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The past few weeks have been a blur. June started well with rewarding one to one equine and canine client sessions, a workshop for a charity in Hampshire and a workshop up in Manchester, but from there on in, everything started to unravel.
On Sunday 9th June my beloved horse Toto was on three legs. X-rays showed that the coffin joint had deteriorated further and an injection into the joint did nothing to relieve the lameness. At 26 years of age, and with chronic arthritis in every joint, I was realistic about the prognosis for Toto, but devastated none the less. His eye was bright however, and I struggled with the knowledge that at some point I would have to make that awful decision, but with the overriding feeling that Toto was not remotely ready to leave this planet.
The week that followed was a mix of daily visits from my vet to inject pain relief, teaching at the fantastic Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (and running out in the breaks to pick up messages and get results from nerve blocks etc) and being both practical and emotional about what might lie ahead.
On the Friday, Toto was still on three legs but my outstanding vet said words that will remain with me for quite some time. After nerve blocking Toto’s foot on the Thursday afternoon, my vet told me that the horse’s demeanour had not changed. He told me that Toto was equally as happy sound as he was when he was lame and he said that he, like me, was clinging on to the fact that Toto was still so bright. He suggested that we change the angle of the hoof to enable Toto to move more freely and on the morning that I thought would be the day to say goodbye, there was suddenly a little ray of hope.
My great friend Maria Johnston, who is a TTouch Practitioner and a vet physio, took a day out of her packed diary to help my boy, and treated him with her magic equipment. Jon made a wooden wedge that we taped on to Toto’s heel whilst we waited for my farrier to make a wedge shoe over the weekend and my farrier made a special visit to the yard on the Monday morning to fit the shoe. The results were quite astounding. Yes, Toto was still lame, but he began to walk with more purpose and when his head was down as he grazed in one of the more level pastures that we have, you would not have known that he was lame. He began to weight bear more evenly, and was thoroughly enjoying all the attention he was receiving.
Toto is such a laid back horse and all our horses are happy to have us in their stable whilst they are lying down. We moved Toto into a large stallion/isolation box at the back of the yard and whilst he was resting I was able to do body work on him. Naturally we do body work with all our horses which is why our older, retired horses all look so well, but doing TTouch whilst Toto was relaxing in his stable, meant that I could do gentle leg circles with the three legs that were taking all the strain which would not have been possible when Toto was standing up. I had a fantastic morning with him, doing gentle work around his head and neck and released the tension that had developed through the opposite shoulder.
A week later, and the stress was starting to ease. We started to relax but Friday 21st June brought more worry and further angst. I had an unexpected day off due to being on standby for something that I was not required to do, and was looking forward to a peaceful day catching up with things at home and at the farm but the universe had other plans. Things started to go wrong from 9.30 am which, whilst challenging at the time, probably saved the life of Skupla, my Icelandic mare. Hassles through the day meant that everything on the yard was running late and instead of doing an evening check and late hay mid evening, Jon didn’t get out to the barn until 10.00pm. He phoned me to say that to top off the day, my mare was cast but that he had got her up. As he was on the phone to me, she started to sweat. She had colic. Fortunately Vicki and her mother had also come up to the yard later than usual to check their own horse who lives with us, and Jon called them to help whilst he called the vet and drove down to my house to collect me and my pick up truck as I knew we would be heading to Langford Veterinary Clinic. Sweating up to that degree is never a good sign. The last time that I experienced that with one of my horses, I had to have him put to sleep.
It was one of the longest nights of my life. The vet came, sedated her and gave her pain relief and called Langford. I travelled in the trailer and remember fleeting moments looking out at the dark hills as Jon drove us through the country lanes to the clinic. On arrival, the vet team started obs, took a full history and I signed the necessary documents. I knew that surgery was a probability and asked the veterinary team to do everything they could to save her without compromising her welfare. Tests including an abdominal tap and ultrasound didn’t reveal anything and Skupla tolerated it all, bless her. After two hours, it looked as though she would be admitted for monitoring, but whilst I was holding her in the stocks, her respiration increased again. She started sweating and we took her straight out of the stocks into another room. Her legs started buckling as they had done whilst we were waiting for the emergency vet and Jon, Vicki and I were literally holding her up as the team inserted a catheter into her neck. She was given more pain relief, the surgical team were called and I led her out to be weighed before taking her to a stable. I took a photograph of her lying in her stable, kissed her and breathed in the heavenly warm Icelandic smell in case that was my final memory of her. As much as I accept death, it is the loss of the physical presence that is hard.
