Sunday, August 09, 2009


Oh, Dude! Oh, Dude!

Usually if you wait quietly, the answers will come. The pieces of the puzzle will fit together and you will understand the ‘how’ of a situation. Maybe the ‘why’ will still be elusive, but at least you will be able to see the steps – the process – the ‘how’ - of something that impacted your life. You may be able to glimpse a part of the journey.

Such is the way with Dude. This sturdy paint stallion came to us on Easter Sunday as a weak, emaciated, shaky, barely-able-to-stand, dying creature. I believe he was thrust upon us for a reason. This horse was not the designated horse of our journey on that day. He was instead pushed and pulled and dragged into the trailer and deposited in the fresh bed of shavings. “Out of sight out of mind” is the phrase that comes to my mind. Unwanted. Damaged. No longer needed. Sickly. Hidden. “Dead on his feet,” the owner said.

The stallion arrived at Refuge Farms and he was given fluids and time. Soaked beet pulp and water. He was given compassion and the opportunity to decide his own path. Every time I talked with him, I asked him to show me his decision. “Did he want to cross? Or did he want to live? Give me a sign, please. I’ll do whatever it is you decide. I’ll help you cross or I’ll try combinations of mash to help you eat. Just give me a sign, please.”

The sturdy Paint stallion soon stood for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. But he spent the majority of his time on his side, sleeping in the sun. Oh, how that heat on his skeleton must have felt good. Like a heating blanket. Even though it was spring, he was blanketed at night since he had no body fat to keep him warm.

He greedily ate his soaked beet pulp and attempted to eat his feed. But mostly, that would roll around in his mouth but not travel down his throat. Same with the grass he was offered. He bit and chewed hungrily, but nothing would travel down his throat. His teeth were bad, I thought. Or maybe he was that dehydrated that his throat was still swollen and sore.

It was all of those things. Yes, his throat was still sore and swollen. I would watch him close his eyes and wince when he swallowed water. How raw his throat must have been from the days without water to keep his tissues moist. What he had been offered to sustain his life at his other home was straw-like hay. How that must have scratched when he managed to swallow some! Yes, his throat was still sore and swollen and only time and water and feed would help heal his throat.

And yes, his teeth were bad. On the day that he was gelded, we examined his mouth and found three missing teeth on his lower right side plus one tooth broken and still with an infected socket. We removed the remnants of that tooth and cleaned the socket. The antibiotics should care for the rest. We removed points and in general, noted that he was missing more teeth on that right side than he had retained. Yes, his teeth were bad.

Time passed and Dude, as he was called, began to fill out and started to shine and now lifted his head in pride. He developed muscles in his hind quarters and tossed his head to let us all know he was here! The true Easter Resurrection story, this horse was recovering nicely!

But mid-June saw a change in his condition. He blew a huge hole and abscess in his right lower jaw. It drained and I cleaned it daily. We put him on an antibiotic and watched him heal. His meat healed so quickly! The hole quickly recovered and only a small area remained which drained a bit of abscess every day.

Time passed and this final little hole and tiny bit of drainage never fully went away. What was wrong, Dude? It was time for a trip to the University of Minnesota for a set of x-rays. We suspected a bone infection. Cultures had been taken and so we knew it was not strangles. It was a plain old infection from foreign substances. But what foreign substance?

Dude was the perfect gentleman as we entered the big power doors at the Equine Center. I was so proud of him! Pictures were printed to show the surgeons and the attendants the Dude of Easter Sunday. Heads shook and hands patted his rump. Amazing, they all said. Amazing what a little bit of food and care will do . . .

The oral exam showed the missing teeth and empty sockets. The answer was still elusive with just the oral exam, so a head x-ray was taken. And there it was. Plain and clear. Dude’s lower right jaw was badly broken.

My heart broke even further still for this precious horse. How he must have suffered! No wonder he was so emaciated! So withdrawn! So unaffected by his surroundings! This horse had suffered pain and so had suffered starvation to the point that he was ready to die! No wonder he couldn’t swallow the grass he so greedily chewed! No wonder he winced when he swallowed water! Oh, how painful that jaw must have been!

And how this horse wanted to live! How tough and sturdy he was to work through the pain and get himself strong again! Once again, I stood in awe of these creatures who show me time and time again their willingness to work with what they have been dealt. To survive. To live even when we humans treat them viciously and with cruelty. My arms flew around his neck. And all that could come out of my mouth was, “Oh, Dude! Oh, Dude!”

The remedy is not easy nor will it be without pain for Dude. In order to reach the bone fragments that are rotting in his jaw, the incision will be made through the lower jaw. And that will mean that his jaw will be re-broken. Then the bone fragments will be removed, the tissue will be cleaned, and his jaw will be reset and then wired.

Dude will spend four days or so with wire holding his jaws together and on IV fluids. He will not be able to eat and so will be fed through a tube inserted through his nose into his stomach. He will have pain that will be monitored and supported through IV medicines. But even with all of these supports, he will be in tough shape. He will need to be sturdy and he will need to call upon that strong will of his. He will need to know – again! – that what is on the other side of this episode will be better than where he is right now.

Then the wires will be removed and he will begin to use his newly constructed jaw on soft foods and soaked hay cubes. Once again. It will be Easter Sunday all over again. Only this time he will have a strong body and strength to fall back on. “He has some groceries on him,” Dr. Erin said. And so his recovery will be more swift and more complete than the slow recovery process of this early spring.

* * * * * *

Every morning, I feed the horses and this morning I took a bit of extra time with a few very special ones. I spent time rubbing and hugging Dude. He is manly and really doesn’t appreciate the affectionate stuff. He turns his head – understandably! – from the hugs and rolls those big white-blue eyes of his when I tell him how proud of him I am! He is manly. Just like the large geldings before him. I tell Dude that we can fix this and then find him a home. But we must fix this jaw of his first. We must rid him of this rotting bone and this lingering infection and then feed him back up and give him the gift of the rest of his life. If only he can understand that what we are about to do is the fix. Painful as it will be, it is the fix.

And then I wandered down to spend some time with Laddee. Still very aware of where her head and feet may go, I stood next to her and hugged her, too. Aware that I cannot fix her but so very grateful for every day with her. Aware that she knows she is safe and every day she is relaxing a bit more and becoming more calm. Every day she is appreciating the journey that brought her here. Every day she comes a bit closer to being the little Belgian mare that I know she will become.

I am surrounded by strength. And wills of steel. And compassionate appreciation. Pure and simple gratitude. And determination to overcome. And the character that allows these creatures to deal with their surroundings and find a way to accept their fates. Their Master Plans as they unfold. They have faith, people. They have faith and the character to face the world head on. They trust in themselves and the journey of their lives.

May we Human Beings be a bit more like these two horses . . .

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?