When they’re sick.

After having any kind of animal around for a while, you become familiar with what to do when they’re sick.

Sometimes you play barnvet and tend to the kinds of surface wounds you’ve seen a million times or you put the ointment in the globby eye during fly season or you watch that little swollen area to make sure it is indeed a bug bite…   Sometimes, clearly, you realize that whatever is wrong is outside of your simple knowledge so you call the vet and he fixes it.  But sometimes it is different.  Sometimes you know immediately that you need to call the vet NOW and sometimes you don’t know how it will end.

This is the kind of sick that tries your soul.  This is the kind of sick that grips your brain and makes you run logarithms as if you were preparing for a stint on Jeopardy!.   Was it something I fed?  Was it something I didn’t see in the pasture?  Did I put the wrong horses together?  Were there signs that I missed?  Was that there yesterday?  Did someone spray?  Did I miss a dental exam?  What are the signs of tetanus again?…


Knowing that I am responsible for the well-being for my horses, in some twisted way, means that if they aren’t well, I must have created that unwellness or missed a way to secure their health.


And so, I stand before you today, utterly gut-twisted that I am not yet successful in curing Norma of her laminitis.  The fact that she is still not better and not worse, eats away at my constant running thoughts — enough to where I have a dull, throbbing headache at all times.  It is like CSI-Grass Valley… What did I miss?  Why is the culprit still running loose?

And worst of all, “This is my fault.”


I’m fairly certain that her pain is my fault.  I did let her out to eat green grass, like I always do on Fridays.  Except this was a Saturday, which should make no difference…  What did make a difference was that on this particular Saturday, the grass had been rained upon and nourished by the sun.  The nights had been cooler.  I let her out in the afternoon, when the grass sugars and starches are the most concentrated.  She’s overweight and I fell for her big brown eyes instead of holding to her diet.  I made all the mistakes.  I absolutely knew better and it was my cascade of misses that came together in one, huge wallop.  It is my fault that Norma is sick.  I let her down.  I failed her.


I sit here… clearing all the lines so my vet can call and running to the barn every few hours to study her.  Has there been any change?  How do I think she feels?  I sit with her and tell her that I’m sorry.   I read to her and stroke her soft face.  She seems resolute.  She doesn’t seem to be in severe pain but she certainly is not sound.  She lets me tend to her feet and wrap them.  She lets me sit with her when she is resting.

In a way, I feel that Norma is lapping up the extra attention.  I feel that although this is bad, she kinda likes the spotlight on her.  Here stands Norma,  who brayed at me whenever she saw me, hasn’t uttered a peep.  She knows I’m coming to the barn for her.  She likes that.  She had been missing me.  My second fail…


All the queen’s horse and all the queen’s men have come together to put the donkey back together again.

We’ve decided to put her into a clinical study of a new ‘wonder’ drug that has helped many laminitic horses – but has never been tried on a donkey.  The first go ’round, we gave her the same dose as a horse.  It didn’t work.  The clinicians were mystified until they discovered the inconsistencies between donkey blood and horse blood.  So, tomorrow, we try again.

In the meantime, I’m making up for lost time.  I’m spending as much time with her in her stall as I can.  I want her to know that fighting this will be worth it.  I want her to know that I do see her and I do value her.  Mom has been hit with the Whoops Baseball Bat and hopes to have more time with this wonderful donkey…


Well, either Norma will be the first donkey to recover using the experimental drug, or she won’t.  Right now, I’m taking one moment at a time.  If I think about what could happen, I fall apart.  So, I try to think about only this moment.  And, in this moment, she is still here and stable.  In this moment, she could be the first donkey to help prove this experimental drug.  In this moment, she is standing in line to make history, we hope.

The really profound part of all this is that Norma doesn’t know that I did this to her.  She has no idea that I was the one who put her in peril.  To her, she simply is not feeling well and Mom is flitting about trying to make everything comfortable for her.  That’s all.  She isn’t angry with me and she doesn’t blame me.

She doesn’t blame me.

For some reason, every time I say that, I cry.

Slick and Norma, best friends.

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

10 comments have been posted...

  1. Linda Horn

    Just read your update on Norma Jean. Prayers and crossed fingers she’ll continue to improve.

    I don’t know if you or your vet has ever heard of or used Slippery Elm. It’s an ingredient in some equine ulcer meds. I’ve read that using it alone, internally, can block other meds. It coats the throat, stomach, and gut, so checking with your vet is imperitive.

    Now to my point: It also draws infections. I’ve had great success drawing human abcesses, boils, pimples, even infected splinters. It’s a powder, so you have to make a paste using distilled water and dab it on the area. The surface dries pretty quickly when exposed to air, but if you use a decent “dab” it remains damp and active underneath the crust.

    You can buy it at just about any heath food store or online. I always have some on hand. It isn’t cheap, but it works.

    And sucking on strips of the actual bark releases a gelatinous material that soothes sore throats. My Grandfather used to buy bark the “apothecary”. It really made a difference, especially for sick, whiney kids. It not only helped us feel better, but also kept us busy.

    Slippery Elm powder is a good source of nutrition for people who are ailing, especially babies, children and the elderly. You mix it with water to the consitancy of thin oatmeal. It has a sweet, nutty flavor, and tastes pretty good without adding anything.

    Factoid: During the Crimean War, soldiers ate Slippery Elm themselves and fed thin strips of bark to their horses when there was no other forage.

  2. Robynne Catheron

    Prayers and positive thoughts and hugs are on their way for both of you. Keep your chin up, and try not to feel guilty. You love her, plain and simple, and she feels that.
    Good luck with this trial drug, I hope and pray it works for her!

