This blog has MOVED!

Please visit for the most updated content. All these posts and more can be found over at the new URL.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tough as Nails

Minx's last chapter.

So posted part 1 of Minx's story here. I'm not sure I'll post the "middle" chapters but we'll see.

I still don't have the autopsy pics and results, but if you want to see them when I get them, e-mail me at This is not my normal e-mail, so if you do e-mail, please post in the comments so I check the account.

This is going to be lengthy. I don't intend on rehashing it over and over and over so this is a one shot deal.

Phone calls
On Saturday I had a band performance on Alcatraz island. (I'll eventually post an after-action report, I have cool pics from the citadel tour.). After getting off the island around 5:00pm I checked phone messages and saw that the stable called ~4:30 (never good) saying that Minx was depressed, not eating, down, and had rapid, shallow breathing. Minx had colicked the week of Christmas (impaction) but didn't show this degree of pain. I was concerned because she doesn't show pain. At all. We paged the vet. There are three vets at the hospital. Dr. R* was on call. I was so grateful because she knew what Minx was like when she was well (she wasn't going to be tricked into thinking Minx was just "laid back" today....). After the exam Dr. R* called me. There was no impaction and when passing the the gastric tube to give fluids, there was gastric reflux. Very few gut sounds. Elevated, shallow breathing. 28 resting heartrate!!! (see I told you she was a good lier. The vet couldn't believe it based on her other signs). At this point I knew she was going to probably die. I read enough colic articles in EN to know this is NOT good. We discussed our options and decided that bringing her into the clinic to give fluids overnight was the best option. I told the vet, "no surgery". It turned out that surgery probably wouldn't have worked anyways, but with the cost (15-20K) it wasn't a financial option.

Decide what you are going to do in a horse crisis situation right now. Today. I really didn't have to make any decisions that night because I had made them 3 years ago when I got Minx. ~$1000 and no surgery for colic. (Dollar amount is approximate. In reality I was willing to do treatments and pay for one night of hospitalization which would have came to a bit more). Necropsy if she dies. I wanted to be present for the death and necropsy if at all possible. Cut off her tail. Take a day off work sick. It's easier if you don't have to think. If you are the type of person that will max out credit cards (I'm not), have an emergency one just for this situation that limit as least as large as your $$ treatment limit). After almost losing a pet (kitty cat) in July 2006, I have started taking LOTS of pictures at every opportunity of my pets, especially the horses. Thus, when I came to this point in Minx's life, I had no regrets that I missed a picture. (and I don't think I have too many either!)

Trailer ride
I went directly from SF to the boarding stable. Thank goodness I always have my trailer ready to go. An added benefit from trailering almost every weekend. When I go there Minx was perkier. She nickered at me. I loaded her up and off we went. When we unloaded at the vet's, Dr. R* was hopeful because she looked so much better than when she left the stable. She was responding to the pain meds and I could hear quiet gut sounds.

Further Evaluation
Unfortunately when she did another rectal exam, the news was not good. A large portion of her small intestine had displaced and was moving up towards her spleen. Dr. R* told me that any other horse would be rolling and thrashing on the ground because it was so painful. Minx was alert (lier lier lier). It was at this point I told Dr. R* what I wanted done if she died - necropsy etc. I found out that my vet will do a necropsy for free if it's colic because they want to know as well! We decided to do an a treatment that involves injecting adrenaline to shrink the spleen and trotting her for 20 minutes. I did the trotting myself. She looked lame on her left hind leg because she had so much pain on her left side. She passed a little gas (good sign). After trotting we did another rectal. Dr. R* found 2 small fecal balls covered with mucus (they had been inside for awhile) and the small intestine had moved down a bit. Dr. R* thought she had a good shot, so we turned her into the stall for the night with the intention of starting fluids.

The time is now
Immediately upon being turned into the stall Minx started laying down again. Not rolling, just laying down and calmly staying there. Dr. R* said that it was not good. She should have shown improvement by now. We debated back and forth for ~10 minutes. On one hand she was very calm, not thrashing, not showing a huge amount of pain. On the other hand, both of us knew she was EXTREMELY stoic about pain and if she was showing this amount, there wasn't much hope. I told the vet (tearfully of course. You can insert "tearfully" into most of my sentences from here on out) that we needed to put her down. The vet agreed but we went into the stall to evaluate. I know my horse. Her nostrils were compressed almost all the way down. Her head was below her withers. She was in pain. Fluids were unlikely to help. The adrenaline treatment had been her best shot. I told the vet to go ahead.

The vet went to prepare the drugs and I was left alone with Minx. She faced me and I scratched underneath her forelock. This is the ONLY place she enjoyed being petted. Her eyes were soft and she held her head low with her nose outstretched to me quietly. After ~ 5 minutes, she quietly turned away from me and started to lay down again. She had said goodbye and I knew it was time.

Final preparations
I had brought grooming bushes in with me to the stall, but decided not to groom her. She had never enjoyed it and it would be for me and not for her. She was a week away from having her beautiful, shiny summer coat. I braided her tail and cut it off. I always wondered what she would look like with a tail cut at the hocks. Very leggy! It didn't diminish her beauty at all. She stood quietly, depressed, while I hacked through her extremely thick hair. I gave it to my cousin (she had carpooled with me to Alcatraz and was stuck with me during this whole ordeal) and told her to lay it carefully somewhere clean. Then we led Minx out into the night.

Minx went down very quietly ~10:30pm. I was worried that she would fight the drugs and it wouldn't be pretty, but in the end she let me do something nice for her. We walked inside, I gave my credit card number and my e-mail address. The vet refused to let me watch the necropsy the next morning, but promised to e-mail me pictures and invite me out when she had another one to do.

