Last night at 7:12pm I got a call from my BO. Thankfully she started the conversation with "It's okay, Kachina's fine" but she then explained that another boarder's horse was colicking and the vet was recommending they haul to the clinic. This boarder did not have their own horse trailer and BO's trailer had been left in another city last week due to really bad roads. I immediately volunteered to come out to use my truck and trailer to get them to the nearby vet clinic.
Times like this make me really glad that I keep my truck and trailer well maintained, mostly hooked up, and gassed up. I was ready to roll in record time. Thankfully we made the half hour haul to the vet clinic without incident though the mare was in rough shape when we got there. Her heart rate was quite elevated and she was clearly uncomfortable, dancing around and kicking her back legs.The vet sedated her and the dose barely lasted 15 minutes, not a good sign. The local vet did a rectal exam and immediately asked the owners if referral was an option. "Referral" only means one thing around here when it comes to equine medicine, referral to Moore Equine surgical center. Moore's is an amazing place that does fantastic work, but it's also more than a three hour haul and treatment there never comes cheap. It's a terribly tough decision to make on more than one front: Can your horse make the trip or are you prolonging their suffering and risking them going down in the trailer? How much is your horse's life worth to you financially? Do you actually have the required funds available? Is your horse mentally or physically capable of recovering from such major surgery? These are hard questions and there isn't a lot of time to answer them. With the nearest surgery center so far away it usually doesn't work to "wait and see", it's basically all or nothing and you have to decide as soon as humanly possible.
Even if you want to go for the surgery, logistics must also be considered and that can be a whole separate challenge. Horses rarely colic in the middle of the day on your day off when the weather is nice. Do you have the ability to take time off work on short notice? Will you stay in Calgary during the surgery and recovery or do you have to drop your precious horse and leave? Are the roads safe or are you risking more than you might gain by driving through blizzard conditions or crippling fatigue? Do you have a truck and trailer that can make the journey?
The people who had to make all these decisions were the owners of the horse, a young teenage rider and her non-horsey mom. They were understandably upset and overwhelmed. I knew I couldn't make any of the hard decisions for them but I really felt for what they were going through. I had it in my power to at least deal with some of the logistics side of things for them so while the original arrangement was just to haul them to the local vet clinic, I quickly volunteered to haul them all the way to Moore's if that is what they decided.
I know first hand how much colic can suck. I know how minor cases can strike fear into your heart of what might happen and also know how nasty hard-to-treat cases can masquerade and hide how serious they are until it is too late. I know how devastating a loss from colic can be. Four years ago my heart horse Ellie colicked, but unfortunately by the time it was clear that it wasn't a simple impaction, surgery wasn't a viable option. She was bad enough that she likely wouldn't have survived the trip and a full torsion was suspected which even surgery may not have been enough to get her to recover from. I knew then and I still know now that if referral had been an option in that scenario I would have taken it. In contrast, this horse colicking yesterday was an excellent candidate for surgery if they could get there soon enough, but finances and logistics were the problem. These people standing in front of me were not people I knew well, but I knew they had no access to a truck or trailer that night and I knew the mother was exhausted from a long day, if they weren't given a way to get to Calgary they would have to wait until morning and the local vet strongly felt that morning would be too late. I was careful not to pressure them one way or another but I made it clear to them that my truck, my trailer and myself were at their disposal if they wanted to have the choice of surgery for their horse.
The decision to head to Moore's was made around 8:45pm. We got to the equine hospital around 1am. After an intake exam and thorough discussion of all the options with the vets there, we left around 3am leaving the mare in the capable hands of the clinic staff. I arrived back at my house at 6:20am which left me just enough time to shower and pack a lunch before I had to get to work at 7:15am.
The owners have been updating me throughout the day as we are in this together at this point. The mare was treated medically for the first few hours but went in for surgery early this morning. The surgery went well, they did not have to cut into the intestine but they did need to remove it and squeeze out both gas and blockages. There could still be complications but as of this writing, prognosis is good and it seems the trip to Calgary was the right call.
Am I tired today? Yes. Was it worth it to drive all night to help a horse and family I hardly knew? Yes. There are so many crappy situations in this world that I feel powerless to change. This was one crappy situation where I could help and I'm so glad I did. If this mare makes it home, seeing her and her girl together will be all the reward I need, but if the colic karma gods are watching, please take note. I know that in choosing a life with horses I will be up against the colic monster again myself at some point and any mercy is appreciated.