Last night I bore witness to the death of one of my beloved horses...my 8 yr old Keiger mare, Tiger Lilly (Tig for short). She was like most mustangs...built like a Sherman tank, and always able to withstand even the harshest environments WA could throw at a horse. A horse that would rather stand out in a snowstorm, than seek the warmth of her barn.
I have worked with horses and other animals (including exotics) all my life...and was always the person others trusted and turned to whenever they had a problem with their animals...horses, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, you name it! I had been a vet tech, and studied at UC Davis's pre-vet program, until my own serious health issues abruptly ended that dream.
So when I say that I was totally stumped by Tig's death...I really mean it! Because very little catches me by surprise...and there is very little I have not been able to handle on my own...a good thing given we live very remotely, and vets are not always available...especially on weekends, holidays, and the middle of the night...and Tig's death was so quick that she passed before any of the vets could respond to my calls.
She had been out in our big pasture with the other horses. She had come in for meals all the days prior...and as a very bossy alpha mare, was usually first one in to eat. I went out yesterday to drop hay early because I was supposed to go to Portland for a FRG meeting (my husband is deployed...so families meet for support each month). I thought I had seen her that morning...but as I was pulling out to leave, she had not shown up with the rest of the herd. I hollered for her, but it was pouring rain, and I could barely hear my own words. I drove up our road to get a better view of the pasture and hillside...and finally saw part of a dark shape at the bottom of the hill. I raced back to the barn, and sure enough, there she was, lying on her side at the bottom of the hill. As I called to her and approached, I finally saw her ear twitch, but the way she was down was not normal.
When I reached her, she was laying with all 4 legs extended pointing uphill, and there were only a couple scuffs in the dirt...as if she had simply fallen over, and had made no attempt to stand again. I was able to flip her around so her legs were downhill...hoping she would better be able to rise...but she was soaked and shivering, and she acted like she couldn't control her hind legs...kicking them aimlessly. I knew she was rapidly going hypothermic, but again...no obvious signs.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS: normal stool, no diarrhea, no vaginal or nasal discharge, gums pale, but still pink, respiration slightly labored when on side, but normal when in sternal position, no cough, gurgling, or wheezing, no visible swellings or injuries to body, head, or feet/legs, gut sounds were not pronounced, temp was below normal and dropping, but she would still try to nibble grass while laying down.
OTHER FACTORS: she had NEVER had a history of colic, or any other illness up to this point, and she was possibly pregnant a couple months to our stud (who is very healthy), but we hadn't tested her, or our other 2 mares (also healthy), at this point.
Both of us were getting colder and more soaked, and though I had covered her lightly with a dry blanket and a reflective tarp to start her warming up, and given her sips of warm molasses water with added electrolytes, and had administered shots of B-Complex, iron, and vitamins A & D, she still could not rise.
The rain was getting worse...and I knew my only hope was to take my tractor and drag her to the barn shelter. So I carefully used a soft rope to wrap her rear legs, and slowly pulled her into the barn lean-to shelter. Once there, I made her as comfortable as possible, and lightly packed dry hay around her, put on a fresh blanket, and a tarp to protect her from the cold winds.
I checked her vitals again...no change except a continued drop in temp...she was barely above 96!! Gums still had some pink...as did the inside of her nostrils...and if I wasn't so worried about her at that time, I might have laughed at her trying to eat the hay I had packed around her. Since I had been unable to get a vet, I was about to go back to the house to get some warm lactated ringers & dextrose to start an IV...but as I prepared to go, her gums went pale, and she took her final breath, and quietly passed...no struggle...not a sound.
I still am crying as I write this...trying to figure it out. Was it a vascular incident? Was it something to do with her pregnancy? Did she twist her gut somehow? Was she poisoned? Or ate something toxic (not like her...given her mustang instincts)? Was it some unidentifiable illness? Short of an autopsy, I'll never know...and an autopsy won't bring her back to me. Now I just will be watching the rest of my "babies" like a hawk, for any sign that this was not an isolated incident.
So I mourn my Tiger Lilly, and post this as a way to cope with her loss. Thank you for listening, and blessing to all the healthy horses and animals in your lives...cherish them while they are with you...because you never know when they will be called into the pastures of heaven...