We left Langford around 1.00am. We couldn’t speak on the journey back and after checking the horses and dropping Vicki back at home, I finally got back to my house at 3.30 am. The veterinary surgeon had told me that I would get a call around 3.30 am if there wasn’t anything that they could do, but if they elected to operate once they had opened her up I would get a call around 6.30am. My beautiful daughter Emily had waited up. She had made me a bed on the sofa as she knew I wouldn’t be sleeping in the bedroom. At 4.30am I managed to sleep on and off and the call finally came at 6.45 am. Emily was still up and waiting by the phone. I was already rushing into the kitchen when she picked up the call. Skupla had a lipoma that had damaged the gut. Had I not asked them to do everything, they would have put her down but the surgery was one of the simplest that could be done, and given how stoic Skupla had been whilst under observation, the team went ahead and removed the lipoma and 90 cm of gut.
The next few days were awful for everyone, but Skupla was amazing. I went to see her every day. On Sunday she wouldn’t eat, but when I took her out and worked her ears and had a little chat she began to graze. She had a blip on Monday which was to be expected and I received a heart stopping phone call at 1.00am on the Tuesday morning to say that she had had a small blockage but that hopefully it had cleared. From that moment on however, she went from strength to strength. She was such a good patient, and each day gave me a little more hope.
It is now a week and half on from that awful, awful night and Skupla is finally back at Tilley Farm. We picked her up yesterday afternoon, and I travelled in the trailer with her once again. This time, the sun was shining and my beautiful mare was not in pain. It was literally the difference between night and day. The country side was bathed in golden light and we were heading home. I know we have a long, rehab period ahead and it could all go wrong at any stage, but at least, if she goes down hill, she will be here amongst her friends. I wouldn’t consider colic surgery for any of our other horses, as they are either too old or do not have the temperament to cope with such a trauma. As one vet said, Skupla has coped really well with something that would have killed another many other horses.
I cannot thank the veterinary team and stable staff at Langford enough. I was called everyday, received text messages too, and was allowed to visit her every afternoon. I was kept up to date every step of the way and the yard there is so quiet and peaceful. She was groomed and fussed over, hand grazed every two hours and monitored; she could not have been in better hands and obviously they saved her life.
Amongst it all, I had to teach, see some clients (although I have postponed some), and give a power point presentation at the inspiring Awakening to Animals Conference. There are many benefits of working with animals but in the past three weeks, I have truly appreciated the people that I meet, as everyone has been so kind and empathetic about everything that was going on at home. I could have cancelled all of my commitments, but I hate to let people down, and it was actually good to have something else to think about, even if only for a short period of time. Life throws up many challenges, but it is how you deal with them that shapes the person that you are and I am fortunate that I am used to dealing with multiple crisis all at once as it always seems to happen in this way. Two weeks ago I was facing the prospect of losing two of my favourite horses close together but today both are looking well. I am living in the moment and loving every minute I have with them.
Toto was so pleased to see Skupla that he walked across the field and forgot that he was lame. He was positively shining, as was she. Skupla’s best friend, Elska, did a double take when she saw her and her eyes nearly popped right out of her head. She whickered and whickered and whickered and it was at that point that I thought that I would cry. Skupla, on the other hand, responded as she had done from the moment that she colicked and just took everything in her stride.
Two days before Skupla colicked, Elska pinned Vicki against the wall. This was so out of character that Vicki, Shelley and I were quite concerned. On Friday evening Vicki’s horse, was also extremely distressed which is why Vicki came back to check him later that evening. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but on the Saturday I remembered that Otto and Toto had behaved in the exact same way, two days before our old chestnut horse went down with colic. It was history repeating itself without a doubt. Our horse, Marley, was fine one minute and sweating buckets the next. I took him to Langford and like Skupla, he had a lipoma but it had strangled the gut. I had him put to sleep under general anaesthetic as he could not have tolerated surgery or the rehab period and I am sure that on both occasions, our other horses knew that something was amiss before there were any obvious outward signs. The coincidences are just too strong. We know our horses so well and they are generally so calm and easy to handle, that I consider behaviour like that to be quite extreme. It has certainly given me food for thought and next time we note any aberrant behaviours, I will be camping at the farm so that I can watch the other horses like a hawk!
As well as finding this fascinating, I was also interested to discover that we have been in the Celtic phase of the Moon of Horses and according to beliefs, Moon of Horses is an opportunity to evaluate how you handle your emotions and the extremes you find yourself in at times. Trauma and stress have certainly been combined with moments of great clarity and calm over the past few weeks and this most definitely sums up the month of June for me.