Reluctant Cowgirl


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Annual Vet Visit

[Warning: terribly long post about a terribly boring vet visit. Feel free to TL; DR.]

I’m more than a month late for getting the boys their vaccines. Rube is slopping half-chewed balls of hay all over the place, his old man teeth desperately in need of floating. Henry has weird nodules at the base of his mane that I really hope are just hives but my brain screams NOPE, PROBABLY MELANOMA because I grew up with grey Arabs.

I don’t want to sound like a whiny baby here, but it is really hard getting back into horses as an adult and living in the middle of nowhere with few horse friends. I’m grateful that I found someone to take dressage lessons with here in cowboy country, but I do that once or twice a month and the hour goes by so fast that I can barely take care of my riding concerns let alone ask for advice regarding what the heck I’m supposed to vaccinate my horses for and if perfectly healthy, fat mustangs need their teeth floated every year.

I know what you’re thinking; ask your vet! That’s what vets are for! Yes. Sure. I can imagine what it would be like to have a conversation with your vet in suburban not-flyover-country. Do you want to know how my conversation with my vet went last year? Henry has this extremely charming/horrifying habit of sticking his head in the air with his mouth open and ‘clicking’ the back of his throat. He does it mostly after eating or drinking, and aside from looking like he could be dying appears completely not-at-all distressed. His leg is cocked, his tail swishes lazily at flies, he flicks his ears to and fro and will even pin them at Sam, all while doing this odd mouth business. I describe this to the vet (who is approximately 70 years old and more concerned about talking about hunting with my SO than hearing me ask him questions about abnormal horse behavior) and he chortles at me, saying something along the lines of “that sounds odd!”

Face. Palm.

I know what you’re thinking; get a new vet! I tried another one, and he was, if you can believe it, worse in every way except he was a little bit younger. I believe there are a total of 3 equine vets in this county, and I don’t like the odds that number 3 is any better. We took the donkey three hours to Boise when she got sick, but come on, as much as I know veterinary care needs to be a priority, do I really need to spend 6 hours in the truck for routine annual exams and shots?

This all leaves me with the over-informed, under-cited internet as my guide. Today I googled ‘horses tetanus’ and got the following result:

Your horse’s muscles are contracting in spasms, he’s arching his back, and his body is rigid. The movements of his eyes and lips are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, rendering him unfamiliar. Brewing and multiplying deep in a puncture wound you might not even know he has is the dreaded Clostridium tetani, which is already wreaking havoc in his nervous system. He has tetanus.

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The article goes on to say such things as “wound contamination generally leads to tetanus” and “usually 50-75% of the horses that get tetanus will succumb to the disease, no matter what is done to treat them.” My horses always have wounds. They are filthy, marauding wild creatures who constantly rake their teeth across each other and poke themselves on all the protruding bits of metal I have yet to find on this neglected property that will take years to rehab. So. I guess I should be vaccinating for tetanus. No, my vet didn’t recommend it last year. *sigh*

Flu/Rhino/EWT/WNV appears to be the default combo of vaccines given in these parts, and that’s what appears on my bill from last year. That’s influenza, Rhinopneumonitis (equine herpesvirus), OH MY GOD WAIT. EWT = Eastern + Western Equine Encephalitis + tetanus. God. This is a boring-ass post but I’m glad I’m writing it because I’m learning so much. And West Nile.

Sorry. Anyway, to the vet we go!

(Last year we did a farm call but we live so damn far away from everything that the mileage fee was bonkers and this year I said let’s take them in, it will be good for all of us. And probably cost just as much in gas. Also we have no suitable place to hang the headrest for floating.)

I told the tech that I didn’t know if Henry needed his teeth floated but Rube certainly did. I said I wasn’t sure which vaccines to give old horses, if any. She said we’d ask the vet (how novel!), and he could check Henry’s teeth, too. I had no idea there was an entire indoor horse area with stocks. For some reason I guess I thought you went to the vet and just stood in the parking area, holding your animal for them to poke and prod, or maybe there was a place to tie outdoors. Stocks! Wow. That was surprising. I’m not sure why.

