It’s almost inconceivable to have to write these words. We lost a horse this week — a horse that was young, strong, and full of life. A horse with a sunny personality and a friendly calm outlook on life. A horse who was just days away from finding his forever home. We had to say goodbye far too soon. And worst of all, we still don’t really know why.
On Tuesday morning, the morning feeding crew found Valor in his paddock with both his eyes swollen almost shut. His muzzle and lips were swollen as well. We brought him inside to a stall and called our vet. Dr Lewis from Rainland Farm arrived soon after, and examined him. He had a very slight fever, but there was nothing to immediately explain what had caused the swelling. There was no obvious sign of a bite or sting, and we found nothing in his paddock that he could have eaten and reacted to. Dr Lewis took blood to test, and gave him medication to help reduce the swelling and make him more comfortable. We were told to keep his hay and water up high so he could keep his head up as much as possible. When his bloodwork came back, it was normal, with just some mild dehydration.
We kept him inside so we could keep a close eye on him, and monitor his intake of food and water as well as his bowel movements. We noticed he’d take a few bites of hay, but he wouldn’t really chew it. We offered him different hays and grains, but he wasn’t really interested in eating. He drank about a bucket of water, passed a small amount of manure, and seemed depressed but generally stable. The medication helped the swelling go down, and by evening, his eyes were able to open again. We watched him on the stall camera throughout the night, and he was quiet, with no signs of pain like rolling, pacing, or pawing. Mostly he just slept standing up. But he still wasn’t eating.
By morning the swelling in his head had gone down some more, but he still had an elevated heart rate and did not want to eat. When taken out to graze for a few minutes, he’d take a bite or two of grass then let it fall out of his mouth. We were concerned that something might be wrong with his mouth or his teeth. Dr. Renner came out, and took a look in his mouth with a scapula, but saw nothing that would explain his refusal to eat. He then tubed Valor to deliver water and electrolytes straight to his stomach and ease his dehydration.
This is when we began to realize that we were facing a much more serious problem. A foul odor came from the stomach tube. Dr. Renner did a rectal exam and found mucus, an indication that things were not in working order. He then did an ultrasound, and discovered that Valor’s small intestine was not functioning. Valor had a major impaction. The only option was surgery, and as Dr. Renner explained, the chance of success was low, in what was sure to be a very complicated procedure. We had no choice but to end his suffering and put him down.
The decision to let him go was made very quickly, but it was a complete shock to all of us. We thought we were dealing with an allergic reaction or poisoning, but suddenly we were facing a deadly serious colic instead. As the sedation began to wear off, Valor began to show us signs that the colic was progressing. We took him out to the grass, and he immediately dropped to the ground to try to roll. Dr. Renner stepped in quickly, and within minutes, Valor was gone. Our vibrant, happy chestnut boy had left us forever.
Since his passing, we continue to ask why. Why did this happen? What caused him to swell up so suddenly? Did that reaction cause the colic, or were the two problems unrelated? Drs. Renner and Lewis did a partial necropsy to try to find some answers, but so far we don’t have any. We completely stopped using the first-cutting timothy hay that Valor had been eating, and switched the entire herd to a different cutting of timothy from another grower. We’re having the old hay tested to see if it might have contained a toxic weed or insect. We’ve moved his paddock mates, George and Anderson, to a different turnout area, then scoured the empty paddock for signs of anything he could have ingested to cause such a reaction. And we’re watching the rest of the herd nervously and carefully for any signs of illness or distress. We do this with aching hearts and the fear that we might never have a definitive answer about what happened.
Valor was a good boy who overcame a rough start in life and became a shining star here at SAFE. He was loved and treasured by so many people, and none of us will ever forget him. We all have funny memories of his antics and silliness, and those memories will bring us comfort in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Valor was a delightful soul who brought a lot of joy along with him. He will be missed.