I ran outside while the clouds piled up overhead and thunder grumbled in the distance. Clifford was on his side in the pasture, but he got up when I called to him. He came over and put his head in his halter obligingly. I bent and listened, and heard a corresponding grumble from his innards. So far so good.
We walked up and down the driveway until his tail lifted and he deposited a load of manure. At that point I was relieved, thinking it was over. But to my dismay, he sidled away from me, kicking at his belly, and offered to lie down.
"No!" I said. "Keep moving!"
We reached the end of the driveway and his legs folded neatly beneath him, and he collapsed, sprawling by my side while I held tight to the lead rope and yanked on him. Trudy watched us intently from her station near the lean-to. "Get up, Clifford!" I yelled. "You can't be doing this!"
I took the longe and swatted him, once, twice on the rump, and he lurched to his feet. I offered him a peppermint, and he took it, crunching it reluctantly. He was walking crooked, his back feet weaving back and forth along the drive, ataxic in his movements. I urged him along. "Come, on, come on, you're doing great."
At that point, Cindy came out of the house and I said, "Call a vet! He's really sick!"
She ran back inside.
Clifford collapsed again and rolled on his side. His eyes were half-closed, clouded in pain. "GET UP!" I yelled, pulling on him. I swatted him again, snapping him hard with the nylon cord so it would sting. He struggled to his feet, and I said, "Good!"
We walked. By now he was breaking a sweat and he seemed determined to try to stay up because it was what I was asking, but I could tell he really wanted to lie down. His head sagged. It was heartbreaking to see him suffer. He had colicked only two or three other times in his life, that I could remember, but it was never this severe. I had always been able to walk him through it, and the first time he dropped manure he immediately showed signs of recovery. I took out my cell and called Stayner, my neighbor with his eventing Morgan. He would know a close local vet. I was having trouble handling the cell and Clifford, too. He was staggering and needing all my attention.
Finally, Clifford went down again, and that was it. No amount of yelling or coaxing could convince him to rise. He flipped his head up and I tugged on the halter, "No! Just lie there for a minute. Don't roll. Just lie there and rest."
He lifted his hind leg, exposing the white frothy lather on his belly. "Clifford," I said. I was determined not to get upset, because he would certainly know it. "Don't do this to me, man. We still have a lot of work to do."
Cindy came out of the house then, still on the phone. She unwrapped a peppermint. "Get up Clifford," she said, holding it out. "I'm not coming to you. You know I don't play that game."
Clifford lay there. I leaned down and stroked his cheek and neck. He was soaked in sweat. He suddenly flipped his head and rolled, once, over on his other side. He was covered in dust and gravel now, lying on the driveway. I was beginning to think about getting a back hoe to bury him on Hank's property. I had fleeting thoughts of Dad, gone five months now, calling Clifford home. Maybe two years away from Drummond Island was killing him. Despite myself, I was starting to cry. "Clifford, you have to get up."
He lay there.
Thanks to our desperate calls, help came. First was Ron Perkins in his white van, who had hauled Trudy from the UP just several days prior. Ron was Clifford's special friend, having cared for him while I was away and giving him carrots and scratches. When he arrived, Clifford rolled up on his sternum and lay there. Ron came and took the lead rope and pulled on it. "Come on, boy," he said softly.
Like a petulant child who has been defying his parent, but cooperates with the friendly neighbor, Clifford stood up. I took the lead rope and started walking. Clifford shook himself, and I could immediately sense that he was improving. I loosened the lead and he walked behind me, bumping me gently in the back with his head. We made several more passes. Stayner arrived and said, "Oh I am glad he's up."
"Yes, I was really scared!" I said.
Clifford started showing some interest in the grass and Stayner said, "Go ahead and let him eat."
So I did, letting the longe play out, and he wandered off and was soon ripping away at the lawn as if nothing had happened, completely covered in the layer of sweat and filth.
The veterinarian arrived then, Rachel from Kern Road Vet Clinic. A tall and tomboyish sort, she said, "Oh I'm glad to see him like this. It was not what I expected."
She gave him a shot of tranquilizer, and he almost immediately dozed. She snapped on some rubber gloves and reached up under his tail, pulling out some manure. "He feels okay in there. I can feel more manure, farther down, a little firmer. I'm going to tube him just be sure there's no blockage. What did he eat?"
"He ate a bunch of green apples from under the tree yesterday," I said.
The tube went through his nostril, and she blew into it lovingly, forcing the water into him as the gases burst out from him on the other end. His head sagged, eyes half-closed. He tolerated everything.
"He's doing okay," she said. "We will keep an eye out for other episodes of pain. But for now let's just hope it was the apples."
I sighed and nodded. She handed me a bill and drove off. Ron and I continued walking Clifford up and down the driveway until he was alert again and interested in the lawn. As the sun lowered in the west, I counted my blessings.
Since that day, Clifford has transformed back into his old self, performing tricks, fetching his cone and painting pictures. But it gives me yet another reminder of how very fragile life is. Clifford is 22 years old. We've been together 20 years and I know each day is a gift. Since that day in August, our bond has magnified. I realize even more how subtle our communication is. Every look, every gesture is significant. The trust between us is implicit. The love from a horse is different from any other kind, and when you spend years with one, it can reach depths I had never guessed. A horse's abilities are limited by only two things: His physical capabilities, and your own imagination.
|Photo of Clifford following his colic episode. It looks like a nice photo, but I can see in his expression that he's been stressed.|