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August 12, 2017

Hope And Home

Before proceeding, I cannot say thank you enough for all of your kind words & support - I have read & re-read them, each one a mini-life buoy amid some seriously rough seas.  I even read your well-wishes to Solo, I think he definitely appreciated them (at least he appreciated that I cannot read to him & squirt nasty medications in his mouth at the same time).

Normal is an unbelievable treasure
Posting delays inevitably result as I struggle to fit work, which forced me to travel last week, & 8-hr intervals of equine nursing duties into days with insufficient hours.  But I can tell you that Solo is home.  Beautifully, wonderfully, shiny-ly (it's a word now) home.

He's gone back for his first hospital follow-up, during which we got to get rid of the catheters that had been keeping the abscess drain tracts open.  The endoscope revealed much healing & no additional signs of new infection, which was a first...& a very welcome one.

We've just finished (I hope) the course of antibiotics.  I am flushing those tracts daily & he has to stay on a special gastric medication until his albumin levels return to normal, as he developed some colitis in the hospital due to the combined stress & intensive pain management medications.

Home.  Free.
But Solo is feeling good.  He looks fantastic.  Grazing with Encore, napping in the shade, rolling heartily after a tasty meal - all without my having to tape his head together anymore (perhaps I will be able to show you all the phases in a future missive).  He gets to be a horse.  And while I am physically, mentally, & emotionally exhausted, while we still have hurdles to clear & work to do, this is a very very very good thing.

Because when I look out my window, I see what I feared lost, so many times, on so many trips to Raleigh, in so many hours with that cold vise of fear around my chest.  I see all the best parts of me embodied in a chestnut larger than his own life:

A Haiku For Hope  

Softly shines again
That heart who defines for me
Every part of Home.

July 23, 2017

Not The Solo Update I Wanted To Post

Solo has been fighting for his life over the past five weeks at the NC State University Large Animal Hospital.

After all this time since the last post (if there is anyone still out there reading, bless you), I wanted to tell you about how he recovered from his tendon bows & went back to frolicking with joy with his big-little "brother" in the fields.  Because he did.

Feeling good yesterday in the "horse-pital" paddock
But in mid-June, following a horrific series of emergency vet calls & midnight vigils, I had to take him in to hospital in Raleigh for an emergency admission.  When it began on a Thursday evening, we thought it was an allergic reaction, but the next Tuesday, we discovered he has an extremely rare infection of one salivary gland.

As in, this is only the 2nd case they have seen on the Soft Tissue service in 15 years.

We will never know the exact cause, it can be anything that irritates the opening of the gland under the tongue, a grass seed, a piece of food, a...?  Like any injury in the mouth, once there is an opening, all the bacteria which normally live in your gut & the soil & the world, get into spaces they are not supposed to be.  The result was large, infected abscesses that are still draining through two surgical incisions under his jaw.

To say it has been a difficult road would be a gross understatement.  Two weeks ago, we were having the conversation about euthanasia, twice.  Solo, however, has remained true to his nature:  his heart defies the limitations suggested by his body.  I drove to Raleigh twice expecting to have to say goodbye to my best friend, but Solo shocked us all & said no, he was far from done.

I do have photos of the progression of the drain tracts, infection, & incredible healing, but they are extremely graphic, so I will not post them directly without a warning (I could link them, but the site I used to use for that no longer offers that service).  I drove home many times after helping with treatments, covered in blood, pus, necrotic tissue, & steeped in reeking anaerobic bacteria. 

Packed main drainage incision last weekend, looking really good
Today, I watched my horse hang out in a paddock, graze on clover, talk to his horsey neighbours, & enjoy a good roll.  It was a gift beyond measure that brought the good kind of tears to my eyes as I smelled his warm fur in a hug.  Even more so because there have been far too many of the other kind of tears in the past month.

He is very close to being able to come home:  as soon as the drainage tract no longer requires packing, I can take over his care.  He is feeling like himself again, fat, sassy, no pain meds for the past week, & eating & pooping & drinking well.

The most difficult part is the currently impossible financial situation, made even more complex because this entire thing has been once of uncertainly & creeping increments.  With no case history in the scientific literature, we had no way of predicting how things would go.  With stutters & complications, there have not been any big "opportunities" to have any kind of budget plan (if that is even possible with horse anything).  And now, we are beyond invested, better beyond expectation, & cannot risk attempts at short cuts. 

I haven't figured that part out yet.  I am enormously grateful to kind contributions made by our wonderful friend, Erica, & my mom.  Huge thanks to my neighbour, who has been sheltering Encore during all of this.  Whenever I get half a chance to breathe between this & the busiest time of year at work, I will have to look into options, as I've already put my own medical care & everything else short of electricity & fuel on hold.

I get the best people
There aren't words to encompass my gratitude towards the incredible team who worked alongside us with compassion, insight, phenomenal communication, respect, & sheer brilliance:
  • Drs. Timo Prange & Callie Fogle
  • Drs. Alex Fowler, Laura Marley, Kelly Shaw & Arlie Manship
  • Solo's Interns - George, Megan, & Emily (& now Leland) 
As well as all the techs & hospital staff going out of their way to give Solo baths, scratches, treats, hold his food when it hurt too much to eat off the ground, take him for walks, & so much more...

