem: Colic Part I

      Good Evening,
      For weeks at a time MRF's soothing rhythm taps quietly in the background of my life.  Daily encounters with animals intoxicate me with happiness.  My lowered blood pressure, lowered stress levels and elevated mood keep time with this same beat.  On my way out to the barn each morning, I mumble daily affirmations including the well being of us all.  Famished muzzles that plunge into grain and hay confirm my wishes.  Occasionally, however, my hopes are dashed when mayhem arrives.  Spikes of adrenalin rudely interrupt the rhythm jolting me into ulterior action.  
      My Thoroughbred gelding, Easau is susceptible to spasmodic and gas colic when the temperature changes drastically from day to day in spring and fall.  It's always difficult to assess the degree of seriousness in this condition and with E it is even more difficult because he has a rather low threshold of pain.  A small cut on his leg is difficult to treat.  By lifting, swinging, pawing and any other motion that makes dressing the minor wound impossible, E is able to avoid the stinging sensation that he anticipates.  
      During a colic episode he paws the ground and throws his whole body against the wall of his stall.  These actions are rather alarming prompting me to hover close by.  E seems to quiet down if I stand near and rub his face with my hands.  Once I walk away he begins to paw and thrash again.  At this point I am convinced that he is indeed feeling the abdominal discomfort of colic.  Usually his episodes subside within one or two hours.  After passing a couple of piles of manure and/or gas, he is back to his robust self.  I can tell because he doesn't appear to need me anymore, choosing to join his herd mate in the paddock.  Instead of taking this personally, I feel immense relief.  
      About five years ago on a Sunday afternoon in May, (Mother’s Day to be exact), Easau’s symptoms began moments after we came in from the ring where I had been riding him.  The training session was uneventful and ended with a long walk around our property.  But once back in the barn, my large bay gelding showed no interest in the carrot that is routinely offered once the saddle and bridle are removed.  Instead he pawed at the ground and nudged my arm with his muzzle.  Usually, exercise encourages gas and sluggish chyme or partially digested food to move along the digestive tract.  In fact the first thing Easau did once I brought him into the wash stall and secured him on the cross-ties was poop!  
      Fearing that he was indeed beginning to colic, I lead him out of the barn and walked him around the driveway in the warm sunshine hoping to dislodge a minor gas bubble at the root of his discomfort.  After 30 minutes I injected the painkiller, Banamine and walked the horse another 15 minutes.  But, anytime I stopped to assess his condition, Easau was ready to drop down on the ground.  In the waning afternoon of a family holiday I made the decision to call for veterinary assistance.  I wanted the veterinarian to come before I disrupted any special dinner plans.  Within two hours, he arrived.
     Although we had never met it turned out that Dr. Burbank and I were Cornell animal science undergrads at the same time.  He was the vet on call for the weekend and considering that he had a large Mennonite family, he appreciated my earlier, rather than later emergency call.  His specialty was cattle but I had no doubt that he was just as comfortable working around horses.  Easau was still displaying acute colic symptoms, preferring to buckle at the knees to seek relief from rolling on the ground. The danger of this comes from the intestine's vulnerability to twist with gas built up inside.      
       I led E back into the barn where Dr. Burbank got to work pumping several liters of fluids into his body to hydrate his system.  The vet also reached into E’s rectum and removed a small amount of manure with his gloved hand.  More painkillers were injected as well to ease the discomfort that was making Easau think what he really needed to do was roll.
      Within four hours Easau was acting more normal and after a good night's sleep he appeared fully recovered in the morning.  Considering the degree of his colic episode, I did not fully let my guard down until he survived the next several days symptom free.  
      Thankfully, all of the colic episodes at MRF to date have been minor and temporary.  Needless to say, all of them have induced stress and worry.  The truth is, its never clear whether a colic episode is serious or not until the horse completely recovers and sends mayhem on its way.

