Creaky Old Horses, and the Women Who Love Them.

I have a Grandfather Horse. People say he looks good, all things considered. I notice the standard for looking good drops a little more every year, just like his back. The same is probably true for me…

He has his very own veal pen at night; a private place he can enjoy his special mush, chew hay and spit it back out, and stay warm. Last week, I found him with his sheath terribly swollen, and surrounded a large area of edema. His run was dry, with no recent urine. OH NO. This is it, this is the end. Gasp!

Two years ago, a veterinarian told me that if gray geldings live long enough, they all end up with a tumor in their sheath area, and I’ve known a couple with that ailment myself. It was a death sentence, I couldn’t breathe.

Disclaimer: I am a decent amateur veterinarian myself; fearless about blood or injury, I give shots easily, and I can keep a colic horse on his feet until the real vet gets there. I’m strong and dependable in an emergency. It’s different with the Grandfather Horse. I notice I get a little teary when he gets his teeth checked, and sometimes my voice cracks when I say his name. What a ninny.

So, we had our first emergency vet call of the icy, miserable season. It’s a tradition with the Grandfather Horse to take the change of season hard. At his age, any vet visit might be his last. The office asked if I needed a same day appointment, or if tomorrow was soon enough. I don’t know, I don’t have advance-hindsight. If I knew how it was going to turn out, I would know how soon I needed them. The situation looked serious enough, so I asked for same day and doubled my farm call.

The newest, youngest vet in the practice arrived, she’s three years older than the Grandfather Horse. I had the horrible fear that I was going tell her maudlin stories about him. I can feel my throat start to close, and at times like this, I even make myself tired. I am an equine professional, for crying out loud! Horses are my business, and I give sage advice to other people acting like ninnies about their horses. And then my voice cracks again. After all these years, the Grandfather Horse still enjoys my embarrassment. He’s likes to have an unfailingly sweet and pathetic look on his face while I humiliate myself. It was worse when he was still under-saddle.

He clearly enjoys the sweet talk and attention from the vet tech and vet, not to mention the happy injection.  The check goes slowly, it’s swollen and totally raw on the inside. There is an external rash that bleeds when irritated. The vet checks everything thoroughly, cleans the area, and finds no palpable tumor.

Okay, it was an emergency sheath cleaning. I am just going to pause here and wait for the laughter and jeering to die down. I deserve it. Thank you.

It’s pretty predictable at this point. He stands all day on bowed legs and an arthritic hip, resting his eyes. He stands just the same way in turnout. The only exercise he actually takes is walking back and forth from his stall, and then we both take baby steps. It’s the reason an old horse’s sheath ends up in this disgusting smegma situation. He does not even feign awkwardness or apology.

It occurs to me as I am writing that the non-horse owners might be recoiling in disgust, reading about this topic. Us horse folks are fine with it. We constantly redefine polite conversation.

The vet left us with meds and directions to cold hose him a few times a day, followed by an application of an aloe vera vet salve. This is the best part for the Grandfather Horse; he plans a very slow recovery. It’s okay, my reputation with this horse is shot anyway.

The vet also added one more ailment to his chronic list. Now he has a moderate heart murmur. Oddly, I don’t panic at this. After all, he has a tumor on his colon, the most likely the cause of three years of incurable diarrhea, and so much arthritis that from some angles, he has a decidedly bovine appearance. His eyesight is bad and he gets disoriented. Old age is not for the vain, and someday this list will defeat him, but not today.

I’ve never been even remotely passive about this horse. I remember the first time it occurred to me that he would eventually die. I owned this wild colt all of 24 hours, I couldn’t catch him in his 12′ x12′ stall, and the thought that he was mortal crossed my mind. I clutched my throat, in tearful fear of losing him. He was 7 months old.

I don’t know, maybe I could find other women like me and start a support group. I hear the first step is admitting you have a problem. I don’t see any of us doing that.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by Spartacus on November 29, 2013 at 4:26pm

Good for you, Anna. My partner is around 33. Still thinks he's a combination of James Dean and Sean Connery -- an apparently so do the mares. He may be a little creaky at times (hell, so am I!) but he still kicks up his heels and does a mean tango with the wind.


Comment by Spartacus on November 29, 2013 at 4:23pm

Comment by Anna Blake on November 22, 2013 at 9:03am

Never too old for a breakout!

Comment by Jackie Cochran on November 22, 2013 at 8:58am

The hardest time of my life was when my 33 year old first horse, my sainted Hat Tricks, colicked one fine day.  I essentially had to beg the vet to put him down on the second fruitless vet visit.

Otherwise he would have been around for as long as he decided to stay around, no molars, creaky joints, reduced brain capacity and all.  He did not lose his sense of humor though, the week before I had to put him down he gently shouldered my husband out of the gateway and took off trotting gaily down our gravel road. 

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