There was something wrong with my Wishy.
Lord, No. Please.
It’s too soon after Beau.
I wiped the inside of her hind legs off with a warm wet cloth and tried to figure out what could be causing her diarrhea.
I’m irritated with myself and wondering how it was that her symptoms slipped by my eagle eye that’s become even more watchful this spring.
She’s my low-maintenance mini. Beau was our big boy and Charlotte is our keyed-up mare, but Wishes…Wishes is a go-with-the-flow horse if ever there was one. Her previous owner compared her to Eeyore, and the personality suits her perfectly. She goes along and gets along and she’ll get a little pout to her every now and then, but nothing that a few soft words and two soft hands can’t soothe.
I love that horse.
And now, as I put her back in the pen with Char, my brain goes into high gear thinking on how I’m going to get my kids to the good-bye party for friends that we all realllly really want to go to, yet be here too in order to assess Wishes a little better while trying to get the vet out. My hands tremble while latching the gate and in my mind I’m standing in the barn at 4 a.m., exhausted after days on my feet in hopeful vigil while watching a brave and noble pony’s lips clamp tight in pain and dehydration just hours before his body lies down one last time.
I can’t stand up under it if something happens to her, Lord. Not now.
A sweet friend shuttles my kids, and my man-boy and I watch Wishy in the pen, and before I say anything about what I think, he tells me “I think she’s having a hard time holding her back end up. She’s swaying in the hind.”
Which is a sign of neurological damage from the common weed called mare’s tail that grows prevelantly in our area. I’ve not seen it in our yard, but I remember a week or so ago when we found her grazing behind a new shed we put up last year. My boy and I wander back to take a look and sure enough, the area is packed full of brand new shoots of the toxic horsetail.
My heart falls and I get my horse friend on text and she’s Googling and I’m researching and watching Wishy at the same time, and there right in front of my eyes she tries to pee and can only pee down her legs.
I can’t stop scared tears from coming and I’m trying to keep a grip on my fear and my big boy, he tells me it’ll be okay Mama.
I breathe deep and amp up my calls and texts to the vet and track down another one that’s a friend-of-a-friend and we all suspect plant toxicity and if that doesn’t take her, it’ll throw her into colic and if she pulls out of the toxicity, she might not pull out of the colic and that’s what took Beau and there she goes swaying her hind again and then settling into a new place that she’s never lain before in the shady part of the pen not the sunny, and that’s a bad sign too so I text the vet.
He tells me just what shot to give her to relieve pain and help her pee and says he can come see her some time the next day.
So we order pizza and eat out at the barn and I watch her and as I watch her close…so closely…I remember something small.
Small like her.
The day we rolled our little horse trailer onto the barnyard and walked the new pony Beau over to the horse pen, both minis went into a wild fit of star struck crazy horse love. They fussed and fought and bucked and ran around him so much it was like watching a bunch of barfly groupies at a Tim McGraw concert.
Both of them were thrown into heat that day and for about a week, every time we’d go out to do chores, we were stepping into a world of premenstrual high school girls. Hair flinging and head tossing and eye rolling and snap talking had become the norm on the barnyard.
Our boy horse, though castrated, (gelded in horse terminology) had thrown both our mares into heat.
But once things leveled out on our barnyard, -in the hormones and in the herd- I never saw either of our mares behave that way again. The three of them made a happy herd, and if any one of the three got grumpy, it was usually Beau, tired of their constant snuggling up to him, them preferring to stand in the warmth of his flanks over the barn almost every time. Marish behavior had gone by the wayside after that first few days of getting over their boy-horse crush and a calm, serene trio prevailed.
And now, here they were, just over a month without him, and right around the time when mares in our area go into season.
But why wasn’t Wishes drinking much water? Why was her hind end swaying like her back legs weren’t working? It couldn’t be that my wee little mare was just in heat. These symptoms were so different from anything I’ve ever seen before. She’s so level-headed and submissive and quiet, this couldn’t all be just a normal hormonal thing.
I lunged her in circles in the driveway to make sure all her legs and her back were working. I put a bucket of water in front of her so I could monitor her intake. I tied her outside the pen so I could watch and see how much she peed and pooped.
I saw how she reacted to her half ration of feed and gave her a little more when she still acted hungry. I saw how she blinked her soft, wide-eyed blink at me, just like normal with no flaring of her nostrils or clamping of her lips.
