Happy Horse Birthday!

Happy Birthday to us,
Happy Birthday to us,
Happy Birthday dear Nevada, Rosa, Gidget and me-eee,
Happy Birthday to us!
And many moooooorrrrre.

Ready for cake!

Those of you not familiar with the world of horses may be surprised that the four of us are celebrating birthdays on the same day. But, in the life of a domestic horse, this is just the way it is. It’s not that we don’t have unique birthdays, we do, but not in the eyes of the industry. Truth be told, you probably won’t find a horse in Canada with an actual birthdate of January 1. It is way too cold at this time of year for a foal to be hitting the ground.

In reality, I was born sometime in August, don’t know the day, and Nevada’s and Gidget’s birthdays are a complete unknown. It’s likely they were born sometime in late spring or early summer which is normal for horses in northern climates. Rosa, who is a registered Quarter Horse, is the only one with a recorded birthday, June 5. To her credit, even though she’s the only one with papers, Rosa is a humble girl, never lording it over those of us of unknown origin.

Not looking at all like 28 years old.

So you may be wondering why January 1 is our official birthday. Well, it’s because humans require a means of standardizing horse-related events. Many equine sporting events are specific to a certain age of horse (like the Kentucky Derby is only for three-year-olds) so it’s important that the same standard is applied to all who enter. The Derby is held on the first weekend in May and a horse who turned three in April is quite a different competitor from one who is three on Derby weekend but four a week later. To work with the equine breeding cycle, January 1 was chosen for the northern hemisphere and August 1 for the southern hemisphere. Obviously, our date was selected in a place where winters are warmer and spring earlier.

The Kentucky Derby

For the majority of us equines who spend our time lounging around in pastures and packing a rider to a local competition or down a trail, the whole age thing is a lot less of an issue. Whether I’m sixteen, which I actually am until August, or seventeen, which I am according to industry standards, doesn’t make much difference to T, but it would be important if she were trying to sell me (which would never happen, of course.) But, let’s say in some crazy, alternate reality I’m for sale. The person shopping for a horse and reading an ad for a 17-year-old, handsome, clever, athletic gelding can be confident that I will be seventeen sometime this year, and not turning eighteen the day after she gets me home.

Birthday treats!

All of the above is to say that it was our collective birthday on January 1—Nevada turned 28, Gidget 24, me 17, and Rosa 13. We celebrated in the fashion we enjoy most, eating! For Nevada it was pretty much feeding time as usual with a few extra chunks of carrot thrown in, and Gidget also gets regular feedings of grain, but for Rosa and I, who have the misfortune of slow metabolisms and are on a perpetual hay-only diet, it was a glorious day. Sweet feed (which is a delectable mixture of grains covered in molasses) with chunks of carrot and apple mixed in was better than any birthday cake. Yum! Drooling just thinking about it. Seems Chico and I are both afflicted with over-active and anticipatory salivary glands.

It’s a special day when our feed tubs come out.

Because of this blog’s time-sensitive nature, I co-opted Logan’s “First Fur-iday” spot this month and I’d like to thank him posthumously for letting it become a pony-post day. Chico will be back next week to share some tales from the Logan archives.

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Spot’s Close Call

I’m back! Bet you thought you wouldn’t hear from me for another six months. This is my third blog post which should move me from guest to regular, don’t you think? Although I do still have to rely on Chico to post for me. As I mentioned in my first post: hooves + keyboard = disaster.

Anyway, I’d promised a couple of stories in my past posts, one about my role as herd accountant and the other about Nevada’s brush with death. Since Nevada’s story is more timely, and I can talk about me anytime—I do love to talk about me—I’ve decided to make this week’s post about my good friend Nevada, aka Big Spot, aka Spotticus, aka just Spot. He’ll also answer to “Oh great one.”

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Me and my bud on a trip to Smithers, BC in 2010.

Nevada is 27. A few of you might be thinking, “Wow! That’s old.” But it’s not really, for a horse. Our average lifespan is 25-30 years, far beyond what you can expect from a dog or a cat. At 27 coming 28 in the spring, Nevada lands smack in the middle of the end-of-the-trail range and, back in August, we all thought he’d arrived.

It started off with him walking a little slower than usual and losing some weight, but when a guy is 27, it wasn’t a surprise to any of us—humans or horses—that he was slowing down. T started taking him into the barn for a little extra feed and some supplements and he seemed to perk up. He just needed a little old-guy support.

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Enjoying his extra groceries.

Then T and N headed north for a family reunion/birthday party in the last part of August. They were barely out the driveway and I started to notice a shift in Spot, the slowness returning, and he wasn’t grazing the typical 18 hours/day. By the Monday following T & N’s Friday departure, I knew he wasn’t right, and luckily for Nevada, the horse sitter did too. She called T and then the vet. Our old herd boss was colicking.

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My herd boss for all but the first year and a half of my sixteen years.

If you’re not a horse person, the type of colic you might be familiar with is in human infants and it causes discomfort and crying. Colic in horses also causes discomfort, is often easily resolved, but can be deadly, particularly in an old horse. It all depends on the cause. I never had a chance to meet him, but T’s Anglo-Arab, Echo, died at 24 from colic that was likely caused by some kind of intestinal tumours.

So, anyway, our favourite equine vet from Animal Care Centre, Dr Rand, arrived, examined Nevada, and treated him for impaction colic (in this case, impaction means pretty much what you might imagine.) Nevada stayed in the paddock by the barn over the next few days, to be monitored and fed, and by Friday morning was really starting to seem more himself. And then, early that evening, he crashed…

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One part of colic examination. I haven’t had the pleasure.

