I so thought he was dead. And of course he still might be. And of course one day he will be, as will I.
I so thought he was dead, even the very moment that the husband called me, working at the other barn, and said, "Clyde is down and can't get up." I went from standing to kneeling in that barn's isle, trying to catch my breath. I've been through this before. Duke is down and can't get up: But he'd been unwell, and unwilling to eat so it was not a surprise. Bill is down and can't get up: He went down suddenly, had broken his leg, but the ground was so slick then, and a slip and a torque did that. Rose didn't go down but was thoroughly wet and shaking when we found her, her stomach burst. And after all that, getting Clyde at all was an act of bravery, derring do.
And he just saw the vet yesterday? Got his teeth floated and a few vaccinations? And today he is down and can't get up?
And there is nothing we know of wrong?
I so thought he was dead. To see him struggle. To see him give up. To see him close his eyes against the glare of the sun though we were trying to shade him as best we could. We got a tarp and stood, each one of us at a corner, holding it over him, burning in the sun ourselves, shading and sometimes fanning him.
His feet were uphill and there is no possibility of him standing from that. So we first tried to slide him around. Well, we couldn't budge that big horse, not an inch, not without a tractor or something. Us trying to do that, however, made him try to get up again and in doing that he got to a more directly uphill position and from there I knew I could flip him. We tied ropes on both bottom feet and Ro and I pulled. When he was up a little, the other guys pushed from uphill. He flipped.
He tried to stand a few times, once making it to a sitting position and staying there a little bit but being unable to get up. I gave up. After that I just tried to keep him still, tried to get him to NOT try to get up. We offered water and he tried to drink a little and then seemed to give up on that too. We'd dribble some in his mouth now and then. When a breeze would blow, we'd try to make sure it got under the tarp to cool him off. I became concerned about dehydration -- maybe that was the whole thing, the creek being low from this dry spell, but I couldn't make him drink. We waited for the vet to get here and I wondered what in the heck she could possibly do when she did.
I reached down to uncrumple his bottom ear that had gotten into a bad position. I rubbed his TMJ to try to relax him. I imagined life without him; without him we have enough horse feed to last us a year, and that thought made me tear up. I imagined just sitting down beside him and never getting up, but I know in truth I'd just go on about life as though nothing had happened and all the changes, all the heartache, would be inside, invisible. His hide, his tail, his great broad blazed forehead, his unmatched eyes, his white spotted underbelly and all those interesting whirls.
My family stood there with that horse, holding that tarp, burning in the sun. Eventually we brought a gallon of water for the humans to drink and passed it around. And we just stood there, mostly in silence, waiting. Two hours was like two years, or twenty.
And then, almost slowly, he decided to give it a try. I had discouraged several of his attempts but there was something about this. I looked at him and said, "You really want to do this? Don't get yourself in a worse position." And the family slid the tarp away, and I pulled on the halter to encourage, and people got behind him to push to help him get up on his keel.
And then, miraculously, he stood.
And we all held our breath. Please don't fall. And I called for the bucket of water and he drank it. And a boy took off for the creek to get another gallon in the now empty jug. We had another gallon jug so we emptied it into the bucket and another boy took off to the creek to fill that one while the horse drank it down and looked for more. We had a half gallon of human water left. Into the horse's bucket that went, to hell with the humans, we could burn to a crisp and dry into toast. He drank it.
Then he stood there, still in the sun. Woozy. Unwilling to move. But then, again suddenly yet slowly, he decided he could move, and with a steadying from the halter, he took maybe 10 steps. Toward the shade. Then he pooped. Well damn that is good. I called the vet's office to tell them he was up. She was on her way. Husband asked if I still had her coming. Damn right I do. As much as I feel that we don't have the money to do this, he is more important than that. And gradually, gradually, he and I moved toward the shade.
This whole time the Inky horse, the small in-your-pocket curious bully but sweet horse, has been participating in the process, coming, sniffing, nosing, sometimes running off and nickering for him. And the honorary Belgian horse of our tribe, who is really an off color Guernsey billy goat, ambled around near us the whole time. After Clyde got up, Inky had to be haltered so she wouldn't bother Clyde because she wanted to move him. The cows and the other goats joined us shortly. The ducks are nearby, the chickens all around us (and trying to scratch through his poop which I was trying to protect in case the vet wanted to see it), my whole clan standing there with our horse on the hillside. He is standing up. Sick but standing. He's pooped twice now, and peed. Periodically he wants to pick grass, between woozy spells. All systems are working. All are here, waiting.
|only one we can get off a phone so far!|
|does this phone have a signal so I can call the vet?|
Finally the vet gets here. Clyde has a good bit of fever (103). She didn't report any other findings, listening to his heart, lungs, guts. She gives him some Banamine and an antibiotic and takes blood for a CBC just to try to see what that might indicate, if there is an infection or an underlying kidney or liver issue. We offer him water every few minutes. We take Inky and put her in a different field which doesn't make either of them happy but keeps her from pushing him down which is what I'm afraid of. He moves enough to get near that field. In a couple of hours, I offer him partial dinner. He eats with gusto.
As Mack says, horses who are going down don't usually want to eat. We checked him about every hour until we went to bed, and when I heard Rowan get up for work the next morning I knew the first thing she'd do would be to walk down and check on him. When I went down his temp was normal. I still gave him a gram of bute since I figure at the very least his muscles would be sore from the ordeal. He'll get that for a few days.
His blood work came back completely normal. He seems completely normal.
One thing I know is that courage is not really staying with the dying, even though walking that road is hard. It is just duty: you cannot not do it; to not do it is cowardice or cruelty. What is hard is walking that road and then choosing to walk it again, anyway, knowing the loss and the inevitability of that loss. I also know how easy it is when good things happen (like when that horse came to me) to think, "Oh, this is exactly what I need," and how hard it is, when hard things happen, to think "Oh, this is exactly what I need." And yet it is exactly the same amount true both ways. If we are open. If we can see past the surface. When stuff like this happens, if you are not a coward (or medicated), you just keep going, changed in ways you don't even know about: You become crueler or kinder, more scared or more brave, more compassionate or more self-absorbed.
I am still awfully glad he's alive.
When I took his dinner down to him that first night, I laid myself down in the field as he ate and looked up at the darkening sky. I watched as the trees bordering that sky turned from green to black and thought about not being separate and realized my arms were firmly crossed over my belly but he was lapping up his slobbery supper and the stars were coming out.