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Getting Back On the Horse

A Story of Colic with my Endurance Horse

I had finally finished filling the trailer with enough supplies to get

us through the weekend. The last thing on my list was to load Godspeed

(Zaida) in the trailer, and soon we were off to El Campo, Texas to

participate in the Shanghai Trails Endurance ride. Although this was

only our third ride together, we were prepared. We had completed the

other two rides successfully and she was in tip-top shape. We had

successfully completed our last 25 mile ride ride two weeks earlier at

the Hill Country Ride in Bandera, Texas. We were ready to go.

Once we arrived, we set up camp, filled up our water tank with some

local spring water, and I set up a big pen up in the lush green grass

that we just didn't have at our place in San Antonio. Zaida and I

headed over for the pre-ride vet check that afternoon where we had no

issues and it was just rest and relaxation for the rest of the day.

For her, that meant getting some beet pulp soup and munching on the

lush pasture. For me, that meant visiting with fellow riders and

setting up camp.

The next morning, we awoke to an unusually cool, brisk, but slightly

humid day for the end of March in Texas. We couldn't complain, the

weather seemed to be perfect for a 25 mile ride. We started the race

at 8:15. Zaida was so excited and strived to stay with the fast group.

But I was in no hurry, and chose to slow her down to a nice smooth

posting trot, that was the pace that we would maintain through the

first loop. We settled into a nice rhythm riding along side an amazing

lady named Chris who I had not yet encountered at an endurance event.

We chatted the entire time, mostly about how Zaida was a former

racehorse turned endurance horse when she was 4 years old, and how

Chris also worked part-time at a farm cross-training former racehorses

into endurance horses.

At our first water stop, Zaida didn't drink much, but she had an

appetite. She munched on some grass while we took a few minutes to let

Chris's horse drink. We again picked up the same pace, a nice trot,

and continued on. At the the second water stop, she drank as she

usually would. I was happy that she was doing ok. All signs pointed to

a successful completion at this point. During the last third of the

first loop which was 13.8 miles, there was no water in sight. But we

continued on, and stopped for a couple of grass breaks to give her a

rest. We completed the loop around 10:15. I was happy with our nice

non-competitive pace. As we approached vet check, I hopped off and

walked her in. I noticed that she had cut the back of her front left

foot where she previously had a soft spot. She must have hit it with

her hind foot. She was a little sore on it. At the vet check, we

decided that she was limping and she would be better off to not

complete the ride. As we departed to head back to the trailer, another

vet approached us and doctored her up. He cleaned up her wound and

bandaged her up. He thought we could continue, but I preferred to be

safe rather than sorry. After all, we were only expecting to receive a

t-shirt, which I could probably buy. It definitely wasn't worth a lame


We retreated back to our campsite, unsaddled, and I spoiled her with

some alfalfa and grain. I added electrolytes to her grain just to be

sure she was properly hydrated, being fully aware that this was not

"her water" that she was accustomed to. She scarfed down the alfalfa,

and left some of the grain behind. I figured she would finish it

throughout the afternoon. After all, she was not considered an easy

keeper, she was relatively thin and hard to keep weight on her. I also

offered her some beet pulp soup to help with hydration. She enjoyed

some of beet pulp and drank probably 8 more gallons of water

throughout the rest of the day. That night, the temperature dropped

and the wind picked up. Around midnight I got up to check the

temperature and debated blanketing her. I decided against it for no

good reason. It was probably in the 50’s but windy. It just didn’t

seem cold enough.

The next morning I put some grain out for her, but she only took a few

bites. I took her out of her pen to see how her foot was doing. She

wasn’t limping and didn't appear to be lame. I asked another

experienced endurance rider to take a look and she agreed that Zaida

looked fine. I decided to take her for a short ride before we headed

home. We trotted off for about a 45 minute ride. She fought me as we

departed, I should have known something was up, but I didn’t catch on.

I just assumed she was being stubborn and didn't want to leave the

other horses at camp, which wasn't uncommon for her. She was not a

brave leader, but more of a follower on trail. We returned from the

ride, I offered her some alfalfa and water. She ate some alfalfa as I

unsaddled her. I loaded her in the trailer with some more beet pulp

soup, and off we went. Three hours later we arrived home, I unloaded

her and she was her old self, happy to be out of the trailer and back

with her herd. She took offf running into the pasture and bucked and

played for a few minutes as she normally did when we returned from a


About an hour later, she began exhibiting some strange behavior. She

looked as if she had been poisoned or drunk even. She was stumbling

around and bowing down on both front legs then standing back up and

walking around. I went out to take a look and was at a loss, until I

saw her stretching around touching her nose to her rump from one side

to the other. It looked like she was stretching, but she was trying to

alleviate gut pain. She didn’t lay down and she didn’t bite at her

side or even try to roll like a common colic case. At first I thought

she was tied up, but that wasn’t right. I did a few minutes of

research and decided that I needed Banamine. I gave her a full dose

and waited. I waited an hour, then two, and there was still no change.