The vet said she understood my desire to see, but REALLY didn't think it was best. I'm going to vet school in 2 1/2 years and the battle within of REALLY wanting to see a horse necropsy and dealing with the pain of Minx's death was a hard one. The compromise we reached was a good one.

Loose ends
I drove the empty trailer home and made the phone calls I needed to make: Parents, Matt, and a friend at work. The BO met me at the barn and I let her know what happened. I haven't been to the barn since. I'm planning on going to see Farley today if I don't chicken out.

For those of you who are looking at the money side, the ranch call and treatment, rectal exam at the hospital, adrenaline treatment and further exam, euthanasia and disposal will be somewhere between $850-900. If I had chosen to keep her overnight and do 2 rounds of fluids the cost would have been $1200-1500. Surgery for the type of colic we suspect she had runs 15-20K and isn't usually very successful in these cases.

Looking Back
Minx had a lot of physical issues. I learned early on that Minx was a lier. Much of the time I had her she there always seemed to be something going on where she was not quite right (NQR). It was the theme of her life. Double bowed tendons in the front (fairly severe) and the vet and me didn't have a clue until we ultrasounded her - because she was "NQR". The vet said that its possible Minx had been "set up" internally for this to happen for a while. She never got great gut scores at rides, but ate like a HOG all the time, so I assumed it was normal for her. On Saturday, at our last trail ride, she was good, almost too good (was she in pain? discomfort?). She looked in great condition before the ride, but looked a bit gaunt afterwards (and I have before and after pictures to prove it....). She kept that gaunt look all week. She looked skinny enough that weekend after the ride that I was embarrassed about her condition, but I thought it was because I had backed off on her beet pulp because the week before she had looked like she had a good amount of weight on. The vet said that with her stoic nature, she had probably been colicking for a while, but no one had noticed. When the BO got her up to take her up front for the vet, she was still trying to go for the grass. I've decided it's not compliment to say your horse is tough. I want only wimpy horses from now on that will tell me what's wrong. However, Minx did teach me to look CLOSELY at the small signs and pay attention. She whispered her hurts where others screamed.

What's next?
Minx was my equine soul-mate. She will always be special to me. She made me a better person. I am not looking to replace her, but I probably will get another horse in 3-6 months. Maybe something different. A pony or a Missouri fox trotter. I sure the right horse will come along and I will have an empty spot ready for it. In the meantime, I'll get to know Farley better. Farley was always second to Minx. In a way, Farley will be mourning with me. Farley and Minx hit it off immediately and became friends, even when they were corralled on opposite ends of the stable. When together, they did everything together, but they would eagerly go down the trail, away from the other as well. It was perfect. My horses got along, but I didn't have to worry about the "buddy-syndrome". One of my greatest regrets is that Farley didn't have a chance to say good bye. I'm not making any decisions right now when it comes to Minx's tack. I own 5 saddles that only fit Minx, not Farley. I have a brand new set of yellow size 1 renegades waiting at UPS for me to pick up, and a pair of size 2's sitting in my trailer - 1 week old and used once. What to do? There will be plenty of time later to think on practicalities. In the meantime, Farley and I will ride.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask. My intention with sharing my experience and providing pictures if anyone wants them, is to educate and perhaps help someone who has to make this decision in the future. I want to mention that the adrenaline treatment we tried is relatively inexpensive and I would recommend it if appropriate.


  1. My heart goes out to you!

    Thanks for sharing your story, I hope to not have to deal with a situation like this, but like as not it will happen in some shape or form. My first horse, Jack, is 29. My husband and I keep talking about, "what if something happens - what will we do?" I would hate to have to try to make those decisions at the moment - I agree with you, much better to have a plan ahead of time.

  2. My deepest sympathies- I'm in complete agreement with you in regard to having a plan ahead of time of what you're going to do ("thinking the unthinkable").

    After having lost several horses at my stable to colic (different circumstances in each instance), I went ahead and spent the money for equine major medical insurance. Not that it's a panacea but at least there's a little flexability.

    Although I'd have a tough time with it, I'd probably would have made the decision you did- it's not done lightly and it's a personal one.

    I used to supervise a military veterinary facility and euthanasia was part of the job. For many years I could never own a dog or cat- I could be objective with other people's animals but not with my own. It's only in the past few years I've been able to have dogs and cats.

    As for horses, the thought or having to make the decision tears me up inside but I'd do what's right for my boy.

    Anyway, one can only hope that wherever they go in the next life, there's endless pastures to roam, the grass is always green, and it's always sunny.

    I wish you the best.

  3. I just came to visit and see your story. I'm so sorry for your loss.

    You're absolutely right about knowing your boundaries ahead of time. I decided long ago that I'm about 90% opposed to ever putting one of my horses through colic surgery - especially an older one. The actual dollar amount I'd spend to save a horse is pretty flexible, though - I'd spend a lot more if there was a great chance the horse would recover almost completely from whatever was wrong. And sometimes treatment costs are just unavoidable - I didn't do anything with Champ that was at all unnecessary or avoidable.

    At this point, I'm starting to wonder if Champ was NQR all along. He was my first horse, though, so he was my definition of "normal."

  4. Funder - I know what you mean. After getting my arab I was shocked how *easy* it was getting through a 50+ mile ride with her. Everything seemed so "hard" with Minx. Hard to put weight on, hard to get through an endurance ride, hard to stay sound, etc etc.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.