His heyday is over

By Kris Ferrazza | May 17, 2019

Most days I live in a happy little bubble. With a fun job, sweet family, cute pets and a home I adore, I’m “#blessed,” for sure. But every now and then something threatens to pop my bubble, and that’s when things turn ugly in a hurry.

Anyone who has much-loved animals knows they can bring the best of times and the worst of times. We experienced one of the worst last week when our pony, Teddy, choked. I’d never seen a horse or pony choke, despite being a certified “barn rat” since I was 10 years old. I’d heard about it, but had never actually witnessed it. Well, now I have.

At age 36, Teddy is the equivalent of 105 years old, or so our veterinarian says. He isn’t as spry as he used to be, and his face is getting gray, but the old boy does pretty well for himself. He spends his days sunning himself in his small pasture and walking in and out of the barn, mostly to see if anybody has filled his grain bucket lately.

He forages for green grass, chases birds out of his paddock and munches on hay. For the last few years, his hay has become largely recreational, due to a declining number of teeth. Instead of actually chewing and swallowing it, most of the time he digs through the bale, picks out what he wants, chews it a bit, rolls it around in his mouth, and then drops it on the ground.

Those little cigar-shaped “quids” are a sign that a horse is having trouble. We’ve known this for years, because the equine dentist tells us so every spring. But we kept buying the hay anyway. It kept him busy, even though he wasn’t eating much. Each spring we would rake it all up and toss it into the compost heap.

That all came to a screeching halt last week. Teddy was eating grain from his bucket when he started to cough. And drool. And circle. He hung his head low. Liquid drained from his mouth and nose. He definitely was choking.

I ran out the back door of the barn to get a signal, squinting at my phone in the pasture. Speed-dialing the vet, I talked a mile a minute to the receptionist. Fortunately, horses can breathe while they are choking, as the airway is not blocked. It is an emergency, but horses don’t suffocate in a matter of minutes, like people do.

Still, I paced back and forth, waiting for instructions. The pony was making awful sounds, squeaking, wheezing, rattling and even whistling sounds. These were sounds a pony does not make.

Running back to the barn, I leaped over the step and somehow caught my boot, landing hard on my knees next to him. The pony stopped wheezing for a moment and gave me side eye, as if to say, “Don’t we have enough problems?” Pain seared through both knees.

“This is why 50-year-old women shouldn’t have ponies,” I thought, holding back tears. I rose and was surprised to see my daughter on the other side of the stall door, looking alarmed.

“Go call Daddy,” I said. “Tell him he has to get home. Teddy’s choking.”

Her concerned expression shifted from me to the pony, who now stood in the darkest corner. She nodded and ran to call her father.

Alone in the barn, I felt for the obstruction, gently massaging his neck, and kept him calm and quiet. I told him what a good pony he was, and that help was on the way. Teddy clearly was in distress, circling, pawing at the floor, stretching his neck and grinding his teeth.

Soon my husband pulled into the driveway, and the vet wasn’t far behind. After a sedative was injected into Teddy’s neck, the pony relaxed. A rubber hose was snaked carefully up one nostril and down his throat. It stopped at the obstruction. Then the process of hand-pumping clean, warm water through the hose started. Each time the water reached the blockage, it drained back out, the hose emptying into a second bucket.

This went on for a while. Clean water in, dirty water out. My plumber husband was fascinated. Finally bits of hay started backwashing into the second bucket. This was a good sign.

Teddy seemed to be feeling no pain. He stood with his hind end low to the floor at an awkward slant. We stayed close to lend support.

“Smell this,” the vet finally said, holding up the hose. We did. It smelled like apple cider vinegar to me. “That’s the stomach. We got it.”

Relief flooded my body. We all laughed. Crisis averted. The tube was removed. We released our grip on our shaggy little patient. He seemed to be sleeping standing up. The vet left the stall to dispense some antibiotics, along with a pony version of Tylenol.

Then I saw it. Blood.

Drip, drip, drip.

I muttered a mild obscenity.

“His nose is bleeding,” I told the vet.

“A little or a lot?” came the casual reply.

“Uhhhh, a little. I think,” I said. “I dunno. It’s still bleeding. Like drip, drip, drip.”

“That’s normal,” our professional advised, still counting pills.

My husband later made an “up his nose with a rubber hose” comment, which actually made me chuckle. Was it safe to laugh yet? I wasn’t sure.

A visit with the equine dentist a few days later confirmed what we already knew: Teddy only has one pair of working molars left in the back of his mouth. His hay days are over.

Years ago, Teddy could eat half a bale of hay, four scoops of grain, and then some. Now he is mostly dependent on hay pellets, which come from a bag. I soak them with warm water, mixed with some grain for senior horses, and topped with his old-age medicine. Most days I also drizzle a tiny bit of molasses on top for good measure.

He initially turned up his nose at the meal I had prepared, choosing instead to scour his pasture for random blades of green grass. But after a couple of days of that, he gave up his hunger strike and learned to like it.

I knew he had turned a corner last weekend when I walked into the barn and heard his familiar nicker. Then he rumbled a deep greeting that meant, “Feed me.” His hoof pawed the floor impatiently as he tossed his mane and waited for breakfast. He was back to his old self.

Later that day my husband watched Teddy pin his ears back, lower his head and charge at a trespassing bird in his pasture. The grand finale was seeing him gallop down to the barn as I pulled into the driveway that evening.

It appears the old boy will live to neigh another day. My shiny bubble remains intact. Our heyday continues, at least for now.

And the beat goes on.

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