Jazz

Unicorn wannabes and other equine oddities

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A vet once told me, “Sheep are looking for a place to die.” The meaning: by the time one seems sick, it is probably a goner.

Apparently our sheep’s sludgy, algae-covered water trough is a fountain of youth, because our crew refuse to the kick the bucket. (Check Funny Farm next week, to see if I jinxed them with that statement.)

Setting sheep aside, I can attest to this fact: if you own a horse, he will get hurt or sick. Remember, Benjamin Franklin famously said: “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, and that your horse will get injured or ill.”

The last part is often omitted.

Fortunately, most ailments are recognizable to owners: colic, hoof injuries, skin lacerations — routine stuff that may or may not need the vet.

But every so often, a horse will throw you a curve ball.

Like Chance, my older Thoroughbred. I rarely ride him so he receives minimal attention — a cursory glance to make sure nothing’s broken or bleeding, and that his 4 legs aren’t sticking straight up in the air.

But earlier this summer, it was impossible to miss the lump protruding from his forehead. It was rock-hard and didn’t appear to be injury related.

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This particular condition has a name… which I’ve presently forgotten. But my vet assured me that it isn’t causing him discomfort and it should go away. So far, it hasn’t receded much. He appears to be sprouting a unicorn horn.

Jazz, my other horse, has his own facial imperfection. It also appeared without provocation: a trail of distended veins on his right cheek.

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This is a permanent development but it is benign. Really, no big deal. (I texted my vet for the medical terminology for this veiny disorder and Chance’s unicorn head, but apparently she’s too busy working — stitching wounds, saving horses and such — to field my random blog questions.)

Not all of our weird equine ailments have been harmless. In my last post I mentioned Rocky’s eye. (And kudos to Brynn for noticing, “something’s wrong with Rocky’s eye.) Ultimately, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a tumorous growth on his eyelid. The tumor was surgically removed (a more conservative option than taking the entire eye). But with this approach, we decided to follow up with chemotherapy, which may reduce the chance of recurrence. It comes in the form of a topical gel, applied inside the eyelid, three times a day, for several staggered weeks.

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Ironically, on Monday — the same day that Rocky received his first dose of chemo ointment — Brynn also began a new course of meds: a foul-tasting antibiotic, also three times daily. It’s thick and gloppy, and according to Brynn, “tastes like rotten peppermint and salt.”

Brynn isn’t thrilled but accepts her meds as long as we provide strawberry milk or a candy chaser.

Rocky, however, is a noncompliant patient. Very noncompliant.

Treating him is a two-person circus three times a day: Martin physically, forcibly, wrangles Rocky into submission so that the pony’s head is still, while I try to pry open his tightly clasped eye, and deposit a 1/4 inch dab of Mitomycin-C inside the lid.

I’d like to say that it’s getting easier over time, but it ain’t. And safe to say, Rocky hates the sight of us.

If nothing else, these thrice daily episodes enforce the mantra that Rocky and other ponies believe: Kids are generally kind and less troublesome. Those big humans are not to be trusted.

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Hairy Day

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There are a few hard-and-fast rules to horse clipping:

  1. Never clip a dirty coat.
  2. Always use sharpened blades.
  3. Allow plenty of time.

I violated those rules today.

Actually, I attempted rule 2; I replaced my heavy-duty clippers with new blades. And commenced cutting.

Jazz made his feelings about the project abundantly clear:

Touch me with those things and I’ll take out a kneecap.

I didn’t plan for such truculence. And, with slim pickings in the barn medicine cabinet, I pulled the bottle of tranquilizer.

Jazz’s response:

Wow, I am sleepy… but touch me with those things, and I’ll take out a kneecap.

I’d allotted just 60 minutes for this chore (see rule 3). Desperate for results, I plugged in the little clippers fitted with dull, rusty blades.

A ridiculous prospect.

I had 10 minutes to work before I checked my watch and thought: Time’s up! Everyone, put your pencils down…

The school day was done.

Horse people, here’s what happens when you ignore rules 1, 2 and 3:

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Look, I attacked Jazz with a paint scraper.

 

Fortunately, there’s always a chance to follow rule #4:

If at first you don’t succeed… sedate, sedate again.

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The sound of autumn

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Circa, 2014

Last week, I heard the distinctive sound of fall.

No, not rustling leaves, but the steady, whirling brrrrrrrrrrr and the rattling clickety-clack from neighboring properties.

The sound of clippers, mowing through miles of horse hair.

Last week, spurred by warm weather, horse owners everywhere uncoiled their clipper cords, sized up their blades, and cleared store shelves of blade wash and coolant spray.

Most horses who work hard in cold months need a haircut; otherwise, cooling down takes hours. (Blankets make up for what’s been removed.)

In the best of circumstances, body clipping is a loathsome chore. A royal pain in the butt.

Why? It’s time consuming. The clippers easily clog and the motor can overheat; the blades dull with use. And if you don’t cut with meticulous care, your horse will look mouse-chewed and shabby.

For the human, it’s an itchy task; a raincoat and slick pants will help repel hair, but bits always find their way into underclothes.

Last week I heeded the sunny, warm days and contributed to autumn’s song.

But clipping Jazz wasn’t just onerous, it was perilous.

He’s a thin-skinned, squeamish Thoroughbred, so I sedated him last year. And planned to do so again. Unfortunately, Jazz currently has a skin infection (“rain rot”) which leaves tiny scabs. Removing them is uncomfortable — I tried in advance, but Jazz was intolerant. So I planned to clip them off, assuming sedation would override his discomfort.

I was wrong.

When I steered the blades into his scabby patches, dozing Jazz tried to kick my lights out.

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Sedated looks are deceiving…

But once you start clipping a horse — especially one freshly-bathed and temporarily tranquilized — you gotta finish. I spoke soothingly to Jazz, growled, hollered and tried cutting as gingerly as possible. Sometimes he’d issue a tail-swish warning, other times he’d just let hind foot fly.

Eventually, Martin restrained my horse while I plowed on, cursing a lot and dodging sporadic kicks. When done, I felt like a boxer who’d lost a match.

Jazz was quasi-clipped. The barn looked like a crime scene.

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Two days later I attached fresh blades and hacked off Rocky’s wooly coat. A veteran show pony, he was far more compliant.

When done, I stood back and admired my work.

Rocky looked much better than Jazz.

As though the rodents had spared him.

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