This is not something that I would do for any horse, nor has it been embarked upon lightly.  But I have never in my many years among horses &  people, experienced a relationship like this one.  Solo is 21, but looks half that; he remains strong, healthy, & even his student interns have noted his determination & enthusiasm for living.

If Solo had told me he was done fighting, I would have let him go, that was a promise I made to him long ago.  And a responsibility of care that I have carried out for other beloved friends when it was time.  But he didn't.  And he has always been there for me, even through the darkest time of my life that defied expression.  He quite literally saved my life.

So as long as there is breath in me, I will be there for him.  And I will do everything I can to return the favour.  

September 14, 2016

Solo Struggles: The Tendons That Bow

Yes, you read that correctly.   No, the plural is not just a literary reference.

I haven't been able to write about it because in all honesty,  I haven't been able to think about it.  But as Solo & I try to take care of each other, he reminds me that we don't have to be alone.  So I wanted to try & share for the many of you who have been part of our journey.

On August 5th (it still feels like yesterday), I walked out to replenish fly spray layers during my lunch break.  It was a horrifically muggy Friday that was about to worsen by orders of magnitude.  My eyes snapped to Solo's forelegs as  he was standing slightly out in front, unusual for him.  And a pit opened in my stomach when I saw his right front pastern was swollen & there, in mid-cannon, was the smallest bulge of a textbook bow.
This one's sore, mom... (post-first-aid, obviously)
Knowing he was fine at breakfast, it had to be fresh, but it was also the same leg he previously had a low bow on a year ago.  I scrambled ice, hose, standing wraps still scattered from Hell Storm 2016 & got vet on phone.

Day 2, post-hose tendon bow
Long story & 3 emergency calls later, Dr. Bob confirmed my observations when he came out for fall shots 4 days later.  Three months confinement to small pen, six weeks with wraps.  Not the suspensory, which was good, but another insult to the compromised deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) in that leg.

Except a week later, the amazing Erica was visiting to help with care & repairs, when we discovered during a wrap change that the left front had succumbed to a matching support bow.  I am so grateful that she was here for support, as that crushing discovery alone would have been that much worse.

Turbulent Tending

The first few weeks have been full of stressful worry for my shining buddy.  He developed running diarrhea from the anxiety of not being able to follow Encore down the fenceline.  Trying to keep heat & moisture out of tendons during the hottest month in the literal modern record of the planet, with humidity you could drink, was exhausting in itself.

I can report that Solo has begun to stabilize.  We have returned to normal poo (always a cause for equine celebration).  It is 30 degrees cooler outside & swelling has been absent under wraps.  There is hardly any heat at all when the wraps are changed.  No limping, which is critical in such big animals.  And we're down to 1 gram of bute a day just to keep any swelling from temptation.

Prison breaks both our hearts, as I watch the horse who discovered pure joy in a galloping leap, gaze over his fence with longing you can touch.  But he has achieved two jailbreaks, one this week, & after ascertaining no harm done, I took solace from the renewing spark in his eye.  He will never return to a riding career, but all I need to know is that he is comfortable & happy.

Solo gave me an entire world, a sphere of irreplaceable gifts in moments & adventure.  I still need him here to light the path ahead though.

Because he literally walks on water... Photo by Brant Gamma

July 24, 2016

A New Favourite: Grooming Hands Gloves Are Hands-On...And Hands-Free!

Tell me if this sounds familiar:  currying off layers of sweat crust & dirt, I manage to drop my body brush at least twice.  I keep the gel curry on one hand to knock the dust off the soft bristles, but then I need to put something down so I can grab fly spray.  Even staging items at strategic equine corners has me juggling tools.  And my spectacular grace & coordination are somewhat legendary...

Maybe I'm just "special?"  <-- i="">obvious statement is obvious

Even included sweet handwritten note!
Even More Exciting Than Sliced Bread

Thanks to Melissa & Barb from GroomingHands.com, who asked if I'd like to try un-droppable grooming, I have discovered a miraculous world where I can groom my horses, pick up other things, AND not hit myself in the face with a brush AT THE SAME TIME.

I know, it seems impossible...but I had to find out!

Testing

Materials needed:  one sweaty horse, one clumsy human, two hands -- check.

Pre-test equine (Solo finds dinner more important...)
The Massage & Grooming gloves were described as a versatile tool which reduces static (not so testable in swamp air, but could be handy in winter) while allowing you to reach all your horse's itchy spots, work out dead hair, massage muscles, clean sensitive areas, & maintain manual dexterity.  A lot to promise, especially to a documented skeptic.

Hands ON!
Thankfully they come in multiple sizes, as my enormous lady hands require a large, but they fit comfortably, so I got to work.  I started at the base of Solo's ears & worked down his neck to his withers & shoulders, which always build up layers of dirt.

Results

Not only did they do "all of the above," I was honestly amazed at the amount of shed hair & gunk they lifted out of his coat.  You can see in the pre-test pic above, he's pretty "summer slick."  But when I got to his back & haunches...wow:

Where did all that come from??!
So yes, these are now part of my daily routine & I'm guessing from the sighs & drooping eyelids of relief that both horses are happy about it.

