Spot Turns Thirty!

We horses are generally longer lived than our four-legged, human-companion counterparts, the dog and the cat. Dogs get the short end of the stick (pun completely intended) with a life expectancy of just seven to fourteen years, depending on breed and size. Although, there was one little Cattle Dog (good news, Chico) who lived to twenty-nine and a half. Cats live longer, in the fifteen to twenty range, with one outlier named Creme Puff living to thirty-eight years old.

Horses, on average, live to be anywhere from twenty-five to thirty, but many live into their thirties and a handful have lived decades beyond the average age. Three reached fifty-one, a pony named Sugar Puff lived to fifty-six, and a guy named Old Billy made it into the record books when he lived to sixty-two. Wow, right? Based on Creme Puff and Sugar Puff both living well beyond the majority of their species, I just might change my name to Storm Puff. What do you think?

Enjoying his birthday meal and party hat.

Nevada isn’t registered and there’s no record of the month and day of his birth, but, as a horse born in 1991, he officially turned thirty on the first of January. It’s likely he was born between April and July like the majority of Alberta-bred horses.

He was added to T and Nollind’s then collection of one horse and three cats in 2002. As T tells the story, Nollind started taking riding lessons that year and in the fall started shopping for a horse. Nevada was advertised as a well-trained, eleven-year-old, Appaloosa gelding. Another horse named Jack, advertised at the same time, was in his teens and reported to be a very experienced trail horse. Since the two horses lived in the same area, a day was set aside to go and see both of them.

Still likes showing off in the snow.

They saw Jack first. T loved him, thought he was perfect. Great temperament, good age, lots of trail experience. Nollind thought he was okay until they drove up the driveway of Nevada’s home and the big guy came loping along the fenceline through the deep snow, looking majestic and impressive, as he does. Nollind’s eyes lit up, and the two rides that followed, one outdoors, one in, were really just for T’s satisfaction. Fortunately for Nollind, Nevada passed her scrutiny and has been part of the clan ever since, moving here to the farm with Alta, T’s mare, in the spring of 2003.

Nollind’s new (and first ever) horse at Park Stables west of Calgary.

In case you’re wondering what happened with Jack, T liked him enough that she sent a student down to see him and then buy him, and years later, when that person was ready to sell him, recommended him to a friend who was shopping for a husband horse. In 2010, T, Nollind, Nevada and I went trail riding with Jack in the Smithers area of BC where his new people had moved. By then he was in his mid-twenties but still rocking it on the trail.

Jack in the lead, where he most liked to be.

Nevada’s name was Snowflake when they bought him, usually just called “Flake” for short. I won’t comment on whether or not Flake suits him, but Nollind didn’t think so. Since we horses are more inclined to come for the sound of oats in a bucket or maybe a whistle with a bucket of oats to follow, name changes aren’t really a big deal.

T and Nollind had learned some Spanish while travelling in Central America so started searching for a good Spanish name that was a translation of something snowy, to keep the spirit of his existing name. When they landed on Nevada, Spanish for snowfall, they’d found it. Little did they know they’d be spending quite a lot of time in Nevada a decade down the road.

Lunch break on the trail.

Somewhere along the way, he earned the nickname Spot, sometimes Big Spot, which is how I tend to think of him. He’s the biggest horse in the herd and has spots. I like things that make sense.

Spot was Nollind’s mountain horse for about ten years, until he was in his early twenties, and he really excelled in his trail boss role. Strong, brave, and setting a good pace, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader when I started out on the trails as a youngster.

My first big, multi-horse trail ride with my trusted leader as coach.

When he began to show signs of hind end challenges on steep hills, Nollind retired him and started riding Rosa. On Spot’s last trip to the Rockies, he was ponied behind me without a rider and that didn’t sit with him too well. On one narrow, downhill trail where the hill rose and dropped steeply on each side, he climbed the bank and went around me, accustomed to his front-of-the-ride position.

There was another creek stop that wasn’t this peaceful, but that’s for a future “adventures on the trail” post.

So, the big guy is thirty this year, which puts him on the back edge of the life expectancy range, but other than some of his incisors being worn down to nearly the gums, and a bit of a hitch in his backend, he’s in great shape. He needs a little extra feed to keep him in good condition through the winter months, but he keeps up with the rest of us just fine. Maybe he’ll find himself in the record books with the horses mentioned earlier. Nevada, you up for another twenty or thirty years?

How many?

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.