She seemed just like my regular ol’ Wishes.
I pondered the possibilities and I put her back in the pen for the night and my panic level came down after seeing her eat and drink and poop and kind of pee. I kept thinking over her symptoms and worried about them, but felt secure enough to let her overnight until I’d do an early morning check, so I tucked her in with a fresh trough of water, a few flakes of hay, and her pal Charlotte.
In the morning the vet texted that he’d be out later in the day and I posted my son as sentry and watcher of Wishy while I went to another appointment that I needed to keep. I raced home after the appointment, anxious at the fact that she’d not taken in much water all morning. At this point I was convinced that she had an Urinary Tract Infection, which was causing her to not be able to pee, which would cause her hind end to hurt and sway, and which could be deadly.
Doc came just as I was pulling Wishes out and getting her ready to see him and he took his stethoscope and his old sparkly blue veterinarian eyes and his knarled up country hands and he looked her over.
And then he looked at me and he said if I wanted him to, he could find a little miniature stallion to come on over and visit my little mare because it was pretty obvious to him that my little girl horse was just in heat.
My deep-down was right!
I was paying attention.
I did know my little horse.
And my fears, -those doubts, that grief, that insecure feeling that I must’ve done everything wrong with Beau since he didn’t live- they had just manifested so much louder than my deep-down knowledge of my little mare.
My tears started to push against my eyes and pretty soon my shoulders were shaking because I lost a horse once and once was once too many times but now, today, I wasn’t going to lose this one.
I wasn’t going to have to say goodbye to the soft eyes of a creature that loves so loyally.
So I cried quietly.
All the grief that’s been working its way out…all the hoping that it would go differently…all the wishing that it could’ve been this easy with Beau too…I just let the tears fall while the sun shined and the minis munched their hay.
And my vet, the vet to all the farms and mushers and 4-H kids here in paradise, he looked at me and saw I was crying and he was quiet too and he just stood with me like a gentlemanly elderly man would while the woman next to him cries, and then he gave me a little pat on the shoulder and he said I know. It’s hard.
And I know he knows every last thing I’m crying about and how it’s all tied up into farming and the future and the kids and the critters and our hearts and our life and how a soul crumples a little when she loses a beloved animal and how the loss puts something into that soul that makes it never quite be the same.
And then he tells me it’s okay.
It’ll be okay.
So we stood quiet for a few more seconds in the sunshine and looked at my fuzzy little mini in heat and I wiped my eyes on my sleeve and he honked into his hankerchief and then we walked past the barn and past the chickens and back toward his truck that was waiting to take him to the next call.
And as it is with a farm vet, he was soon sitting on the tailgate surrounded by kids and showing them his veterinarian bible, a current edition of the book he read every night in vet school. They oohed and aahed and coveted the thick copy and learned from him and from it the number of days in the estrus cycles of horses…and barn cats…guinea pigs…goats…alpacas…ferrets…and fox.
We learn from him and we glean from him and we send him on his way with a dozen pheasant eggs and his refusal to take a penny for his care and his call and his time.
It’s good that you called he tells me.
His blue eyes twinkle when he tells me we’ll just call this one an ‘information only’ call.
And it was information.
The disruption in the herd, losing their gelding, this being the first heat cycle of the season…those things can cause a mare to have an out-of-whack cycle, one that involves hind-end swaying and pheromone peeing and out-of-the-ordinary behavior. That’s good information. That’s information I didn’t have before.
But knowing that I can trust my deep-down when it comes to my animals…that’s good information too. Being able to sense when something is just slightly off… Knowing that I had a gut instinct and action behind it is important for me right now as we still process the loss of one of our animals and fight to not second-guess all we did.
But the best information that came out of our farm call was information that I already knew: that while us folks that manage animals and farms tend to the critters we love, one of the most valuable resources we will ever have is the kindness, care, and compassion of a country vet.
He puts on his sunglasses and starts his truck and it rumbles to life, and while I wave him goodbye and watch him leave our driveway and turn toward his next call, a farm up the road, I’m thankful…so thankful.
Thankful my wee horse will be fine…
Thankful for the life and love and lessons of the one we lost…
Thankful for this farm and these kids and these critters…
And thankful that while I tend to them all, I have a good farm vet on my side.
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…Ecclesiastes 3:1