By Betsy Kelleher
Two months ago, I thought buttercup poisoning was the cause of Lady’s diarrhea, anemia and colic. I also thought the problem was solved and she was on her way to recovery. I was wrong.
Since then, Lady had another colic episode. While I was walking her, she pooped and I saw that as a good sign. But I saw other things as well. Her manure was full of rocks! Limestone, to be exact. No wonder the poor girl had a belly ache!
She had already passed three piles of manure visibly full of limestone by the time the vet did a stomach tubing with mineral oil. I went home and did an internet search on sand colic (didn’t know what else to call it), then bought a package of Sand Clear. Lady refused to eat this additive and the feed to which it was added. In fact, she refused to eat almost everything for a couple of days. She refused her grass hay, so I offered alfalfa. She even refused the alfalfa. And she didn’t drink much water for a whole day, when she usually drinks 20 gallons. For several days, she would eat only real grass. So I got her out of her stall whenever I could to eat in the yard.
She also developed a slight fever, which may have caused her loss of appetite. The vet recommended antibiotics and Bute and her temperature went down and stayed normal.
And I did figure out how she ate limestone. Her paddock had limestone at the doorway to the barn and her breakfast hay usually landed there. Apparently, Lady ate her breakfast hay with limestone for dessert! So I covered the limestone (which had mysteriously disappeared in one area) with a huge (heavy) rubber mat.
Before this last episode of colic, I thought that Lady and I were on our way to a new level of riding enjoyment. I’ve often mentioned my fear of riding Lady down the road since that day four years ago when she spun with me after the big dumpster truck went by. Cindy Medina has ridden her down the road several times with me riding Rocky, and that has helped me relax. More recently, Cindy worked with Lady while the four wheeler was out and about. I was happily amazed that within 15 minutes, Cindy was actually riding Lady down the driveway beside the four wheeler. Lady was also ridden down the road while the four wheeler passed us several times.
After watching that, my courage started coming back! So when another rider student ventured down the road with Cindy walking beside her, I decided to take advantage of Cindy’s invitation to join them. While waiting for them to warm up in the arena, I rode Lady on the trail behind the pasture. Being in a bit of a hurry, I didn’t settle for a walk; I asked for her nice smooth gait all the way. We went halfway back to the woods before I noticed that Cindy and Dorothy were no longer warming up. So Lady and I turned around and gaited on down the trail back to the road, to catch up with them. I saw the big dumpster truck warming up in his driveway getting ready to leave and I decided to go on down the road to the path where we usually turn off, to a place where I could feel safe while the truck passed.
While I was waiting for the truck, Dorothy and Cindy caught up with me and turned into the path and went on. As the big truck finally came down the road toward us, I sat quietly, remembering to breathe deeply and relax. We were just far enough from the road to be in Lady’s comfort zone, I thought, but close enough to be a challenge. She didn’t move as the truck passed, and I gave her a good rub on the neck. We were actually closer to the truck this time than when it had passed us four years ago. And we didn’t have three other riders nearby for support. We turned down the path to catch up with Dorothy and Cindy, but found they had already started to come back. So I rode on past them again, thoroughly enjoying Lady’s smooth gait. We went far enough that my friends were back on the road and no longer in sight when we turned around. I let Lady eat a few bites of grass, then we were off again, gaiting along back to the road.
We passed Dorothy and Cindy on the road back to the barn, and again I went on, back to the trail behind the pasture again. We went about halfway back to the woods, with me still enjoying Lady’s smooth gait. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I had not felt fear as I rode Lady on the road and I had not felt panic when the big truck went by—I was having too much fun! This was a mountain-top moment after four years of unsteady steps toward the goal. Cindy’s help was a huge factor—her riding and coaching and working Lady with the four wheeler—plus my own occasional chances to expose Lady to a loud diesel truck, a quiet tractor in the field, and whatever else might offer a challenge, plus the DVD on making a traffic-safe horse—it all had contributed to this day of triumph! Each small positive step had increased my confidence one notch.
I know that my courage was strengthened because another rider was on the road, even though I didn’t ride beside her. Lady and I were riding around on our own, but I knew that my friends were nearby. I couldn’t wait to do this again; it was the perfect way to build road-riding confidence. I did not, however, plan to ride all the way down that road by myself just yet!
That was a Thursday in mid-August, and it was the following Monday that Lady had her last colic episode with limestone in her manure. While reading about sand colic, I saw that exercise was highly recommended to “shake up” accumulations in the belly. I wondered if our faster ride could possibly have helped the limestone to finally pass through her system. Lady’s first episode of colic had been the first day of June. The internet information said it could take months before any signs of diarrhea or colic appeared from the ingestion of sand (or limestone). It was the end of August before I heaved a big sigh of relief at Lady’s progress. There had been a few times that I really thought I could lose her.
I’ve since talked to two vets about this issue. One told me he had seen one other case of a horse eating limestone—when it had been laid as a base in a new stall and the horse actually ate it. Another vet said she knew of a horse that had eaten rocks and had to have an operation to remove them. I am still hoping the limestone did not damage Lady’s intestinal lining. She seems to be gaining weight slowly, but is usually her old headstrong self again, eating anything offered to her. Except the Sand Clear. Directions on the package advise to feed it for a week each month, as a preventative measure. Since I am definitely interested in prevention, I bought another product, Fiberpsyll, with different ingredients. So far, Lady seems willing to eat this one mixed in her grain, though the directions for use are quite different.
Lady has been a big headache this summer, considering the cost of all her problems. But she is still my sweet affectionate mare and her loyalty and devotion to me still cause a special feeling of loving ownership within my heart. She is a horse and she is an Alpha mare and those words define her. I will care for Lady no matter what, because I love her. I would sell her in a minute, however, to any owner who could turn her out in a grassy pasture and enjoy riding her and love her as much as I do or breed her to carry on her excellent bloodlines and personality. And I would grieve. But I have to face the fact that I have too many horses at the moment for my old body to care for easily!
Lady has taught me many lessons over the last four years. And my feelings for her have been like an analogy of God’s love for me. I want the best for Lady. And I know God wants the best for me. God’s love doesn’t depend on how “good” we are or how beautiful or how smart or how wise or successful. His love doesn’t diminish because we cause problems or make mistakes. He doesn’t ask us to become perfect before reaching out to Him. He is willing to work with us no matter who we are or where we are in life. God’s love is available to each and every individual—because that’s the way God is. We can count on it. His love is so great that He provided the perfect sacrifice for every sin—His perfect Son—so that each one of us could be forgiven and restored to live forever in His Presence.
If only we could realize just how amazingly great is His unconditional love, His Sovereign power and His desire to have a personal, intimate relationship with each one of us as a precious part of His Heavenly family.
(Originally published in the October 2008 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)