The on-call emergency vet was called, but this time Spot wasn’t colicking, in fact the young vet wasn’t sure what was happening. Anemia, she said, and extreme weakness, possibly from internal bleeding, likely from some kind of strangulating lipoma (which is just as horrific as it sounds) or mass. None of it sounded like something he could recover from, the vet was concerned about the safety of anyone handling him and, from what I could gather from the farm end of the phone call to T and N, a decision was made. All the rest of us could do was stand at the fence line and watch.

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The whole herd.

And then Nevada’s guardian angel stepped in, his saviour. Despite the direness of his condition, the potential for it to get even more dire overnight, the vet’s concerns about safety, and a lack of experience with horses, horse-sitter Spring agreed to monitor him for the evening, see what the morning brought, and administer any necessary medications.

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Looking better than he felt, but I can see the tension in his face.

The morning brought a tired but comfortable Spot who was beginning to pick at his food. A daily dose of Banamine (a powerful anti-inflammatory for horses) and some good old-fashioned TLC did the trick and got him through the next three days until T and N were home Monday night. You should have seen the hug the old guy got from T. Good thing he was stronger by then or she might have knocked him over.

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Starting to feel better.

Tuesday morning Nevada was pacing the fence line of his paddock when the rest of us were turned out on the morning pasture. T opened the gate and he trotted out to meet us. I tried to maintain the alpha position I’d established during his week of absence but it didn’t last long. He had me back in my 2IC (that’s second in command if you’re wondering) position before lunch, and you know, under the circumstances, I didn’t mind.

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Always reminding me who’s boss.

Tuesday was Spot’s first day without Banamine and that night we all held our breath. Would the pain return? Was some strangulating mass just waiting for the medicine to stop so that it could rear its ugly head again? He went into his paddock for the night, T dewormed him, put him on a natural anti-inflammatory, gave him magnesium to get everything to relax, some probiotic to make sure the digestive system was healthy, and we all hoped for the best. He was still there in the morning and, with the exception of one mild colicky episode about a week later, he’s seemed his old self ever since. Actually, a little better than his old self; the supplements have made him more limber and a little more spry. Stoic old Appy, no one even knew he was hurting.

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Spot leads us to the alfalfa patch at the very back of the property. Feeling fine.

It’s been two and a half months since the day we thought we were going to say goodbye to our benevolent leader. I’d say we’re out of the woods but, since we live on the prairie, I suppose that’s a given.

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Still the ‘three’ amigos.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

I’m back! It’s been many months, long winter months, since I last posted on the dog blog but they’ve finally given me a chance to have another go. They’re such proprietary little guys, something about people signing up for a dog blog not a horse blog, what if they don’t want to hear from a horse, blah, blah, blah. Who doesn’t want to hear from a horse? Go ahead, raise your hands. Just what I thought. Everyone loves horses. Case closed.

So, back to that long winter. OMG! What was that? The longest, coldest, snowiest winter in forever is what I say, although, according to the meteorologist types, only the amount of snow was one for the record books. And my, was there snow. My three herd-mates and I hardly left the paddock after December. It was just too much work and for what? Not like we were going to dig through that mess and find anything to eat.

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Me the day the snowbirds arrived home. Does my expression say, “Where the hell have you been? Do you have any idea what’s been happening here?”

 

And where were Chico and Logan and our caretaking humans for this epic winter? I know you know. In Arizona! The land of no four-foot snow drifts, no freakishly cold wind chills, no need for winter blankets, and no me! But, seriously, just like I told you last fall, I’m not much of a traveller, so I wouldn’t want to be hauled all the way down there. I’d just feel better if the peeps and pooches were here to suffer through the winter with us. Selfish? Perhaps. But then I’m a horse and we’re kind of all about what’s most comfortable, safest, easiest, and generally best for us.

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Getting my funky (or is that fungi) hooves doctored after a long winter of wet feet.

 

Winter is finally over here in southern Alberta, and the green grass is starting to grow. Spring is a miraculous time for a Canadian horse. Not only do we have fresh food after months of eating desiccated grass, but there are no bugs! It’s like two or three weeks of bliss when it’s warm enough during the day to grow grass but still cold enough at night to keep the bugs from coming out or hatching or whatever it is they do before they set to harassing horses.

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Those first bites of green grass are like the best kind of candy.

 

If I had to choose between the cold, snowy season and bug season I think I’d have to go with cold and snow. Just imagine yourself standing in a field full of flies and mosquitoes covered in a scent they find very appealing with your hands tied behind your back. Your only defences are to run, stomp, roll on the ground, or shake your head. Welcome to summer in the life of a horse. The only other defence we horses have over humans are tails, but I’d take human hands any day of the week. We can swish the little tormenters off, but you can kill them or apply bug spray.

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Blissful spring day.

 

Spring is also the time when I have to get back to work after a winter off and it gets tougher every year. I thought I’d kept in reasonable shape over the winter but this year I’m sixteen and it does seem to make a difference. The consolation is that I think T’s hurting too. I can tell by the way she walks when she gets off. Snicker.

Well, I should wrap this up. The boss hounds said to keep it under six hundred words or they’ll edit me and I don’t want them to cut out my best stuff. I still didn’t get to telling you about my accountant tendencies so I guess that’ll have to wait until next time. Until then … here’s mud in your eye! (More about that horse racing inspired toast when I return.) Oh, oh. Six hundred and eleven, twelve, thirteen. Gotta go.