California Riding Magazine • May, 2011

Horsey Humor:
Sick Horses

by Bob Goddard

For years I believed that horses held a special place as one of God's most healthy creations. I knew they were big and strong and fast, so I assumed they must be pretty physically fit. However, ever since I surrendered to my daughters' If We Don't Get A Horse, We Won't Grow Up Normal threat, I have learned the truth. Based upon the amount of money we spend for vet bills and other horse health related costs, I now suspect that The Horse may be one of the sickest species on the face of the earth.

Being a horse is not easy. The list of potential ailments and diseases which afflict the animal is a long and ugly one. In addition to being hungry all of the time, a horse is subject to such maladies as colic, worms, nasty viruses, lameness, bad teeth, a thing called "white line disease," bronchitis, obesity, constipation and an occasional hangover. They also suffer from frequent cuts and bruises - usually brought about by ill-advised social interaction with whatever horse in the paddock is currently vying for the title of Mr. Big.

Whenever one of our horses gets sick or hurt it affects our whole family. By this, I don't mean that we catch things from them. None of our family members have ever suffered from colic or worms or constipation (well, maybe occasionally). Rather, the effect upon us is emotional. A sick horse will cause my wife to worry, make the girls despondent or panicky, and bring a tear or two to my eyes as I write the check to cover the vet bill.

Despite all my complaints (or perhaps because of them), I have to admit that my oldest daughter Jamie - bless her little heart - has done her best to help hold down our horse-health costs. In the past couple of years, she's learned a great deal about how to treat many of her horse's minor ailments. This not only saves us from paying a vet every time the horse gets a little scratch or catches cold, but it also has been a source of fatherly pride on my part.

Let me give you an example. Not too long ago, Jamie came home from the barn with a look on her face that told me that my plans for an evening of Monday Night Football were in serious jeopardy. According to Jamie, her horse was "not acting right." After three years of experience with that particular phrase, I knew what she actually meant was "Find your coat and boots, because you're going out to the barn."

Jamie was concerned because over the last few days her horse had become increasingly lethargic and was suffering from some congestion. I told her it sounded like a cold. Not trusting my diagnosis, Jamie called the vet. The vet said it sounded like bronchitis and told Jamie to take the horse's temperature. I didn't like hearing that, because this seemed like a major project and I was worried about what role I would be playing in it. I became particularly concerned when Jamie unsheathed a thermometer about the size of Darth Vader's
light saber:

"How on earth are you going to keep him from biting into that thing?," I asked.

"Uh ... that won't be a problem, dad."

I soon realized what she meant. Despite my misgivings over the whole idea of what she was doing to that unfortunate animal, I felt a great deal of pride and admiration. I was proud because she knew where the thermometer was supposed to go. And I admired her because she had the courage to put it there.

I've often wondered how wild horses have survived The Ages without our help. I suppose it's like anything else, the strong ones survived and weak ones didn't. It sounds harsh, but that's the way nature is. Of course, the species was able to offset its high mortality rate by breeding a bit more freely than their domesticated cousins. After all, out in the wild you don't have people running around gelding the poor things.