Henry and I lingered by the open door while Rube got loaded in. We need to shut the door, the tech said, so you guys can come in or wait out there. Um, okay? There was already one thousand-pound beast in the small-ish room, but you think I should bring this second one, who was once a wild animal, and who I have never taken to a vet before, inside as well? Henry seemed game so we went for it, turning his bulk around in the tight quarters so his head was near Rube’s. I tried to relax. RCowboy made commentary about how he’d rather not be holding Henry when the switched on the floating tool. I imagined him throwing his head upward and bolting back, knocking over computer stands and expensive tools, embarrassing me and hurting himself. We’d never get him in a small veterinary clinic room again.

Just two large horses in a small, enclosed room.

Maybe it was Rube, maybe it was me, maybe it was just the fact that Henry really is a very chill horse, but he stood there for Rube’s entire exam and float with not much more than a twitch of concern. He raised his head a couple times when the floater got especially loud, but most of the time he stood with a leg cocked, licking, chewing, and putting his nose to the ground like he does when he’s trying to say look mom, I’m a good boy, can I have a treat now please?

I guess this is fine.

I was rather shocked, for some reason. I’m continually amazed how good he can be. I expect train wrecks and failure at all junctures and he farts out rainbows and blue ribbons. (Not literally. We don’t really try for ribbons yet.)

Rube’s float and exam were uneventful. He got vaccines for tetanus, West Nile, and WEE. The tech pushed him, stumbling, out of the stocks and they opened them up for Henry to go in.

OH NO IS THIS REALLY NECESSARY was my reaction, because what if my completely placid horse becomes a wild mustang again when you confine him in this small body vice, what if he has flashbacks to being branded and poked and gelded and all that awful stuff he went through while still wild? These thoughts went zinging through my brain and wouldn’t you know it, he balked, heading backward toward that very precarious computer stand. The vet, a very old man, waved his hand and whatever was in it (I forget) toward his butt to cease the backward motion. We stopped and took a breath and tried again. He followed me forward and they closed the side, I walked through the front and they latched that too. He lurched backward, his m.o., and I waited for something terribly awful and ugly to happen, like him rearing up and attempting to exit the stocks over the top of the front and getting caught, broken, traumatized. My whole body tensed and I waited for the explosion. Henry, of course, bumped the butt bar and came forward, then realized he was stuck and stood still, however stiff. He was swabbed, vaccinated, his vitals listened to. We discussed his fat deposits (which are not melanoma). The tech made jokes about feeding a fat horse sweet feed, but that’s exactly what she did to calm him down when the needle came out. His neck was stroked and business was tended to and no one got hurt or overly traumatized. I panicked more than he did. We both survived. He loaded back into the trailer again without hesitation. Rube, still recovering from the demerol, stumbled aboard as well and we did a bunch of errands and got home.

I was my usual unconfident self. I made wishy-washy conversation and didn’t get most of my questions answered. I didn’t ask for advice on how to slim him down. I didn’t say I wanted to find out why he does his odd burping behavior after eating, but I told them about it and stood there, awkwardly. I blurted out some sob story about the donkey and once again doubted my ability to care for a hoofed creature, ever. My brain said it was a failure.

But come on. I took two equines into a small room with odd smells, noises, and power equipment and only one got sedated. Stocks still seem like an unnecessary torture device for an exam and single shot, but we got through that. The tech said she prepares her horses using -R pinch and release to simulate the needle. It seemed to make sense, though sensitive Henry isn’t really ready for me pinching him when I can’t even get him to stand to have his neck brushed every time. Still, it’s something to consider with training and desensitizing.

Oh, and Sam stayed home alone without incident. The Neighbor called not long after we got to town and I was all OH GOD, SAM IS LOOSE but it turns out she just left the water on and was hoping we could turn it off for her. We could not, but I was so dang relieved.

I guess we wore Rube out because he napped in the middle of the lawn the next day.

So sleepy.