The Worst Anniversary Present Ever
Late on Friday night, we said goodbye to our girls at Nice airport (sniff).
On Saturday, I went for a nice hack with MC, about an hour and a half. Flurry was in fine form – enthusiastic, but well-behaved. We arranged to meet the following morning, but her daughter Nini wanted to ride too, so we couldn’t fix a time until we knew what suited Nini. No problem, I thought, we’d be finished by 2pm at the latest and I’d have the rest of the day free to spend with the LSH – it was our wedding anniversary, after all!
My phone rang at about 8pm. It was Alexandrine. She and her sister were planning a surprise for MC the next day – it was Mother’s Day in France. MC was expecting to go for a ride with just Nini & I, but Alexandrine and her Dad, Georges, were going to turn up out of the blue and join us. Trust me, Georges on a horse is a very rare sight indeed. He went for a short ride with MC and the girls last month, but before that it was probably about 10 years since he last rode! The girls had planned a picnic barbecue down by the river Largue, too. Could I play along? And join them for the picnic, of course – and the LSH was welcome too.
I have to confess to a brain fart – I momentarily forgot that the next day was our anniversary and that I had intended to keep the afternoon free to spend it with my husband of 29 years.
“Bien sûr,” I said to Alexandrine.
I turned and told the LSH the plan. I also told him I really wanted to ride Flurry, because I still have unpleasant memories of the last time I rode Aero in a big group, so he would have to drive to the river and meet us there. He looked less than excited about the whole idea. Why, I wondered… oh sh*t! Our anniversary!
I apologised and he said no, it was fine, a picnic was a nice idea and we’d have the evening together anyway. We’d cook something nice and enjoy a glass of wine on the patio. All good…
The following morning we prepared a few things for the picnic and I set off to meet MC. She suspected nothing! I went to fetch Flurry in from the field and by the time I returned, she had been ‘given’ her surprise. She was delighted, in fact she told me that she had dreamt the night before of riding to the river for a picnic with her family but was sure that was never going to happen!
Flurry was impatient to be off and pawed at the ground while everyone tacked up. I was using his Cavallo Sportboots on his front feet, as I had felt he was a little cautious on rough ground the day before. I’ve noticed before that he sometimes digs after I put them on, so I took no notice of his behaviour.
We took the shortest route to the river, about an hour’s ride, and arrived there in high spirits. All of the horses were in great form – Flurry strode out willingly and was his usual cheeky self, attempting to snack from the trees en route. The horses had a paddle in the river, some of them splashed and some of them drank, then we rode out the other side of the river and found the LSH and Remy, Alexandrine’s copain (partner). The campfire was already lit and the picnic table and a couple of chairs were out – this was going to be fun!
But first, we had to look after the horses. There were plenty of trees around to tie them to and there was plenty of grass to be eaten, so they could have a nice picnic too.
I started to untack Flurry. He was unusually well-behaved. He can be a bit bargey and cheeky when there’s grass around, and I usually have to tell him off for hauling on the lead rope, but he stood quite politely, only making a couple of half-hearted attempts to nibble on some grass. I tied him onto a tree, removed his tack and his boots and left him to settle. He pooped straight away and started to sniff at the grass. And then he started digging and, almost immediately, unearthed a snake. A very tiny snake, in fact I’ve seen earthworms that were bigger. A slow worm, we deduced later on. MC carefully picked it up with two sticks and moved it to safety. Was that why Flurry had been digging? Did he know the snake was there? Surely not, I thought – the snake was so small he couldn’t have been aware of it.
The digging continued, on and off, and the first seeds of worry took root in my mind. There was plenty of grass within reach – why was he digging?
“Je m’inquiet,” I said. “C’est pas normale.” (I’m worried, this isn’t normal).
Did he just want to roll in the sandy ground? I untied him and brought him to what seemed to me like a nice rolling spot. He went down, rolled, stood up and shook. Better now? He sniffed at the grass, walked a circle around me and started pawing half-heartedly at the ground again. Despite the heap of droppings on the ground beside him, my brain was screaming the C word at me…
“Je pense qu’il a un colique,” I said. (I think he has a colic).