  3. Mari

    “Intention” is what counts in these matters. You had every intention of doing something wonderful for Norma; her eyes pleading for a taste of lush grass. You DID NOT intend to exacerbate her laminitis. If you did not intend to do anything wrong, you cannot consider yourself guilty. This is judicial logic….. !!!

  4. buckinhard

    I’ve had 3 foundered horses. Only by God’s grace did they survive the founder. One of my vets said there are 2 reasons for laminaitis/founder.
    1) metabolic issues and 2) food mismanagement. One of my horse having foundered a few times and consequently rotated 30 degrees in his right and 15 degrees in his left. His issue was food mismanagement before I got him. He was a racehorse then a pony. The barn was feeding him BIG TUBS of A&M and LEFTOVER GRAIN from the racehorses !! The grooms said he didn’t eat hay. I took over and Oh My Gosh By Golly…. he DID eat hay. I did a quick/slow tapering him off of it all and fed hay, adding Nu Hoof Maximizer and a couple other supps like a multi vitamin. He foundered 2 more times, found a shoer at the track that was shoeing horses at the Midevil Times dinner entertainment events . He saved my horse’s life ! Larry added Equithane and plastic pads with a hole in the area of his bulge and DID NOT TAKE THE SOUL BUDGE OFF !!! The soul budge was his coffin bone trying to go thru and bulged the soul ! Any way as a few years went by he would come up sore, I worried cried, prayed for him. Had xrays taken and HIS COFFIN BONE HAD MOVED UP BY 15DEGREES. It was the instability of the coffin bone and being displaced upward, struggling to be in normal position !!! About a year later we took another set and HIS COFFIN BONE WAS IN NORMAL POSITION !! I PRAISE GOD FOR THIS MIRACLE !! Since I bought a horse farm and moved quite a few miles away from the track, I had a difficult time with farriers saying they were good with foundered horses and use the “natural balance” method, which eventually led my sweet boy going to the hospital. It turned out the farrier had totally f..d his feet up. Natural balance is one of those buzz words and a good trimming or shoeing needs to be already a balanced trim !! Watch out for anyone throwing this word around !!!The farrier I have now does work for the very large equine hospital. He is a real professional not a self proclaimed shoer which are a dime a dozen. His expertise includes making shoes for horse that have severed their flexor tendon .
    Another horse I had was given to me because I had good luck with founder. He was a pony at the track. The vet gave him steroid inj in one hock, 10 days to the day he foundered. Pokerchips had undiagnosed Cushings. My biggest battle was the terrible multiple abscesses coming up thru the coronet band and sole. The abscesses stopped 46 days after the beginning of Pergolide. Pokey has been good ever since !! Oh the previous owner was also giving him hi carb hi sugar diet which contributruted to his founder.
    I have also been at fault for 2 deaths, one my dearest greatest lovliest mare colicked, once the vet left, she layed for a long timeeven though she was quiet, this is a warning sign. I understood this as being comfortable, but she was still colicking which eventually got extremely painful. I got her to the hospital where she died in recovery. Surgery was 3.5 hrs recovery was 4 hrs.
    Lesson learned.. after the vet leaves, a horse usually will be coming out of the sedation, probably if the horse lies down, she shouldn’t be down for long. If the horse stays down even if she’s quiet or is still painful after the vet leaves take her to the hospital immediately !

  5. Casey

    I’m with Sharon. I know exactly how you feel. Being responsible means whatever happens is your fault, right? But we’re not in control of everything, we need to get over the guilt and do what we can to resolve the problem. You’re doing that. And Sharon’s point about age making a difference is valid – what we used to be able to tolerate is too much when we’re older. Sadly, I know whereof I speak! Old age aint for the faint of heart! Keeping my fingers crossed for the new treatment…

  6. Sharon

    I don’t think Norma’s condition is your fault or a direct result of something you did or didn’t do. As she ages, her tolerance levels in different areas may change. Once that happens, like in this case, you are moving heaven & earth to make her better and will alter her routine so it doesn’t happen again. I doubt there is a reader here that would evenly remotely think you are to blame! I know it is hard to see her suffering but Norma is not interested in seeing you suffer too because it changes nothing. When my horse was injured, I had a permanent wrinkle and a worried expression every time I looked at him along with the constantly flogging that “this was my fault”. This went on for weeks. One day I just let it go because it was doing neither he nor I any good. I realized he did not particularly like to see that expression on my face and his happy face would quickly turn to “What’s wrong?” It has to be enough that she is happy to see you and it has to be enough that you are doing all you possibly can. Go be happy with Norma, there are so many positives from her perspective in this situation.

  7. Robyn

    Sure hope Norma starts showing signs of improvement soon. Hang in there and sorry this is happening. We are only human. Try not to blame yourself. It’s hard for some of us to keep an animal stalled and off pasture all the time. It seems so cruel. I understand where you are coming from. Hang on Norma!!! We’re praying for you.

  8. Linda Horn

    Have you tried products with Biotin? I saw it work wonders on a big, 20+ mare that was really lame in front from chronic laminitis. She had to wear boots for a couple of months, but her hooves grew out quicker, the lameness disappeared (for now), and she was much more comfortable.

    Her feet are like pie plates and the farrier wants to get at her, but she’s sound, out of pain, and has good quality of life. Her owner wants to wait a bit longer and then have him do gradual, natural balance trims in hopes of avoiding abcesses.

    At first the vet wanted to put her down, but when he saw that product, patience and persistance were making a difference he agreed she was out of immediate danger and backed off.

  9. Pride Stables

    Hugs – That’s all I can say.
    Laminae Saver – seemed to help on my mare …
    I’m pulling for you guys – stay strong!!!!!!

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