Next week; Mayhem: Colic, Part II


 Eastern Salute's, (Easau), baby picture was taken a year before I purchased him as a two year-old.

Easau and I have been together in sickness and in health for 11 years.




Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spring is in the Air...and All Over My Clothes

       Good Evening,
     Forget singing birds, extended daylight hours and warmer outdoor temperatures.  For those of us who spend significant time in a barn there is only one true indication that spring is on its way!  Proof arrives by way of natural forces such as static electricity and blowing wind but, defies others, such as gravity.  It sticks to my clothes and invades my mouth, nostrils and ears.  My hand is of no use to wipe at my nose because it too is covered with the prickly material.  Simply writing about it makes me itch.  
      Believe it or not and despite weeks of anticipating the discomfort, I am thrilled when shedding season arrives.  Once every strand of winter hair is released the animals glisten with good health in the spring sunshine.  I never tire of gazing at their shiny coats.  It is the equine equivalent to watching chlorophyll rejuvenate the complexion of green grass. 
      In my barn shedding is a multi-species task.  The number of individuals from each group is directly related to the amount of fluff, clumps, wisps, hunks, wads and bristles that float in the air or scatter on the floor.  Evidence from the horses’ desperate attempts to scratch the hair off of backs and bellies lies in the imprint left behind where they've rolled in melting snow.
     The goats have a different tactic.  They rub the sides of their bodies against any potential scratching post, including the walls and bars of their stall, stacked hay bales and unsuspecting human legs. If the latter is clothed in fleece or corduroy, all the better. It’s a guarantee that much of the debris will stay behind once the goat walks away.
      Fiona's winter layer of long black bristles will not fully molt until mid-summer.  By then the hairs simply fall out by the handful.  If not swept up carefully these bristles migrate into the laundry and work their way into the fabric of underwear, socks or t-shirts.  The next time the garment is worn, a surprise is waiting to poke tender skin. 
      The baby donkeys arrived in December with their first winter coats fully established.  Those coats conceal so much, like a lottery ticket before the icons are scratched off to reveal the prize.  Presently, their bodies are holding on to the hair for fear that the Adirondacks may have a few more blasts of cold weather before a lasting warm-up takes hold for good.  After twenty-seven winters in upstate New York, I know better too!
Sandi thinks there is nothing like snow to scrape the hair off and exfoliate!
"Ah," says Welby. "That feels so good."
Liam the goat is shedding soft cashmere...everywhere.
Makia drops to roll and have a back scratch.
Can't wait to see what these two look like in their summer coats.
The donkeys and Fiona are still holding onto their winter insulation.
Ultimately, local residents will use discarded winter hair to line their nests.
(left, bear hair and right, horse hair)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Back in the Saddle

       Good Morning,
       During a typical winter I continue to ride the horses as long as temperatures remain above 15 degrees.  My cozy indoor ring, wool quarter sheets, and layers of fleece make this a pleasant experience that I look forward to everyday.  When the Snow Gods cooperate, I can even ride out on the one mile of groomed trail that encircles the farm.  Crisp cold air, wintry landscape, and horses' exuberant spirits lift my mood during what most people feel is the bleakest time of year. 
       But this winter wasn't typical.  It's been almost six weeks since I last rode a horse.  The bitter cold weather that gripped the Adirondacks through January and February simply defeated any attempt at motivating myself to ride.  I filled the void with other activities.  Editing my book is at full throttle.  Bonding with my baby donkeys distracted me too.  And now that it is the first of March, perhaps the extended sub-zero cold is behind us.  
       Recently, I've begun to tune into subtle changes.  Sunny days feel warm and hopeful.  Daylight lingers until after 6:00 pm and all of the animals are beginning to shed their thick winter layers of hair.  With renewed motivation I climbed back into the saddle this week and once again, took up the reins of my favorite form of physical exercise.  


My favorite view...

...is from the saddle!
Thanks for the lift Lowtchee.