The Worst Call…

On Father’s Day in the U.S., June 18th this year to be precise, as I was getting ready to celebrate my husband and father of our daughter with a nice brunch, my phone rang. A quick look at the caller made my stomach drop a half inch. It was Dee, the woman who takes care of my old boy, George, and a handful of other retired horses.

I answered the phone quickly, not wanting to give it too much thought. Dee didn’t call for just anything.

“Hi Dee… ” I started.

“Holley,” She interrupted, “I think it’s time.” My stomach dropped more, and she continued in a quick and rushed tone, “He was out in the field at feeding time this morning and I managed to get him up and in the round pen, but I’ve never seen him in so much pain. I’ve had some difficulty getting ahold of a vet because it’s Sunday and Father’s Day, but I found one. He’ll be here in 45 minutes. I don’t know if you’re able to get out here, but if you can, I think it’d be a good idea. Usually when I see an older one in this much pain, it’s not good. I’ve given him some banamine, it hasn’t done anything….”

By the time she finished the first sentence of that dialog I was already gutted. My husband poked his head in curious to my progress (for the brunch) and saw my face, streaming with tears as I replied, “Do what you can and I’ll be there as soon as I can. I need to figure out how to get there and handle some stuff ….I don’t want him in any pa-ain.” I stuttered on that last bit and I droned on for a couple of seconds and hung up the phone quickly as we agreed that I’d call back as soon as I figured out how to get out there as soon as possible.

Not that I didn’t want to drop everything and rush over, but I already had life in motion in a different direction: brunch, my husband, picking our daughter up from a sleepover so we could enjoy the day together. My dear old friend in pain…. These are all the thoughts that run through my mind at light speed.

I explain through more tears what’s going on with George to my husband, who’s looking super concerned. I don’t break down too often, probably can count on both hands with fingers left over the times I’ve wept in the 20+ years we’ve known each other. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing…

He immediately says,”Let’s go, let’s go to George.”

“But it’s Father’s Day!” I cry harder.

“So what,” he says, “I don’t care. Let’s go.”

For a brief moment I think, “It won’t matter if I’m there or not. What’s going to happen, will happen.” It’s an attitude I’ve held for some years, it had come from shutting off that part of my life. After retiring my aging horse with someone who really understood how to care for him, maybe it was my way of trying to brace for the inevitable. The inevitable that was here…. and that thought felt cold and distant.

I check in with how I actually FEEL about it… and I know I need to go, going feels right. I tell David, and he smiles at me, “Let’s go.”

“What about picking up our daughter?” She’s in the opposite direction of the barn.

“We’ll figure it out on the way,” He says, “let’s go.”

I quickly change into barn clothes and we jump in to our car. After a call to our daughter and the parents’ of her friend, who are more than happy to extend her stay until we can pick her up, we head out.

On the way, my husband suggests calling some vets and horse care people we know, just to make sure we make decisions that aren’t fueled by grief, but rather informed kindness. I agree, but I know Dee and I have talked at length and in detail about what to do in these situations. Nothing to prolong George’s life in an aggressive or artificial way, he’s in his mid-upper 30s. He’s an old boy, we just want him to be happy and enjoy his retirement, free of pain.

We call a friend who’s a veterinary surgeon and he gave us some great advice on what we could expect. He was so kind and matter of fact. Our other friend who’s got a supplement company for animals and has been involved with horses his whole life didn’t pick up right away. It is Father’s day after all.

When we arrive the vet is already there and they have George in the isle, he’s sedated and there is a tube up his nose, he’s not super happy about that. But it’s temporary to deliver oil to his digestive track.

After thoroughly examining him, the vet announces that George is impacted, he’s constipated. For a horse digestive issues are a definite cause of concern, as their systems can be delicate and problematic. So while that is better than what we thought, he is not out of the woods.

His stool is like a dry brick. Dee mentions that she’s been watching him closely and he drinks a lot of water. She has mineral blocks out to encourage the horses to drink and replenish. It’s damn hot in Texas in the summer. She also feeds him wet food 4x a day and de-stems his alfalfa hay so he can actually eat it. Dee pays attention and provides excellent care. I have no doubt of that. She’s an angel.

“It’s been so hot, the horses can’t drink enough to stay hydrated,” the vet says.

After a time, the vet has done everything he can. But he doesn’t believe this is necessarily the end for George.

I feel a sort of relief… a cautious one. He tells us that once the sedation wears off, we’ll be able to tell more. And if it’s something more serious than impaction, like a tumor or something that George can’t recover from, that George will get worse once the sedation wears off, and he’ll burn through any pain medication quickly. If that’s the case, we’re to call him. He hands me his card.

So we wait. We wait until the sedation wears off a bit more and then get George into his stall so he can rest, we want to keep him out of the sun. We wait a bit to offer him any water.

At this point our friend, Rob Hendrickson, who’s a partner in the supplement company calls me back. I explain what the vet said. “Well, I’d have him on probiotics. As horses age they lose the ability to break down their food.” I immediately know what he’s talking about and feel a little embarrassed I hadn’t thought of it sooner.

George used to have lose stools pretty frequently. Often when he was nervous and not all the time, but it was recurring. We’d tried all kinds of things… including plain high concentrated yogurt!

“Well, if he makes it, I will get some Full Bucket probiotics,” I told Rob. He told me where I could find it. I’ve know Rob for a number of years and I know he’s got a quality product. I have my dog on the canine version, but felt like a dodo for not having my horse on it. Though aside from the lose stool issue, George has always been a pretty easy keeper and a sound horse.

Age has changed that somewhat, of course, exactly as Rob mentioned.

I spend time with George, grooming him with my hands, thinking this might be the last time I see him.

Sedated George…

I spend time loving on him

I want to remember everything…

When we leave I break down again, telling David my story with George, he’s been with me since he was 8 years old…. a story I’ll save that for another time.

Over the next few days, Dee keeps me updated as to how George is doing and he’s slowly getting better, weak but almost back to his old self. Everything functioning as it should.

I feel so grateful and relieved. Relived that he’s not in pain. Relived that we have a little more time.

I order the dang probiotics and when the arrive we run them out to the barn before we leave on family vacation. George looks good, really good, but not quite 100%.

George a week after the call

Here’s how he looks after a month of being on the Full Bucket Probiotics:

George after probiotics for a month

George feeling good.

George feeling good, checking out our dog, Dexter.

It’s kind of difficult to see from the snaps I took, but he’s looking way better even though it was still hot in Texas. He didn’t have any further impaction, his stool is great.

On a side note, he seems calmer. I know that’s really anecdotal, but George has always been a horse that is suspicious of humans, jumpy and difficult to catch. But on this day, after he’s been on these probiotics for a little over a month he not only allowed me to handle and groom him in the round pen, without any halter or lead, but he allowed me to do so when he was in the open field. That’s pretty extraordinary.

I’ll write about that further, as I collect more anecdotes…. In the mean time, I’m just happy he’s feeling good.

And if you’re so inclined here’s a link to my friend, Rob’s company:

I don’t have any monetary affiliation with this company, I just love how their products work and what they are up to in the world. They have a fantastic mission.

Take care of those you love.


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