Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ride Heck out of Her

Colic. Its a small word that strikes big fear into the hearts of all equine owners. Its a broad term that means "stomach pain," and it is the leading natural killer of horses. The danger of colic goes to the stomach of the matter--Equines have a small stomach and nearly 85 feet of intestine. Designed for non-stop feeding as the horse moves about grazing, movement in the system is continuous and uni-directional (they can't throw up). Horses are big, one way, inefficient poop factories. When the factory gets plugged, it can be agonizing to the horse, and deadly. The upside of the system can bulge and burst, or the horse in pain can roll and get its guts twisted or kinked--all of which are a final death sentence without immediate surgery.

At 5:00 am Saturday morning, I opened the trailer at the Lee Pass trail head in Zion Nat'l Park to unload the mules and mustangs for a fall-colors trip into Bear Trap Canyon. Oddly, Mona Molly was laying on the floor in a different compartment than where I loaded her (Houdini couldn't have done it better.) She stood up and came out, but I noticed immediately that something was wrong. She had been fine at 3:45 am when I loaded her. Now she showed signs of obvious pain and wanted to lay down over and over again on the hard red pavement where we parked. I repeatedly got her back up, and tried to keep her moving, afraid for her life. After each few steps she would hunch up and collapse. At one point, she laid lifeless, limp and unresponsive, leading me to think I had just witnessed her expiration. Suddenly she was back on her feet. Mules can take a lot of pain, so it must be bad.

What a pickle! Its 5 a.m. and I'm a long way from anywhere. Loading Mona Molly back up for a trip back to town could be dangerous and I have no pain meds to settle her down. She's lucky she didn't hurt herself or the other animals while she thrashed about on the way to the trail head. A real long shot, but worth a try, I dialed my vet on the cell. He answered, (Sorry for the early wake up, Jace.) While we talked, Kimball Harmon and his wife JoAnna took turns walking her in the dark. After discussing my predicament and Molly's signs, he sighed, "Well, saddle her up and Ride Heck out of Her. If she keeps trying to buckle and fall down on the trail, then call me back."

Meteors streaked across the moonless morning sky, some disappearing behind Kolob's blackened fingers which cut a toothy smile in the starry canvas overhead. With some work, my son Tyler and I got everybody saddled up, and we descended into the mouth of the canyon. Molly moved with effort but didn't try to lay down--her gut gurgling loudly while the first traces of light sharpened Kolob's looming silhouette above our left shoulder. Gradually, black turned to fiery red as the sun cast its early light on the towering sandstone, and a cascade of fall colors emerged from night's firm grasp. Mona Molly lumbered along with increasing ease. Fall's morning chill smelled earthy and fresh, offering the promise of a brilliant day. By the time we had entered the narrowed bowels of Bear Trap Canyon, refrigerated beauty overwhelmed the senses and Molly was back to her old self.

The return trail was warm and we shed our layers against the full strength of a perpendicular sun. Fall's afternoon warmth smelled musky and rejuvinating, the promise of a brilliant day fulfilled. Molly's pace was the typical glad-to-be-headed-back sprint that I remember--she always knows when her compass points back to the trailer.

She carried me 20 magnificent miles that day. Ride Heck out of Her? indeed...


BonBon said...

What do you think made her so sick? Makes me wonder if I could be able to pull something like that off when I am right down in bed. My kids and husband seem to think I can.

Wenderful in Colorado said...

Better assk your boys what they fed her.

EyeDoc said...

Not sure what made her so sick. Last night's dinner? Jumping out of her stall in the trailer? Good thing people tummy-aches aren't so deadly. With horses/mules its bad bad bad.

clASSy come back, Wend.

Matthew Urmston said...

Such colorful writing. Just checking in every so often. Love to see picture of min pearl. We really hope to finish this house by next summer and hope youll still remember us. We'd love to come join you on a beautiful ride.