I’m sure that at least one person present thought I was being an over-anxious owner. I confess to being guilty of this where Aero is concerned, he seems to have a delicate constitution, but Flurry has always been my Mr Indestructible. Nothing ever goes wrong with him… but, this time, I knew he was not himself. Alexandrine and I listened to his gut and we agreed that although there was some activity going on, there wasn’t as much gurgling as we expected to hear.
I’ve dealt with my share of colicky horses. I’m a great believer in keeping them walking gently – it helps the gut get moving again and can frequently be all that is needed to relieve trapped gas. I started to walk Flurry up and down the lane through the trees. He seemed fine, strolling along behind me, not sweating, not kicking at his belly, not trying to throw himself down or anything like that, but not trying to eat, which is NOT normal Flurry behaviour at all. Whenever we stopped, he’d stand quietly beside me but then the digging would start again after a while and I’d walk him some more.
Wine was poured, food was cooked and served. I kept walking and walking, allowing Flurry to nibble at the grass whenever he wanted, still hoping that it wasn’t a colic and thinking that, even if it was, eating a little grass might help to get his digestive system working again. The LSH took him while I ate a piece of chicken, but my heart wasn’t in it and I quickly returned to his side. And slowly, slowly his symptoms became worse. He started making more serious attempts to roll, even while I was walking him. Now there was no doubt in anyone’s mind what was going on.
I’ve dealt with my share of colicky horses. I’ve seen colics resolve themselves in an hour or two with a fart and a big heap of sloppy droppings and I’ve seen colics going on for hours and hours before gradually improving. I was beginning to realise that we were looking at the latter, but I was still calm and confident that Flurry would be fine. I rubbed his ears gently, kissed him on the face and told him so.
Georges and Remy were dispatched to the farm to get medication and the trailer. By the time they were back – maybe forty-five minutes – Flurry was much the same. Not eating, digging a little, but occasionally attempting to lie down and roll whenever he was having a painful cramp. Alexandrine quickly administered Calmagine, an antispasmodic. Did I want to give him Finadyne too? No, I thought we would stick with just the Calmagine to start with. We loaded Flurry and Quieto (they are great buddies) and MC and I set off to the farm.
They travelled well, there was one ‘clatter’ as we drove along but I could see Flurry’s little face through the window at the front so I knew he was still up. When we lowered the ramp, there was a heap of droppings behind him – a good sign. I started walking him, hoping for an improvement but, unfortunately, he was much the same – the Calmagine had had no discernible effect. I was still calm, still confident, still sure he would be fine. Still in denial?
Mr & Mrs Endurance were there, just about to set off for a ride. MC told them what was going on, and Mr Endurance came over with his stethoscope and listened for gut sounds. He shook his head – very weak. Then he checked the heart rate – 65bpm, a bit high – and we took his temperature – 36.5C, a bit low.
I’ve dealt with my share of colicky horses, but it was never MY horse that was colicking. The reality of the situation suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks – Flurry was in real danger. My eyes started to well up and I shut down that thought process rapidly – getting upset was not going to help my horse. Mr Endurance advised giving a dose of Finadyne, too, so MC did that and I continued to walk Flurry while she called the vet. Our nearest vet is over an hour away, but he was available. He would be with us in an hour and a half.
I continued to walk. Up and down in front of the big hayshed. His head down low, behind my ankles, sometimes bumping against my legs as we walked along. Into a paddock, allowing him to nibble if he wanted. Allowing him to lie down, but not allowing him to roll. Suppressing any negative thoughts, telling him he would get better. The LSH offered to walk him for a while, but I shook my head. Walking stopped the negative thoughts from taking hold.
The picnic ride returned and MC brought them up to date. I think everyone had been hoping for a miraculous turnaround. Alexandrine asked if I wanted her to call the vet again, but I said no, he’s on the way, he can’t do any more than that. MC took Quieto home in the trailer, but she was to bring the trailer straight back, in case we needed it.
Despite the meds, Flurry was clearly in a lot more pain and was trying to lie down more often. I stayed in the paddock with him, so that if he did go down suddenly he would have a nice grassy bed underneath him rather than the bare stony ground in front of the hayshed. We walked down to the bottom of the field and he lay down with a sigh. This time, he didn’t get up again. After a moment, he stretched out on his side and lay still.