Even More To Love

On top of being great to use, Grooming Hands is our favourite kind of company:  a self-started small business, built by a lifetime rider & groom as a labour of love.  Founder Barb Schuster had an idea during a PA winter & threw her heart & savings after it (as a single mom, no less!).  You can read her story here.

Solo definitely agrees & gives them four hooves up.  Even sensitive Encore leaned into the massage & I really liked the immediate tactile feedback of grooming with a glove, so you can adjust pressure & use different textured areas as you go.

The website is full of videos, tips, & helpful resources to explore; other features include:
  • Machine washable or just put them in the sink with some dish soap
  • Extra massage tips on middle & ring fingers
  • Smooth spots on thumb & index finger for soft wipedowns
  • Latex free for allergic folks
  • Not just for horses -- dogs, cats...hmmm, maybe myself...
Thanks again to the super-friendly Grooming Hands team for letting me try & share!

www.groominghands.com

July 9, 2016

The Day The Sheds Flew: Farmpocalypse 2016

As I was preparing horsey dinners last Wednesday, I never imagined the building I stood in would be torn violently apart 30 minutes later.

So many stories are overdue, but this one must be vexed about not getting a full telling, since it revisited last night!  I hope you'll forgive my job for swallowing me whole -- wildlife don't seem to courteously time their activities to my convenience, alas.

It Seemed Like A Normal Day 

Just home from work, I noticed the darkening sky, but it wasn't unusual for an early July evening.  Carolina summer frequently includes late-day cloudbursts, when hot, humid air blows its soggy overload.

Glancing west as I carried buckets to the boys, I was arrested by this...thing:


I know just enough about clouds to be afraid, very very afraid.  Convinced the Hand of Sauron itself was coming for us at an unsettling speed, I secured horses & hay in a record 7.8 seconds.  My ears popped as the temperature & barometric pressure went into freefall.  The passing Coast Guard rescue chopper you can hear in the video did not seem like a good omen.

My run-in, hayshed, & house are all engineered for 120 mph windstorms, my construction default here in hurricane country.  Feed & tack I keep in smaller kit sheds, but both have weathered much larger storms & are stuffed with heavy objects.

So while I wasn't thrilled by less than five minutes of warning, I hunkered down in the house feeling that all major bases were covered.  NOAA weather alerts showed this particular beast hurtling SE at interstate speeds, with angry windshear.  And hail.  (Some news photos of aftermath in the area here)

Run with the Tolkien theme
Fortunately, I keep 17 water bottles filled in the fridge, because I had time to run a whopping 1/2" of water into the tub before the power blinked out.  I was a little surprised, as in three years, I've lost power (>5 mins) exactly 0 times.  Hazarding a guess from the perfectly horizontal rain out the front windows, I'd say there were probably some trees down already...

But Solo & Encore have their safety walls I built during our first brutal winter.  I uneasily watched the now-rain-hail-mix swing 180 degrees from West --> East to East --> West in 10 seconds, but I was glad they were protected.

A half-hour seems a lot longer in the dark.

I went out front as the rain stopped, to attempt salvage of my now-shredded hay tarps before the next band moved in.  It was then I noticed the horses standing in the farther corner of their paddocks.  Which they only do if something scares the bejeezus out of them.

Like, I don't know, flying walls?

The remnants of Structure Formerly Known As Feed Shed

Priority One:  Horses

Both horses were luckily unscathed.  It's always a dilemma of intense storms:  flying debris risk vs. building catastrophe risk.  Sometimes you get both -- along with storms that don't read textbooks!

Incredibly, both fencing tape & posts held.  I called my Miraculous Rescue Neighbour as I had to get buildings off the fences & important gear/feed under cover immediately, because more rain was on the way.

Tack shed flipped off foundation

My big lag screws had been ripped out of the walls, but stayed in the brackets, so I made sure to account for each one as I dragged scattered panels out of horse areas.  Red arrows in the pic show locations over about 3/4 of an acre.  The last thing I needed to add was a punctured hoof.

Priority Two:  Additional Waterlogging Prevention

Homeless things
Gear got hurled into vehicles as quickly as possible.  I was grateful I hadn't unloaded three bags of feed in the backseat of my truck.  Although improbably, feed lid bins had stayed on & watertight!

We only had about an hour before it started raining again.  Just enough time to get pastures cleaned.  And just enough time for the full weight of the damage to begin sinking in.

Bathed in exhausted sweat, I was very glad it was at least 9 pm & NOT 100 degrees as no power = no shower.  And given the chorus of sirens in every direction, it wasn't returning anytime soon.

We gonna eat it all!
The horses were ok.  I was ok.  Major structures & vehicles were ok.

But rain had blown UNDER my hayshed walls in seemingly impossible ways.  I finally got the tarp off the roof, but some of my beautiful bales were decidedly wet:  not ok.  And it's pretty hard to keep mice out of a building with one wall, which didn't bode well for feed security.

Two words echoed in my head: