Monday, January 31, 2011

Lilly Goes to the Vet

It's a lovely mid-autumn Tuesday morning, but as I head toward the barn, I'm full of anxiety. I'm wondering whether I'm going to be able to get Lilly to the vet for her 9:00am appointment. For weeks now, she's been showing up for morning and evening feedings. There are occasions though, especially on nice days, when she skips a meal and I might not see her for another 12 hours. Aside from that, I doubt she's ever been in a car, or a house, or any kind of confined area before. So this could be a very stressful time for her-- and us.

Before I make it to the barn, Zorro is at my feet, escorting Muscade and me to the feed room door. So far, there's no sign of Lilly. I put Zorro's food in his dish, then before I can return the lid to the plastic tub, I hear Lilly's raspy, lounge-singer-like meow in the isle. I'm relieved, but now I have to calculate my next move carefully. I figure I have one shot to get the timid, easily-spooked creature into the cat carrier. If I mess it up, she'll likely disappear into one of her well-chosen hiding spots for hours.

I rattle a dish full of food as I walk into the tack room where Lilly usually takes her meals. Last night, I had the foresight to pull the cat carrier into the centre of the room and prop its door open with a plastic container. So now, instead of placing the food dish the corner of the room by the door, I slide it into the cat carrier. Lilly (who always seems famished) is halfway in before she senses a ruse and tries to wriggle back out through the door. She's too late though. I've got one hand behind her bum, and the other on the carrier's door. I slam the door closed, but don't latch it. Then in a final act of cruelty, I reach in and remove the bait. Lilly's not allowed to eat breakfast before her surgery.

Lilly emits a desperate, pleading meow from the carrier, but she doesn't growl or hiss or spit. I still have an hour or so before I actually have to leave for the vet's so I move the carrier into the car where Lilly will be safe from the curious noses and paws of both Muscade and Zorro. When I finish my chores, I risk a glance into the car. There's no more meowing. Instead, Lilly is curled up into a tight ball. She seems to be sleeping.

During the 20 minute drive to the vet's, Lilly is silent. When I can, I stretch my fingers through the metal door of the carrier, and she rubs happily against them. She actually seems less-timid, and more comfortable than normal.

In the waiting room, she finds her voice again and serenades the staff with her raspy call. Still though, she's much less anxious than I expected, and she purrs when I reach in to pet her (so much for our wild, untamed cat). Since both Dave and I will be out for most of the evening, we decide to leave her at the clinic for the night.

Later that Afternoon
The phone rings. The number on the caller ID says "Fundy Vet". I answer.

"Hi, this is Dr. Eye calling from Fundy veterinary".

"Oh hi"

"I wanted to let you know that Lilly is fine."

"Oh good"



"Well, (pause) you don't know anything about Lilly's history do you? How old she is? whether she's had kittens before? whether she's ever been sick?

"No, she just turned up here this spring".

"That's what I thought. Well, she is ok, but we had a bit of a complication during the surgery. We found something rather odd."

She went on to explain that when they opened her up, they found what they thought was her uterus, but it wasn't. It was a sack that was blocking her uterus and it was full of a fluid that looked like chocolate milk (her words, not mine). The sack could be full of infection. It could contain a dead fetus. It could be just about anything. They really had no idea. In her 30+ years of practice, Dr. Eye had never seen anything like it before, nor had the other vet at the clinic who has been practising for just about as long. They were both baffled.

Needless to say, this "complication" meant the surgery lasted considerably longer than usual because they had to remove the strange sack as well. They also took a sample of the fluid to check it for infection. Kindly, Dr. Eye said they wouldn't charge me for any of this, but if I didn't mind, they'd like to prescribe some extra antibiotics for Lilly as a precaution in case any of the foul fluid had leaked into her body. I readily agree.

The next morning, I return to the vet to pick up Lilly. She's attained celebrity status. I tell the receptionist who I am, and that I'm there to pick up Lilly-- the cat with the strange fluid sack.

Her response: "that was so odd yesterday, we all took turns going in to take a look. Afterwards we all kicked ourselves because no one thought to take a picture of it."

Curious myself, I ask a few questions about the odd growth, and she proceeds to draw a rough diagram of how it had looked. In the meantime, another staff member gently hands me Lilly's carrier. She tells me Lilly is very friendly and has just finished her breakfast. Aside from her shaved belly, she looks pretty good-- no sign of stress whatsoever.

Lilly is under strict orders not to run, jump, hunt, leap, or fight until the long incision on her belly has healed. Unfortunately, she doesn't take orders well, so we confine her to the mud room for her 3 day convalescence-- another first for our outdoor barn cat.

She settles in well, and seems to love the attention being lavished upon her. She doesn't even mind my occasional prodding at her incision. And she swallows her medication without complaint. The only problem is that despite her disposable litter box, she prefers to pee on gloves, boots, hats, or anything else that gets left on the floor.

By the end of the week, her incision begins to heal, and the vet calls to say that test results show "the fluid" wasn't some kind of deadly infection, so we decide to let Lilly back outside again. She's a much different cat now though, and not just because she's missing a few internal parts. She's still meek and timid, but when she's feeling brave enough, she rubs against our legs, begging to be cuddled and held. And she hangs around in plain sight much more often.

January 2011

Lilly's mostly white face is no longer gaunt and skeletal. It's round and jolly looking, as is her ever expanding belly (at least we know she can't be pregnant).
She has created a den for herself in the hayloft, and that's where she can be found if she's not out hunting.

She no longer picks fights with Zorro, but they're far from friends. In fact, he seems to think he owns the place, and he now delights in tormenting poor Lilly. He stalks her and plots random attacks which leave her cowering in corners and under cars. She doesn't fight back, she just flattens her ears, closes her eyes, tucks her head between her front paws and makes herself as small as possible. Thankfully, Lilly is as agile as a tightrope walker and most of the time she escapes by leaping speedily and gracefully to her hayloft sanctuary. Luckily for her, Zorro is clumsy, hesitant, and uncomfortable in the rafters, so he rarely follows.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Little Miss Lilly

When we got Zorro, our plan was to get two barn cats. It didn't take long for the second cat to appear-- or should I say "reappear".

We caught our first glimpse of Lilly in mid April, just a day after my initial encounter with the tom cat-- "Tomlin". She was skittish, timid, and completely wild. Nonetheless, we hoped she'd keep prowling, making meals of any enterprising mice who might think they could live the life of luxury in the feed room.

There seemed to be several amorous encounters between Lilly and Tomlin, and we braced ourselves for a litter of kittens. But the balls of fluff, with their sad little mews never appeared. And by mid-summer, Lilly's own appearances on the farm were brief and rare.

So, after sighting a few rice-sized brown dots in the feed room, we gave up on our feral cats and sought out a barn cat of our own. Our search turned up Zorro. And the day we brought him home is the day the Lilly-cat came back (see my earlier blog entry for that night's adventures).


Late August 2010

It's been about a week since Zorro arrived, and I think we've seen Lilly streak by somewhere on the property every single day. Finally, one day I walk into the feed room to prepare the horses' grain. Zorro quickly jumps on top of the narrow, four foot high door. He has many different meows, but for now, he uses his high-pitched, kitten-like, almost cute "mew" to entice me into dropping a handful of cat food into his plastic dish. As the dry kibbles fall, covering a fading portrait of a too-happy-looking fish, I hear another meow-- a raspy, and desperate sounding noise.

I peek into the isle of the barn and see Lilly tentatively making her way toward us, emboldened by hunger. I make the decision then and there. We are keeping her. And if we're going to keep her, we're going to feed her. As Zorro violently shoves his nose into his dish, I reach into the container of cat food and grab a small handful. I hold out my hand and move slowly toward Lilly. She's too frightened, and makes a dash for the great outdoors. She hides behind a pile of lumber, so I drop the food on top and leave. A few minutes later, I see her nervously sitting on top of the boards, scarfing down the food as quickly as she can. The slightest movement or noise sends her scurrying for cover.

For the next couple of days, that's how it is. Lilly shows up for most of Zorro's twice-a-day feedings, but she keeps her distance, waiting for me to drop a few triangles of food somewhere that offers her an unobstructed view of her surroundings and a quick getaway.

Then, one evening, she comes toward me with slightly more confidence. She's actually under my feet as I bring the food dish toward her. This time I put it in the tack room. I set it down and then back away a foot or two. Even though I'm there, Lilly devours her dinner. I slowly reach my hand toward her. She jerks in fright as my fingers make contact with her down-soft fur, but she keeps her nose pressed into the food dish. I start patting her head and back. Every single time my hand touches her, she twitches as though she's been shocked. Then, finally, she starts to purr.

As Lilly eats, I take my first close-up look at her. Her face is gaunt, almost skeletal. There's a yellow-brown crust in the corner of her sunken, red-rimmed eyes. Her pink nose is marred by a fresh, 1/2 inch long, red scab--probably the result of an unfriendly encounter with Zorro She's thin and looks unwell, but her coat is shiny, clean, and unbelievably soft.

A few days later, I make an an appointment for Lilly to be spayed and vaccinated, though I have no idea how I'll manage to get this shy, timid cat into the car and off to the vet. I've got two weeks to work on it though

In the meantime, I make a point of gently reaching out to Lilly each time she dashes to the barn in search of a free meal. She seems to enjoy the pats and scratches she gets, and often rewards me with her loud, engine-like purr. She's bold enough now that she supplements her meagre diet by climbing into Murray's feed tub when he's outside, and eating whatever beet pulp he leaves behind-- even if I'm standing or working in the barn.

Her interactions with Dave and I are still very tentative, and any too-quick movements send her scurrying for the door, or leaping toward the rafters, but she's slowly becoming part of the family.

After a few weeks, it's finally time to see the vet-- and time to find out whether wild Lilly can be coaxed into a cat carrier and transported 20 minutes down the road without sending too much fur flying through the air.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Happens When It's Cold

Monday, January 24, 2010
The temperature outside is -18. The view from my picture window consists of tornado-like swirls of snow being ushered across the fields by gusty North West winds-- biting winds which make the temperature feel closer to a bone-chilling -30.

In the barn, frost rims the edges of the horses' heated water buckets, while steam rises from the liquid centre. Uneaten beet pulp sits as a frozen lump in the bottom of Murray's feedtub. Usually soft manure is transformed into frozen, ankle-turning turds. Lilly-cat burrows deep into her hayloft den. Zorro curls up in a blanket-lined rubber feed tub perched precariously on the top shelf of the barely-heated feedroom. For once, Muscade stays inside the barn, curled up on a thin formerly-white dog bed, while I finish the chores.

Outside, Murray and Maggie's usual paddock, the one with the run-in shed, is unusable due to the treacherous ice that formed after Friday's snow-then-rain storm. Turning them out in the big open-field is out-of-the-question because of the chilling wind. I leave them in until it warms up a degree or two, then at 11:00am, I open their stall doors and let them out into their individual, somewhat sheltered paddocks. Maggie seems oblivious to the cold. Murray's disdain for the current conditions is clear when he turns around and stares back in through the door to his stall. I tell him to hang-in there for just a couple of hours. By one o'clock, they're back inside the slightly warmer barn. The thermometer in the isle reads -14.

Jack Frost extends his icy fingers into our home as well. For the first time since moving here, I heard the oil furnace roar to life in the night-- meaning the temperature had dropped below 15.5 degrees. In the morning, the bottom of the window sills are decorated with a thin layer of frozen condensation.

When I open the microwave to warm my hearty bowl of oatmeal, I'm chilled by an icy blast of cold air. The microwave somehow vents outside. We've noticed the cold air inside this appliance-of-convenience before, but it was nothing like this. I press the buttons on its fingerprint-covered facade. The microwave flashes to life with a roaring whine. After a few seconds, I hit STOP. Then, I start it again. I'm greeted with the same, unusual noise. I let it run for a few seconds longer. The whine lessens, but the roaring continues. I realize that something, somewhere in the microwave is likely frozen. I hit STOP again. I wait a few seconds, then tentatively start it again. It comes to life with a shuddering roar, but after about 15 seconds, the roar dies down to the usual hum. Ninety seconds later, I remove my sufficiently hot bowl of gruel.

Then there's my car. I've been home sick all weekend, so it hasn't moved for three days. I need to head to the city to teach riding lessons mid-afternoon, so in the interest of prudence, I decide it's a good idea to test the car for a few minutes late-morning. I'm not really concerned. We've had the car for more than 2 years and it's always started like a charm. It's no different today. I turn the key and it groans to life-- a cold, but willing engine. I let it run for about 10 minutes, then turn it off.

At 3pm, wearing four layers of clothing in anticipation of a cold night teaching lessons, I jump back in the car and optimistically turn the key. This time, the engine rumbles, but it won't come fully to life. I try a few more times. I'm getting something, so I don't think the battery's dead. I call Dave. He thinks the gas line is frozen. I think he's likely right, even though the gas tank is nearly full. Of course, he's not due home for several hours, and of course, I don't have any gas line anti-freeze here. I call CAA and I wait. I cancel my lessons. An hour later, I try the car a few more times again with the same results. Thirty minutes after that, the CAA guy arrives. He turns the key. The car reluctantly shudders to life. I use some very un-lady like words to describe the humiliating situation.

How embarrassing. He must think I'm an idiot. He pours a couple of bottles of anti-freeze into the gas tank and tells me to let the car run for a half hour or so. Cheeks red from more than just the cold, I thank him, sign the required papers, and send him on his way.

Tuesday, January 25th
It's a balmy -16 when I force myself from between our warm flannel sheets. With the windchill, the air once again feels like something closer to -25. In the barn, things are much the same as yesterday-- frozen. In the house, I get the same icy greeting from the microwave. This time though, I notice beads of condensation dripping from the bottom. On closer inspection, I see a layer of frost along the metal on the bottom rear of the machine. It rages to life though, much the same as yesterday.

With breakfast finished, I'm thinking ahead to supper. I roast some squash in the oven. An hour later, I see steam rising from the oven vent. This melts the microwave frost and causes more sweating from underneath (the microwave is installed above the stove). I turn on the always-noisy fan. I lift the perfectly caramelized squash from the oven, then I turn the oven off. Or at least I try. It's one of those appliances with perfectly flat, touch-pad-like buttons. But the buttons aren't working, or at least none of the ones on the right hand side are working. The ones on the left, which control the temperature, are working. I turn the stove as low as it allows-- 170. I try the other buttons again-- nothing.

My best guess is that the extreme condensation has fried the wiring-- hopefully temporarily. I turn the fan on "high". Twenty minutes later, the "sweat" has dried. I cross my fingers as I push the button for the timer. It works. Next to it is the "off" button. Unfortunately, there's no reassuring beep when I press it. I wait a few more minutes, then finally, I'm able to turn off the stove. Here's to another day in our arctic paradise.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Houdini's Spirit Lives On

Monday January 17
It's the coldest morning of the winter so far. It's -10 with gusty north-west winds. Fortunately, Dave, who has the day off, agreed to get up and feed the horses before he found out how cold it would be. So, as he dons his long underwear at 8:00am, I wrap myself more tightly in our flannel sheets, luxuriating in the bright sunshine streaming in through our bedroom window.

Dave's outside for about half an hour when I emerge from my cocoon. I look out the window to see the horses munching hay, their warm breaths sending up swirling trails of dragon-like vapour. I think to myself that I should probably put fleece coolers on under their winter rugs overnight-- to give them an extra layer of warmth in our arctic-like barn. As I watch, Dave emerges from the barn pushing an overflowing wheelbarrow. I knock on the window and wave hello, then I shuffle off toward the kitchen to start on breakfast.

With the barn work finished, we dine on french toast slathered in maple syrup tapped from trees somewhere nearby. With my belly full, I glance out at the horses again. I expect to see Murray huddled in the run-in shed, with just his head poking out into the sun. Instead, he's uncharacteristically standing at the fence, facing the house, staring at us as if to get our attention.

Me: "Um, Dave, when you put Murray out, did he have his blanket on?"

Dave: "Did he have a blanket on last night?"

Me: "Yes"

Dave (tinged with sarcasm): "Then he had one on when I put him out this morning."

Dave's right, and I know it. I saw Murray earlier, and he was definitely wearing his heavy, navy winter rug. Now though, he's not. Now, he's naked, and his down-like hair is standing on end, in an effort to keep his Florida-born body warm. Perplexed, Dave and I stare out the window at him for a few more minutes. I reluctantly slip my arms into my winter coat and march in the squeaky, crunchy snow to the paddock to get to the bottom of the mystery.

It takes me a minute or so to spot the upside-down blanket discarded against the side of the fence. It's frozen solid and covered in snow. But it's not torn. The belly straps are still crossed and hooked, as are the hind-leg straps. The buckles at the front are still done up, but the stitching that normally attaches them to the blanket itself has been ripped out. It's exactly the same scenario as when Murray wriggled out of his rainsheet last fall. How does he manage to do it?

I bring Murray inside to be re-dressed. He's shivering slightly, but seems otherwise unscathed from his Houdini-like incident. I don't have another heavy rug for him (Maggie wears his old one), so I put his fleece cooler on under his mid-weight fall blanket. The temperature is supposed to dip to -17 tonight, but he'll just have to make due.

As for the blanket, I don't have sewing needles strong enough to push through the thick, nylon fabric, so I'll have to send it to a local shop for repairs. I know they won't take it if it's dirty, so with difficulty, I shove the heavy, hair-covered rug into our washing-maching. After a good soak, it comes out looking (and smelling) much the same, but I can at least tell them I tried.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Rollicking Ride in the Snow

Tuesday, January 11
Finally, the sticky, brown mud of the last few months is truly gone, hidden beneath of bed of soft, fluffy snow-- the product of a mild weekend storm. I'm as giddy as a small child as I pull a pair of winter-riding snow-pants over my long underwear. I can't wait to jump aboard Maggie's broad back and go for a brisk ride in the snow.

Maggie seems happy for the attention. She even stands still while I mount, though her elephant-trunk-like lips rip several small branches off our apple tree while I lean over to adjust my bulky pants. After tugging the twigs from Maggie's reluctant jaws, we set off down the hill at a lumbering march.

About halfway down, we meet our neighbour Greg on his four-wheeler, wearing a helmet and insulated green coveralls. He's on his way back from their dairy barn. I ask about his 90 head of cattle, and we chat about the weather. As the minutes tick by, Maggie stands politely, moving only occasionally to shift her weight. What a difference from Murray, whose anxious attitude doesn't lend itself well to mid-ride conversation. I promise Greg that Dave and I will eventually get down for a tour of the farm, then we wave and go our separate ways.

Maggie continues at her meandering pace, until we reach the cattle's marshmallow-like rolls of round hay bales at the bottom of the hill. Then we turn and jog unenthusiastically back toward home. It's a slow, but enjoyable pace. The only sound, other than the crunch of Maggie's bare feet on packed snow, is that of a lonely Murray, beckoning with high-pitched cries from his paddock.

Urged on by Murray's whinnies, Maggie manages a moderate burst of energy and we crest the hill at a full trot. We turn down the driveway and head for the riding ring. I'm not sure what the footing will be like. When I last checked (before our most recent snowfall), the riding ring had a smooth, rink-like quality. I had even considered hauling out my skates, but never got around to it.

Now, it seems that ice is covered by several inches of snow. We're able to trot serpentines and circles without a single slip, but I don't trust the footing enough to chance a canter. Time to explore the fields.

We set off at a trot through foot-high snow. Every so often, we come across drifts that rise as high as Maggie's belly. There's a particularly high and wide drift nearing the crest of a small hill. Maggie has to leap like a dear to get through it, but I think she's finally having fun since I no longer have to thump my legs on her sides to keep her going. Enjoying the moment, I can't wipe the grin off my face.

We turn and do a lap on the level, snow-covered grass outside of the ring. As we canter briskly by, I notice Muscade and Zorro playing in the snow. I laugh out loud as I watch their winter game unfold. Zorro hides behind the mounds of snow piled up by Dave's tractor, then as Muscade approaches (head down, sniffing some unknown scent), he leaps out from his hiding spot and scuttles toward her, back raised and tail up. When Muscade takes notice, he changes course and darts back behind another snow bank. It looks like we're all enjoying the winter wonderland.

I decide to take Maggie for a last loop down through the snowdrifts. Her long, thick, black coat is shiny from sweat, and steam is beginning to rise her from back. She's just getting going though. I actually have to hold her back. But as we round the corner and start back up the hill toward the massive snow-drift, I lean forward and give her her head. Her hind end lowers and chunks of snow fly into the air as she picks up speed. We're through the drift and cresting the hill when she squeals. Uh-oh.

Suddenly, with a toss of her head, Maggie gets carried away in the moment. She whips her body into the air with a violent buck-- this is not the kind of frustrated buck she occasionally tests me with in riding ring. No, this is the joy-filled, lurching, twisting buck I've seen her attempt when running side-by-side with Murray out in the field. It's the kind of buck that has often prompted Dave and I to look at each other and say "man, she has power."

Before her leap into the air, I'm perched, jockey-like on her neck, urging her forward. Now, I try to lean back, but I don't have time to drive my seat completely back into the saddle. I'm tossed around like a rag doll as her ample hind-end launches her 1300 pound body well into the air. My feet slip from the stirrups, and I think to myself that at least the snow will make for a soft landing. Her second buck is thankfully less-enthusiastic, and I do manage to hold on as her hooves sink into the snow and she bolts off at a full-out gallop.

Now, I'm someone who believes in treating horses' mouths with great respect. I generally ride in fat, loose ring snaffles, and I don't believe in using a bit as punishment. That said, I had borrowed a harsher-than-usual corkscrew bit from a friend since Maggie has been a little fresh lately. I wanted to fine-tune her responses before letting Dave on her back again. I used the bit once, and decided it might be too much for her. I had considered taking it off before today's ride. I didn't though, mostly because I was too anxious to get out in the snow, and didn't want to take the time to fiddle with the difficult leather.

I forget about the bit as I struggle to stay in the saddle on the steam-breathing black horse now careening through our snow-covered field. In grave danger of injuring my pride by landing on my butt in the snow, I give a pretty sharp tug on the reins. Maggie, who actually has quite a soft mouth, and who was in the middle of a full gallop stride, comes to an abrupt halt. Insulted by my assault on her tender mouth, she shakes her head savagely from side to side and shifts into temper tantrum mode just as I manage to slip my feet back into my stirrups.

When Maggie has tantrums, she reminds me of the stereotypical terrible two-year-old child-- the one who throws her body on the ground, shakes her head and flails her arms and legs from side to side while screaming at full volume. Only, instead of flailing limbs, Maggie pounds her front and hind feet alternately into the ground in a rocking-horse style rear/ buck, rear/ buck motion. Today she even snorts and squeals in anger as she hops up and down on the spot until I manage an apologetic pat on the neck. Eventually though, all is forgiven, and she settles as we walk through the shimmering, sunlit snow, back to the barn. What a great ride.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And it Begins-- Again

It's been several months since Murray broke out in any odd rashes, or gauged himself on normally harmless items, or found a way to make himself lame. His luck was bound to run out sometime.

Tuesday, January 11
9:30 pm

Dave and I pour up mugs of decaffinated tea and trudge out to the barn for night stables. He re-fills water buckets while I pick manure from the stalls. As I shove the wheelbarrow into Murray's penthouse suite, I notice that something doesn't seem right. His left front leg looks odd. His cannon bone (the large bone which connects his knee to his fetlock/ankle) looks larger than usual.

I bend down to feel it, but Murray backs away. We do an odd dance around his stall until I finally convince him to let me touch his leg (I'm too stubborn to go grab his halter). There's no heat, I can clearly see his tendons, and at first there doesn't seem to be any swelling. Then, I feel the inside of his cannon bone and notice that the area over an old splint (a bony lump on the inside of his cannon bone) is a bit soft. That explains it.

The splint itself doesn't generally bother Murray, but because it's on the inside of his cannon bone, and because Murray has a tendency to whack himself with his opposite front leg, it does sometimes tend to become irritated, causing new bone growth to form, which in turn makes the splint larger, and which in turn makes it more likely that Murray will hit it again. I'm not to worried though. This cycle has been repeating itself for about five years now, and it generally doesn't cause any lameness.

Wednesday, January 12

It's a beautiful, but eery morning. A blizzard is set to blow in later this afternoon; but for now, the air is still, and a curtain of thick grey fog makes the landscape look like something out of a black and white movie. Sepia grasses poking up through a blanket of snow are tipped with silver frost, as are the black fence rails. It's a great day for a ride, and as I dump Murray's grain into his bucket, I remind him that we're going for a romp in the snow before the bad weather hits. I've completely forgotten the bit of swelling I noticed in his leg last night.

I go about my morning chores as the horses crunch their pelletted feed. I'm partly done mucking Murray's stall when I notice his leg-- again. Uh-oh. Eleven hours later, and it's clear the splint is not the problem. No, while there is some tenderness on that splint, it's clear the real problem is on the outside of his leg, in his tendons. The swelling starts just below the knee and goes all the way to his fetlock. It's at its thickest about halfway down the lower portion of his leg. I'm hoping it's just a strain and not a bowed tendon, but with Murray's luck it's hard to say. I guess it's time to dust off the old ice packs and dig out the bottle of bute. And I guess Maggie will get a workout in the snow for the second day in a row.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Tale of the Disappearing Horse

January 10, 2011
8:20 pm
I'm on my way home from teaching riding lessons outside of Halifax. I call Dave to let him know, and to check and see how the horses and other "kids" are doing.

Me: "How are the horses?"

Dave: "They're fine."

Me: "They didn't give you any trouble coming in?"

Dave: "No. They behaved themselves." pause. "I hope I closed their stall doors".

Me: laughing, "Yeah, me too." My turn to pause. "You did close their doors, right?"

Dave: "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I did. Oh, hey, when I finished in the barn I went out on the tractor to widen the path and move some more snow around."

I notice that Dave has deftly changed the topic of conversation. I wonder about the stall doors, but I don't dwell on it. I'm sure he must have closed the stall doors, and if he thinks there's any chance he didn't, surely he'll go check. Right?

We hang up the phone and I settle-in behind the steering wheel for the rest of the hour-long drive to our rural piece of heaven.

As I finally pull onto our snow-covered road, my mind replays my earlier conversation with Dave. Just in case, I drive slowly and cautiously. I scan the ditches and alder patches for any sign of blanketed, four-legged animals, accidentally liberated by a tired, distracted husband. No such figures are illuminated by my high-beam headlights.

I breathe a sigh of relief as I roll into the driveway. The big barn door is closed, so even if anyone escaped (which I'm sure they didn't because I'm sure Dave would have double checked), they'd at least be corralled by the cinder-block walls.

It's about 20 after 9 now-- time to do night stables. I'm already in barn clothes, so I opt to check on the horses before going into the house. As usual, Zorro hears my boots crunching in the snow and leaps through his cat door to escort me into the feed room. I see Dave's left the light on. I remind myself to lecture him about the cost of electricity later. In the feed room, I take a moment to scratch Zorro's chin and pat his back, before making my way into the barn itself. Then, I flick on the lights and turn toward the horses' stalls.

Maggie, as usual, stretches her head out over her door and nods it in my direction in a plea for more food. Her door is closed and solidly latched. Murray, however, hasn't offered a greeting. I look to his stall to see the door pulled wide-open. His pile of hay is mostly untouched, and at first glance, there's no sign of him at all.

Now, Murray can be difficult, if not impossible to catch; but, he's not a wanderer at heart. He's simply not brave enough to go exploring on his own. As far as I know, the only time he ever "escaped" from his stall in the night was at Equidae stables in Halifax. The caretaker, Karen, lived in an apartment above the barn. At 1am, she woke to hear the clink of metal horse shoes on the cement floor. She wiped the sleep from her eyes, and navigated the dark steps down to the barn. When she got there, she found Murray standing outside his stall, a look of worry and concern on his face. The door to his stall was closed. As Karen opened it, he dashed back inside, clearly relieved to be "home". As far as we can tell, his sly, 22 year old, appaloosa neighbour had reached over and unlatched Murray's door. Murray seized the opportunity and headed toward freedom, but then, as the door slammed closed behind him, had second thoughts. There were no signs that he'd strayed more than a foot or two from his stall.

With that story in mind, I'm surprised that I don't see Murray behind his open door. So, I look down the isle to my left, toward the extra stalls. Still no sign of him, and no signs that anything has been disturbed. Then, I hear movement so I turn and take a few steps toward his open door. That's when I see him. I should have known.

He's standing at the back of his stall, his hindquarters pressed against the exterior wall, with his shoulders and ribs practically leaning on the dividing wall between his stall and Maggie's. He's hiding. It's a trick he mastered years ago, and has managed to replicate at every barn he's been at. He instinctively seems to know which area of his stall is least visible from the outside. He flattens himself against the wall in that area, and takes a nap. This habit of hiding in the shadows has caused many a stable manager to do a panicked double take when confronted with what, on first glance, appears to be an empty stall. It's amazing that a 12 hundred pound animal can manage to hide himself so completely.

I call Murray's name and he steps forward sleepily, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his door has been wide open for the past two hours. He drowsily meanders toward the uneaten mound of hay, and shoves his muzzle amongst the grassy forage.

I shake my head at Dave. I can't believe he left Murray's door open-- wide open. At least there was no harm done--this time. If it had been Maggie, it would be a whole different story. Hay would be spread across the isles, crossties would be pulled from the walls, and the barn in general would like a disaster zone.