Monday, June 30, 2014

Trying Really Hard Not to Kill the Horses

Day Three
Exiting her stall, Belle was walking funny. Tender footed.  Oh, no!  Laminitis!  (Spell check suggests that she was in fact Islamist, and while I would not say that she definitely isn't Islamist, it's more likely that Fire, son of the Arabian Peninsula, is Islamist, while Belle seems more of a Church of England horse.  But I'm not interested in the horses' religious affiliation, dammit, I'm interested in the dreaded horse disease, laminitis.)

Often caused by a diet too rich in spring pasture, laminitis makes the last bones in the horse's foot (toes) to angle down, instead of straight.  It is as if the horse's foot were wedged into ballerina shoes and she had to walk around all the time on pointe.  Eventually, she would have to matriculate into the Lippizanner School of Dance, (nearly impossible for a Quarter Horse to get into) or we would have to put her down.

I ran to my computer to research laminitis: detection of.  Walking on pointe was one symptom.  There should also be abnormal heat in that foot.  I dashed back to the barn.  Cool feet!  Yay!   Feeling a little more hopeful, I walked and trotted Bell on the lunge line.  She moved normally again.  Had I imagined the tender feet?  No.  But her feet were cool, she was moving well: Disaster averted.

Just to be on the safe side, I reduced her access to the pasture for a couple of days.

Day Four
I visit the horses in the barn.  They love their stalls...Maybe too much?  What gives?  Are they sick? Why don't they spend more time outside?   And then I notice:  Fire has broken out into a cold sweat all over his body.  He's calm, but clammy.  What is that all about?

I run to my Horse Owner's Veterinary Handbook.  I look up cold sweat for no apparent reason. Suspected cause: Herbicidal poisoning.  Oh, no!  Had I not just sprayed the broad leaf weeds with that stuff they told me I could spray in the pasture without killing the horses?  And here, I've just killed one.

Oh, wait.  I have email.  It's from Charlotte, Fire's owner.  She says, I came by this morning and gave Fire a bath.  I didn't want to bother you in case you were busy.  

Oh!  Fire had a bath.  Disaster averted.

Day  Nine
Belle had a crack in her hoof.  It was a sand crack, even though we have no sand.  A sand crack starts from the ground, instead of from the coronet, just above the hoof.  If it had started from the coronet, I would have totally freaked out.   She only needed to have her feet trimmed, but I'd have to wait another week until the farrier was scheduled to come.  It was a stressful week, but we both got through it.

I'm beginning to think that the horses may not die after all.  I feel like I can leave them for a few hours at a time.  I'm no longer cleaning their stalls three times a day, burning through bags of wood shavings like a well-contained barn fire.  I am, in short, getting a grip.

And then I notice, Belle has broken out into hives all over her body.  It's worse on her belly, and they're even on her face.  Oh, and that little ow-ie that she had is now a superating wound.


Even the vet, on the phone, sounds alarmed.  She'll be over in 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, I could give Belle a bath--without soap!  No soap!

Okay, okay.

Belle enjoyed being hosed off.  Afterwards, she rolled in the dust.  I couldn't see her fur or welts under the caked-on dust, so I hosed her down a second time.

While Belle waited for the vet in her stall, I frantically tore through bales of  hay.  I had already discovered mold, (very bad for horses), in the middle of many of them, and I suspected that as the reason for the hives. I thought I had been carefully separating out the moldy parts, but I must have missed some, or the spores might have poisoned all 286 bales, stacked in neat rows with our sweat and blood.  The wasted money and effort competed in my mind with the guilt I felt for the accidental poisoning.

Watching hungrily from their stalls, the horses were now in that equine Hell, surrounded by hay so yummy, plentiful, and fragrant; and yet, they can't have any of it, not a single straw.  (The grapes!  The grapes!  I can't...reach...the grapes...!)

I decided to be forthcoming with the veterinarian about my role in the hay debacle.  It wasn't as if I had actually meant to kill the horse.  At worst, it was negligent horse-slaughter.

Dr. Anderson arrived and found that Belle had a temperature of 102.5!  (Normal is 99 - 100.)  And that was so soon after she had just been hosed off!  (Mounting panic.)

She pointed out that there was an underground river of raised skin that began at the site of the superating wound.  (Spell check suggests I might try, instead, superannuating or exasperating. So helpful!)

Turned out, Belle was bitten by a wasp, or bee.  The vet found another sore, a second sting.  But because Belle had a fever, she couldn't rule out tick fever, a more serious disease.   The welts all over her body suggested allergy, but the high temp was unusual.  She called another vet for a consult.

The fever could be caused by the allergy, but I should take Belle's temp in the morning, just in case.  If she still has a fever then, they'd have to treat her for tick fever.

In any event, neither scenario would kill Belle.  I was delighted.

I asked Dr. Anderson to inspect the hay.  Should I throw it out?  No, she said.  Most of it was excellent hay.  Just throw out the moldy parts, she said.  Fine. 

