It was something I had seen before. It felt so incredibly familiar. I looked at her sad sleepy eyes and it took me back. The vet looked at her and said, “I think she’s an Appaloosa.” And for the last week, I’d been thinking the same thing. Her eyes, her ears, her face, her roaning coat, striped hooves, her soul, all pointed me back to the first time I saw an Appaloosa and that first time that I felt my love for horses spark at the age of 4. I spent 14 years of my life looking appaloosas in the eye and learning every inch of the three I had the pleasure of owning along with countless others I had ridden and worked around. At age 18, I had reluctantly hung up my spurs, promising myself I’d have a horse of my own again someday. Ruby helped me keep my promise to myself, but then came Diamond.
Leggy and lanky, albeit skinny, you still can’t deny her build and what it was telling me. Standing next to Ruby, she looks dangerously skinny. Her muscle definition perhaps never to return, an old girl, the vet estimated her to be close to 30, but I can see what she had been. How she holds her head, the way her legs move when she jogs, it’s like looking at my old horse, Ernie. Ernie and I dominated the show ring when I was 12-14 years old and I retired Ernie at 18. Diamond was far beyond that. I thought about her age, she could’ve been in the show ring next to Ernie and I. She used to be something and it kills me inside a little bit thinking that I may have known her. She seems well trained, she knows showmanship, she’s respectful on the ground and even with her bones sticking out, she’s a cute little mover. I cannot let it go though, that I may have stood next to her at another time in her life.
On Thursday evening, less than 1 week of being on our farm, Diamond started with diarrhea, but Ruby too had the same thing happen when she first started adjusting to peanut grass hay, so I wanted to wait through it. Friday it continued a bit but she was still eating and drinking and acting just fine, so I kept waiting it out. In the back of my mind, the dollars kept adding up on this horse that I still knew nothing about and my last resort would be to have the vet out for an emergency visit. Friday night, after both she and Ruby finished eating, I went inside to take my shower. My plan was to turn lights off and say goodnight when I was finished. I walked back outside in my towel but I couldn’t see Diamond. I walked closer to the pen and she was down, hidden behind her feed bin. Her skinny little body, so flattened into the ground, she seemed to be sinking right into the earth. I rushed over to her and her breathing was the most labored I’d ever witnessed in a horse, her stomach and chest just pumping up and down and she was moaning. Her eyes looked so tired. I asked her to get up, I pulled at her halter, nothing, just moaning. I went behind her and pushed at her butt asking again for her to rise. Nothing. I pulled her halter again. She couldn’t get up. I called the vet, 4 times, Friday night, 9pm, couldn’t get her. I texted her, “Diamond is down and I can’t get her up.” I ran inside to James and grabbed a flashlight, “Diamond is down!” And I ran back out and James followed behind.
I ran behind her and James got her by the halter. He pulled and I pushed, he pulled and I pushed. We repeated the motions and the struggle for god knows how long. Finally, she rose. “She came here to die,” I said to James. My phone rang and it was the vet. She helped calm me down and walk me through the steps of getting her stable. Diamond looked like she wanted to collapse at any moment. We ruled out choking immediately as there weren’t enough symptoms to back that theory up. We got pain relief on board, we got her vitals and I watched her. I am not sure that I even blinked, my eyes were stuck on her pumping ribs and my ears were focused on her moaning. Slowly but surely her breathing slowed, her eyes perked and the moaning stopped. As the vet and I were trying to decide the next step, Diamond dropped her head and started eating grass. I was amazed and so was the vet. Moments before I was talking about burying her and here she was eating grass. The vet said, “what? She’s grazing?” “Yep. Like nothing ever happened.”
The reality of the situation was that having the vet come out on a Friday night for an emergency visit was going to cost far more than we were willing to pay for our little old rescue. It would cost more than James and I had agreed I would put into her if she ended up with a serious medical issue as a whole. He looked at me like, “remember what we talked about.” I just wanted her comfortable and not suffering, and she seemed like she was very comfortable as her old teeth chomped at the grass. Doc Emily and I agreed that I had the skills and the knowledge on board to get her through the night, then the next day and eventually we’d make it through the weekend to Monday to a regularly scheduled vet visit.
I hung up the phone confident in my conversation with Doc Emily that we could get through this. Friday night was a long sleepless night. Every two hours the alarm would sound to check on Diamond and every 4 hours to give her warm tea made from her grain and electrolytes. I took her temperature every four hours, logged the temperature, logged the amount of fluid and ounces of tea consumed. I stared at her, holding a flashlight on her lanky old body, watching for any poop that I could collect to float for sand. I floated what I could, no sand. She was done with peanut grass hay, which although incredibly beneficial to her, just upset her stomach too much. I was kind of bummed because I’d watch Ruby fill right out over the last 3 months of us feeding peanut grass hay. Now how are we going to get this horse fat? We made it through the weekend but Monday was coming and Doc Emily and I were going to have to have some hard conversations.
Monday arrived and Doc Emily pulled up in her big white truck, fully outfitted for anything that she might need out in the field. I brought Diamond up to her. “How old did they say this horse was?” The vet looked over her body and her teeth and determined she was much older than what I had been told. She weighed 724 pounds and stood taller than Ruby. Ruby weighed 863 pounds. To be at a healthy weight, Diamond would have to gain 75-100 pounds. Her muscle definition most likely never to return. She had a long way to go. We pulled blood work, gave her vaccinations, checked her lungs, her heart, and every vital you could possibly think to check. Doc Emily checked her feet and felt over her bony body just as I had done the day we brought her home. “She sounds great. Her lungs, her heart, her gut, everything sounds good. I don’t think she has anything serious except a little upset gut over the peanut grass hay.” Cushing Disease was still a possibility but the vet wasn’t sold that she may be suffering from that. An in-depth look at her teeth were next.
Now plenty sleepy from sedation, the vet got her tools ready to check her teeth and float them. She looked inside her mouth and it was so obvious what had happened to this poor girl. She was pretty much missing all of her molars. She had nothing to help her to chew her forage and food up and break it down into nutrients. She quite possibly hadn’t had her teeth done in decades. The remaining teeth were like jagged shark teeth. The vet ground down what she could, but we were going to have to really get proactive if this horse was going to gain weight.
Continue to follow along in our next blog as we dive into the nutrition needed and adjustments for feeding a geriatric, practically toothless horse!