I’ve dealt with my share of colicky horses, but I had never seen one do this before. It crossed my mind that this might be the end. I sat down beside him, caressing his head, smoothing his forelock, still telling him he would be ok. Whatever it takes, we’ll do it, I promised him. The LSH stood beside me and we waited.
After a few minutes, Alexandrine joined us and called the vet. Should we get him up? No, he said, if he’s calm leave him there. Should we give him more medication? No, hold off, he would be with us in half an hour. I asked her where was the nearest clinic if surgery was necessary. Aix-en-Provence – just over an hour away, not too bad.
The three of us sat together and waited. Mr and Mrs Endurance came back from their ride and joined us, their horses grazing peacefully nearby. I like to think that Flurry felt safer with his friends around. Mr Endurance listened for gut sounds again, and shook his head. Nothing. I blinked back the tears that were threatening and gently stroked my little horse’s head again. Don’t think those thoughts…
All five of us sat there, watching rain clouds sweep across the distant mountains, waiting for the vet to arrive. Flurry stayed where he was. Sometimes he sat up, just to lie back again. Sometimes his breathing was loud, laboured, almost a groan. Sometimes it was so faint that I found myself watching his flanks to make sure they were still moving. Alex and the Endurances talked quietly among themselves but I couldn’t speak, I was too busy trying desperately to stop myself from imagining a future without Flurry. He’s only ten – we were supposed to grow old and decrepit together, but now I found myself wondering if this would happen.
MC arrived back with the trailer and truly thought that Flurry was gone as she saw us all sitting there, the little dun horse stretched out on the ground beside us. She rushed into the field, her question plain on her face.
“He’s still breathing,” I said.
Now there were six of us, waiting and watching. I’ve dealt with my share of colicky horses, but it’s never been my horse that was colicking and I never realised just how important moral support is. We didn’t talk, but every single one of us was willing Flurry to pull through.
The rain clouds drew closer; the vet was half an hour late by now. A few raindrops fell. I was worried that Flurry would be chilled if it started to rain heavily, so I suggested we try to get him up and bring him into a stable. We urged him up, and he stood with a swish of his tail and a fart. Sometimes a fart is a good sign…
I led him up to the barn and MC started to bed down a stable for him while I walked him around. And then he hauled on the lead rope as he towed me towards a particularly tasty looking clump of grass. Did I dare to hope?
I led him into the stable and MC came in with a bucket to clean out the automatic water bowl. Flurry shoved his head into the bucket, looking for food. We all stood and watched him. He was alert, interested, sniffing at the straw, checking the manger for scraps of grain. Had a miracle happened? People started to smile again, but not me…
I’ve dealt with my share of colicky horses and the only one we lost was one who had a sudden improvement after hours of colic. We all thought she had turned a corner, but in fact her gut had ruptured. This relieved the colic pain, but she was dead from peritonitis by morning. I could not get this out of my head as I looked at my normal, perky, cheeky Flurry mugging Mrs Endurance while he looked for carrots. Even when the vet came and did a manual examination and pronounced Flurry as slightly constipated but torsion-free, I still feared the worst. But if indeed his gut had ruptured, there was nothing we could do now.
Everyone agreed that the best thing for Flurry was to stay in the grass paddock overnight, so Aero and MoMo were brought up to keep him company. As the LSH and I left some time later, Flurry was leading the other two in a gallop around the paddock. How could this be the same horse who had spent more than an hour stretched on his side, looking like he was at death’s door?
I was back a couple of hours later to check up on him. He was fine. Alexandrine checked him just before midnight and texted me, très bien. The same the following day and the same at 5am the next morning, when I went up to check him after lying awake worrying for an hour. My little yellow horse was truly out of danger, after giving me what was very definitely the worst anniversary surprise ever. I’m praying that there won’t be a recurrence, but I know it’s a possibility.
I have a lucky four-leaved clover that Alexandrine gave me last week – I think it helped on Sunday. If I hadn’t gone on the picnic ride, or if I had taken Aero instead of Flurry, he would have colicked all by himself at the farm and we would almost certainly have been looking at a different outcome. I just hope our luck holds.
Thanks to the LSH for the ‘picnic’ photos. I was aware of him taking them at the time and it did cross my mind that I would never want to see them but, thankfully, all was well in the end and the photos help to tell the story.