In-Hand Harmony

Equine Colic

“Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures whose nobility will fertilize the soul.”

— Rebecca West

We’ve all been there. We’ve encountered an obstacle, we struggle to find a solution to a problem, we go to war with an illness. Some of the best advice I received from my mother and grandmother is, “This too shall pass.” And it does. Sometimes you’re not sure how, but you get through it.

But then something else comes up. Or, the same obstacle confronts you again.

Three hours into a trail ride at Staunton State Park on Monday, July 26th, Tobias colicked — again. Tobias had emergency surgery for a gas colic and displaced large intestine four years ago. Two years ago we came close to putting Tobias down around 3 o’clock in the morning for a gas colic, when he thankfully turned the corner — and not a moment too soon.

The sun was out with a few clouds. There was a cool, mountain breeze at the 8,000+ elevation. We walked some, we trotted some, we cantered. We rode through druffy forest, we climbed the mountain beside a stream. It was a gorgeous day. One of those rare times when I found myself nearly in tears simply with joy and gratitude.IMG_2615

We had ridden Mason Creek up to the Old Mill, over the Border Line Trail, crossed down to Marmot Passage Trail, traversing the figure eight I had notified the park office we planned to ride. It was just the two of us. (

Parts of Marmot Passage Trail are steep, narrow and rocky. We were heading to the pond for the treat of fresh water and green grass I had been promising. Tobias became hesitant and stopped from time to time. Then he started pawing.

I got off and led him, quickly, the rest of the way down to the pond. Although he’d passed up water at numerous creek crossings, I thought he might have a drink of water and eat some grass. He wanted neither. My horse, Tobias, wasn’t interested in fresh, green grass. He just wanted to lie down. We were still about an hour ride from the parking lot.

I took off his saddle, gave him a dose of Banamine and electrolyte from my small emergency kit and got out my cell phone. I had one bar of signal. It was enough.

I called my vet, Littleton Equine Medical Center, and after explaining that I had an emergency was connected to Dr. Toppin. We were too far away for him to get anyone to us. I asked if he could contact an equine vet from the Conifer or Pine area. Dr. Toppin said he’d get back to me. Next, I called the park office from the number on the map in my pack and asked if they could get someone to me, I was on the service road near the residence. Then I called my husband, Gary, to let him know I’d be later than expected getting home.

A short while later, a muscularly built, tall, capable-looking Park Ranger by the name of Robert Lewis arrived on an ATV. I was pretty grateful to see him. I handed him my truck keys, he asked if there was anything about the rig he should know, and off he went to the trailer parking lot.

While I waited, I received a call from Drs. Horton and Burton from Timberline Equine in Conifer. They were on their way.

Within an hour from my original call, Ranger Lewis arrived with my truck and trailer followed by Drs. Horton and Burton with their mobile vet unit, and escorted by a quiet and unassuming Officer Zack to give Lewis a return ride. Tobias actually whinnied when he saw them coming.

The two vets worked with calm efficiency and compassion, instilling trust and confidence with both Tobias and me. A sedative was administered and a rectal exam of Tobias revealed the cause of the colic was likely gas. The doctors felt the gas distention to be pillowy, rather than tight like a balloon. A decision was made to tube him with water and mineral oil. The doctors thought that would get him through the colic and help it pass through.

Meanwhile, rather than leaving once delivering the rig and doctors, Ranger Lewis and Officer Zack remained standing by. I decided to make use of their presence and asked them to remove the divider from my two-horse slant and put it in the back of my Suburban (on his way to the clinic for the aforementioned colic surgery, Tobias fractured his withers underneath the divider when he was unable to stay standing). They appeared happy to help and accomplished the task smoothly and efficiently.

We were now ready to go home. Oddly, this was where I started to lose my composure. Tobias usually loads right in. But he was hesitant and kept backing out. I knew better than to force the issue or have others urging him. I ask one person to move away from the side of the trailer where they were leaning in through a window, and another who was tapping him on his rear – both in an attempt to help and encourage yet unsettling both Tobias and me. Tobias finally loaded up and we were on our way.

Two hours later, about 6:00 p.m., we arrived at home in Sedalia. The first thing Tobias did upon entering his stall/paddock was paw and lie down. I called our regular vet Dr. Jessica Dunbar. She was unavailable and advised that we get back into the trailer and head for the clinic. She would let them know we were coming.

His exam and blood work indicated that he was not dehydrated but confirmed a soft pillow of gas on his right side in the large intestine. Tobias spent the night with IV fluids, sedatives, muscle relaxers and pain killers. The staff and new docs were wonderful, and kind.

Fortunately, I was able to bring Tobias home the following afternoon. I monitored him every three hours through that night and slowly reintroduced small amounts of feed that morning and for the next few days.

Two weeks have passed. Tobias is looking well. I’ve begun exercising him, he’ll receive body work tomorrow and we plan to go for a short, local trail ride on Friday.

The big question, as always with a colic, is, “What caused it?” The answer: we have no idea.

I plan to eliminate oats from his diet and change his pre/probiotics from Saccromyces Boulardii to Assure. He’s also getting his usual Equus psyllium one week a month.

All we can do is our best in any given circumstance. The rest is not always up to us.

I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful people who came to our aid so quickly and efficiently: Robert Lewis, Park Ranger at Staunton State Park; Drs. Horton and Burton of Timberline Equine; and the team at Littleton Equine Medical Center. I’ll add my gratitude to the Universe. Things don’t fall into place like that without divine help.


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One thought on “Equine Colic

  1. Cath Post author

    I received a suggestion that perhaps the colic was altitude driven, which is certainly possible. If we had just arrived from Kentucky, which is basically sea level, we would need plenty of time to acclimate in addition to being very well hydrated. Living in Sedalia, CO, we are already at 6,000 feet.

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