Colic is the number one cause of death in horses. It is always a serious matter, whether caused by a gas bubble, looped intestine, impaction, or other issue with the gut of a horse. Over the years and hundreds of horses, we’ve only lost one foal to colic. That baby’s gut never started working again after surgery. Recently I read a story about a mare that colics each spring when she begins to cycle. It reminded me of our Gentle Giant, a gorgeous champion stallion who is the subject of my most unusual colic experience.
Driving through New Mexico one cold evening in late 1992, the 16.2 hand 1500 pound 3 year old stallion I had just spent more money on than any other horse to date, was moving far more in the trailer than I considered normal. My husband had seen a photo of Tardee in the Journal and approved the purchase, but had yet to see our new guy in person.
I pulled the truck over in the parking lot of a large restaurant and went back to investigate. Tardee might have been a bit uncomfortable, but didn’t appear to be in distress.
Amazing generosity of horse folks and peace officers
I backed out Sky, my yearling stud colt, and handed him to the friend who was sharing the 20-hour ride home with me, then unloaded Tardee. He and I had known each other about three days, only one of which I cared for him at the World Show. After longeing Tardee a bit on the end of the lead rope it looked like he was doing okay, so we loaded up and headed on. I stopped again about 15 minutes later when the trailer began to rock, repeated the drill and realized that my new horse was colicking.
This was the last time I hauled horses any distance without a fully-stocked drug cooler, so didn’t have Banamine, Bute, or even an anti-spasmodic on hand. Somehow we got the name of a horse guy who met us at a truck stop with a shot of Banamine. (Horse people are some of the most generous in the world.) I injected the Banamine IV and tried to locate a veterinarian somewhere on the road ahead. Police and patrol officers offered to call veterinarians the length of New Mexico and all the way into Arizona to see if they could find someone to help us out.
As luck would have it, there was a convention of horse vets in Phoenix that week. There wasn’t one vet anywhere this side of Tucson, HOURS and HOURS away. One patrol officer told me to just drive as fast as I felt comfortable and wished my friend and me good luck. We drove off into the night. By the time we got to Tucson Tardee was pretty uncomfortable and bumping around in the trailer. I was afraid my husband would never have the chance to meet him.
Tardee was hanging on
The Tucson vet drugged Tardee up, ran bags and bags of IV fluids and sent us on to my vet in Phoenix hoping we would get there in time to do surgery. He was kind enough to send me off with a syringe to inject in case “he goes down in the trailer.”
My vet received a report from the Tucson vet and was expecting a very, very sick horse. However, after more drugs, a bunch more IV fluids, and an “Arizona enema,” the impaction released and Tardee came home with me a few hours later.
Okay, I imagine you’re wondering what’s so funny about this colic story. Well, nothing. I just had to introduce Tardee to you and the details of our first colic experience together. As Paul Harvey was famous for saying, “Now here’s the rest of the story.”
Out-smarting a colicky horse
Driving home from the airport after being away for three-days judging a horse show a year or so later, I spotted the vet truck parked next to the main barn before I even turned into our driveway. I’m sure you’ve know that sick sinking feeling in your stomach – I knew this was NOT a good thing.
It was Tardee. After a couple of years here he was colicking again. He was treated and we watched him like a hawk for a day or two. Thankfully here were no lingering effects.
Fast forward a few months. I was driving home again from the airport after judging another horse show. Deja vu all over again. A vet truck parked next to the main barn. Tardee had colicked again. Same thing. Treated, watched, and perfect recovery. After the same thing happened once more…
… I started to recognize a pattern. Whenever I left I always told my horses when I would be back. You know, “See you on Thursday” or “I’ll be back in two days.” Was it mere coincidence that Tardee always got sick on the very day I came home? Why would I think of that? I have no idea, but I told one of my friends that I was going to try an experiment.
The next time I left to judge a show I fibbed. I told Tardee I was going to be back a day later than I actually would. I did the same thing every time I left town. I figured that if Tardee planned his colic for the day I returned I would make sure I always got home first.
Tardee never had a tummy ache again.
Tardee Dun It, National Champion High Point Stallion. Photo taken in 1995.