The following article was written by our own Mary Washburn and previously published in the Eastern CT Draft Horse Association newsletter. It eloquently reminds us that living with horses can be unpredictable. Be prepared for the emergency you hope you never have by joining us at Tufts Large Animal Medical Center on Nov 4. See sidebar for details. Bring your questions and secret worries.

READY OR NOT by Mary Washburn
In November 2011 ECDHA newsletter

This time last year [2010], I was basking in the glory of having placed first in my division (single horse, training level) at the Saratoga Driving Club combined driving trial in Albany, NY. I had hoped to be doing something similar this year [2011], but life took me in a different direction. The week before the event, my husband and navigator, Carl, was sick. He did not protest when I suggested we cancel our plans for the coming weekend – real evidence of just how unwell he felt. I would have needed to spend all day Friday cleaning harness, carriage, and horse, and packing the trailer and truck. On Saturday we would have been driving to Albany, walking the marathon course, and learning the hazards. Sunday would have been a long day of driving, followed by a long drive home. Not what my man needed. Instead of all that fun, I discovered a different kind of excitement to share with my horse. We spent the weekend at Tufts Large Animal Hospital. When I went out to the barn Friday morning to feed our four horses, Strider (not my driving horse) was clearly unwell. He was not interested in food and he kept pawing the ground as if he meant to lie down. When he started grinding his teeth and breathing heavily, I called my vet. Strider had a severe case of impaction colic. He was successfully treated medically by the wonderful people at Tufts and did not require surgery. He is now fully recovered and doing just fine. Much smarter people than I have written reams about the ins and outs of colic. That is not my purpose here, but I do want to share a few “lessons learned” about my experience that might be useful in any kind of equine medical emergency.

First: When my vet said I needed to take my horse to Tufts, I knew where I was going. A couple years ago I was with a group of folks from the Eastern Connecticut Draft Horse Association who visited Tufts and took the grand tour. That was a great experience in and of itself, but it also meant that I had some familiarity with where I was going and what would happen when I got there. I didn’t know it at the time, but that visit was the dress rehearsal for my big performance. If you haven’t done so yet, go visit Tufts!

Second: I had written directions to Tufts in my truck and a functional horse trailer. When time is of the essence, one doesn’t need to be scrambling to find these things. If you don’t have your own trailer, start now making a list of friends with trailers who say they would help you in an emergence. Even if you do have a trailer, have a backup plan in case it is out of commission for some reason. And keep the directions to Tufts where you can find them in a hurry.

Third: Start thinking now about how much money you can afford to spend on which of your horses and discussing these things with other concerned family members. My vet advised me that I should expect to pay two to three thousand dollars if Strider’s colic could be managed medically, and about eight thousand if he needed surgery. I was lucky: Carl told me to “do whatever you need to do” and the bill turned out to be about $2,225. Some people would find even that hard to handle. Strider is young and a successful show horse. What if your horse is elderly? What if his injury is such that he will never be sound again? If she won’t be sound again, is she a breeding prospect? What about the time investment if extensive nursing care will be necessary? If you have more than one horse, each one of them will likely raise different issues in the event of an emergency.

While we can’t plan ahead for every eventuality, the midst of the crisis is not the best time to start thinking about these harsh realities. I feel blessed that Strider and I came through this little  adventure as smoothly as we did. Sharing our story has already sparked some interesting discussions with some of my horsey friends. I hope it will likewise be useful to you.

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