She was in pain. I knew that I needed help, so I started calling

veterinarians.I must have left 5 messages before I received a return

call from Dr. Ben Espy DVM. Ben told me that because I had dosed her

orally, it might take longer than usual to kick in, but by this time,

it should have worked. Unfortunately, he was busy and wasn’t able to

reach her until late that night. He arrived around 11 pm on Sunday

night. He gave her a few injections and administered one gallon of oil

into her stomach. He explained to me that it could take 12 to 14 hours

for the oil to process, so by the time I returned home from work on

Monday, the following day she should be feeling a lot better.

I kept her stalled and set up my “Trailer eyes” camera in the barn

with a live feed to my bedroom, although there was noway that I could

sleep knowing she was ill. I woke up every 30 minutes and checked the

camera to see how she was doing. I just watched in horror as she

repeatedly laid down and got up, trying to find a comfortable spot

that would take away her pain. There was nothing I could do, but be

there for her. The next morning I went ou tna checked on her. She was

still in severe pain. I spent an hour with her trying to help her

relax by massaging her and loving her. I gave her some alfalfa, and

headed off to work. By 10 am, I was restless; there was noway that I

could concentrate knowing that she was not feeling well, and I had to

check on her. I left work and headed home to be with her. Upon my

arrival she whinnied at me, and I hoped and prayed that she was doing

better, but she wasn't. She was in agony. From that moment on, I

didn't leave her side.

To spare you all of the agonizing, heartbreaking details, I am going

to just say that she fought for 11 days. She fought long and hard.

During that time, she got an abundance of trailer rides, lots of

Banamine, various other medications to help her relax, another oiling,

she was palpated, massaged, given Aloe Vera, and lots of alfalfa

soaked in water. My vet and I had a very close and continuous

relationship during this time, and he was calling and checking in on

her daily, if not more often. We both just watched her fight like

neither of us had ever seen a horse fight. However, in the end, she

had ruptured. Dr. Espy did an ultrasound and we determined that it was

time for her to be free from her pain.

Putting a horse down was something I had never experienced. It was

unlike any feeling I have ever encountered. Devastating doesn't even

begin to describe the amount of emotion that ran through my body for

the next few days. It scared me so much that I questioned my ability

as a horsewoman. I considered getting rid of my horses in an attempt

to never have to feel those feelings again.



Several months later, I am still very haunted about what took place, I

still ponder what I did wrong. What if I didn’t let her have all of

that grass? Did I give her too much beet pulp? Was it the change in

the water, what if I would have brought my own water? If I would have

blanketed her, would she have survived? I have gone around and around

with myself, beating myself up over it, and still have found no

answers. The only conclusion I have come to, is that she and I weren't

meant to be a long term team.

I am so grateful for the support that I received during that time. My

boyfriend Mike was there every minute that he could be. Helping me

change IV bags, and administer Banamine in her neck catheter as she

needed it. He took her for trailer rides when I was too tired from

staying up all night in a camp chair in her stall with her, just

holding her so she didn't tear her IV line out. Dr. Espy was amazing.

The last thing that I expected was a text from my veterinarian at 2 am

asking how Zaida and I were doing. But he did it. He was concerned

about both of us the entire time.

During the 11 days that Zaida was sick, I encountered a lot of

criticism from other equestrians about not taking her to the hospital.

This was a decision that my vet and I made together. Dr. Espy

reassured me that there was nothing more that another vet would do if

I admitted her to a hospital. In addition, if I had admitted her, I

wouldn't have been able to see her and care for her the way that I

wanted to. I couldn’t imagine if that were the scenario and she still

didn’t survive. I would never be able to forgive myself. So despite

the criticism, I know I made the right choice of caring for her under

very strict instructions from my trusted veterinarian. In hindsight, I

still feel the same way, in fact I believe that the only other thing I

could have done was surgery, which was not an option for us.

Afterwards, I wondered what was next, and how do you move forward

after a tragedy like that? I was sad, and heartbroken. I didn't want

to ride, but I was five weeks into an eight week riding class. I had

to push forward and get back on the horse, a horse, any horse, but

just not Zaida, who I had started the class with. I ended up

completing the class with my BEHS rescue mare Gypsy. I rode her

everyday for the next three weeks. If it hadn't been for that class,

I'm not sure how long I would have moped. I can say that it has been

four months, and I am still very hesitant to enter another endurance

ride. I have wonderful friends who have offered to let me use a horse

for a ride, but I just haven't been able to bring myself to

participate in one yet. I plan to start again in the fall on a friends

horse, and I know it will be very bittersweet. I miss Zaida everyday,

and she will always be in my heart. I know she is out there running

with her herd, and looking down on Gypsy and I as we pass the days on

the trails. She is keeping an eye on us and protecting us from afar.

Although she was only in my life for a short period, she has left an

everlasting hoofprint in my heart.

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