As soon as Belle was settled comfortably into her stall, I made a bee line for Farm 'n Fleet to augment my first aid kit.  The Horse Bible says, the thermometer should have a long string affixed to it.  I have a thermometer, but there's no loop for a string.  I imagined losing it in Belle's body, the glass breaking, the mercury scattering to every organ....  And no thermometer at Farm 'n Fleet had a string or anything to accommodate a string.  What the heck?

That night, I took her temp.  I must admit, I did something really dumb, though, even for me.  I may not be experienced in keeping horses, but I am female.  I'll let you ruminate on that for a while.  That's all I'm gonna' say about that.

The next morning, I raised her tail up a little higher to take Belle's temp.  Oh, there it is!  Of course!  How silly of me.  I held on to the thermometer, firmly, so as not to lose it.  It wasn't exactly like a water slide, up there.  There was no suction, or anything.  I would have had to try pretty hard to lose the thermometer in that cavity.  I do not recommend trying that, I'm just saying, the string was not really necessary.

Belle's temp was normal.  No tick fever.  She would be fine by the end of today.


The laminitis was a false alarm, but a good fire drill.  Next time, I'll check the hoof for heat.   Hindsight being 20/20, even an astigmatic like myself can appreciate the humor in Fire's cold-sweat story.  And focusing on hay mold to the exclusion of a more obvious bug bite?, a good  reminder that all of us get to make one or two mistakes before God remembers to smite our horse.

And for that, I am grateful.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Tao of Poo

Back in 1988, E.P. Dutton published The Tao of Pooh.  It was about that silly bear, Winnie-the, and how he exemplified the Way of the Tao.

I'd like to take that one letter shorter.  This blog is about the Tao of poo.

When he was a baby, I always enjoyed changing Josh's diapers.  (Changing another kid's diaper, on the other hand, not so fun.)  I looked down at him, and he looked up at me from the changing table.  It was a  focused time that we spent in each other's presence, without effort or distraction.  On the changing table, he learned "wiggle-wiggle-wiggle."  I wrapped my hands around his chubby little body and jiggled him, saying, "wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!"  Soon, when I gave the command, he would wiggle all by himself.   I smiled down at him and said, "hi!," over and over again, every day.  Soon, he smiled back at me and mouthed that little word.

The changing table was a happy place, but Josh never minded having a diaper swapped out wherever we happened to be.  I could change him on my lap.  I could change him on a table.  Our hearts and minds could still share that one activity with total mindfulness.  And that is my understanding of the way of the Tao.

Dog poo is different from diapers, of course, but it also has a Taoist as well as Christian aspect.  (The first shall be last; the least shall be mostest.)    The stink of poo focuses my thoughts on the swift completion of my task.  The poo is yin; the walk is yang.  I walk the middle path, tethered to the dogs in the one hand, and the bag of poo, in the other.  Freedom and responsibility.

Poo reminds us that we are earth-bound creatures whose soil is as fetid as any earthly muck.  Our thoughts may be abstract; we may soar through the sky in planes; yet our waste is as stinky as the foulest swamp.

Not since Josh was in diapers has my life been so dominated by poo.

I have two horses, three dogs, and four cats.  Each horse poops forty pounds of poo per day.  I'm thinking two goats, rather than a third horse, might be best:  Goats not only eat weeds, they also poop pellets--small, innocuous pellets.  Therein lies the irony of the goat, that comical, indiscriminate eater, devour-er of cans, weeds, and all manner of inferior cuisine; yet he poops charming little pellets.  The ridiculous goat, yet he poops like an angel.

I digress.

When I think about the majestic horse, I must also consider the forty pounds of poo that goes with.  Though I bask in their reflected glory, yet I must also troll the pastures with barrow and fork.  I must wake up early every day  to clean their muck.  I don't mind doing it; in fact, truthfully, I enjoy it a lot.

I have a fork, (like a pitch-fork, but lighter, with more tines).  I stab into the muck, and toss it into the air like a pizza, separating wood shavings from poo.  It takes a certain technical virtuosity that can only be achieved with mindfulness.  It's no good to hurry; better to leave it undone and come back later, when I have time.  If I try to hurry, I'll only drop poo and make a mess.

So, if your life is full of poo, like mine, rejoice!  I count among life's little pleasures the sifting of cat litter through a miniature rake.  Who invented clumping litter?  I'd like to thank them.

Cleaning up poo: The cats appreciate it.  The horses appreciate it.  The dogs don't give a crap, but everyone who walks the path they poop on appreciates it...though I won't receive their thanks.  But that's not what it's about.  It's not about me.  It's about caring for others.  It's about being a good custodian of the path.  It's about getting my head out of the clouds and remembering that we are all physical, earthly beings; producers and purveyors of poo; caught between heaven and earth; between ingestion and waste; between nature and nurture; between dry and humid; between poetry and poo.

Mindfully, I walk the middle path, bending down to bag the poo along the way.