Curiosity and gluttony can be deadly for horses. They can smell an open feed sack a mile away. It might take them a while to get to it, but they’re persistent and motivated — even when their bellies are full.
Knowing this, I am always diligent to keep the feed room locked up. It only took one instance of negligence for a potential disaster to occur. I was shocked when I discovered Clara, our pregnant Palomino mare, had helped herself to most of a bag of corn. But after 24 hours had passed without her colicking, I figured she was out of danger.
A few days later, I found her rolling on her back in the barn lot. An anguished look clouded her eyes and her breathing was labored. I could coax her up on her feet for a moment, then her knees would buckle, and she would collapse in a heap. I couldn’t reach the vet on the phone, so I got a lead rope and started walking her. My three small children were eager to help poor Clara. They joined me in the coastal pasture as I goaded her to keep moving, hoping that would settle her digestive distress. Her head hung down and her eyes were sullen. It took a concerted effort for her to take each step.
I called my husband at the local locker plant and relayed the short version of the story.
"Hitch up the trailer. I’m on my way," he said firmly.
The mare was usually very spirited, but that day Clara was strangely docile. However, a wild-eyed look of panic sprang to her eyes when she saw the trailer pull up next to her. I untied her, and she walked stiff-legged toward it and stopped. Her demeanor told me she had no intention of stepping one white hoof in that nasty trailer.
It seemed to take an eternity for my husband to arrive. While we waited, I tried to soothe the horse by petting her and telling her calmly that she needed to get to the vet. Only then would she find relief. But Clara sensed that what lay ahead for her would not be pleasant. And she was right. The treatment for overeating is flooding the gut with mineral oil in order to evacuate the contents quickly.
As I tried to soothe Clara’s frazzled nerves, she passed some gas … actually a lot. It was foul-smelling … putrid, actually. The stench curled my nose hairs and made my eyes water. Even so, I shared her relief. Suddenly, she raised her tail and emptied her bloated gut. I walked behind her hoping to find the cause of her mysterious colic.
Instead of the typical-looking, uniform horse manure blocks, I saw something totally unexpected and inexplicable. I thought for a second it was a huge brown bath towel. That crazy mare had swallowed a plastic bag. On its way toward the exit, it had filled up completely and come out in one fell swoop, so to speak. The plastic, turquoise Wal-Mart bag with the iconic yellow smiley face lay steaming on the ground filled to the brim with horse poop. I blinked my eyes in disbelief.
Instantly, new life filled Clara’s eyes. She heaved a sigh of relief. She looked around, swishing her long white tail, as if nothing unusual had happened. My husband flew into the driveway about that time, slinging gravel as he rounded the corner. No need to rush now, I thought. The crisis was over.
I finally got in touch with the vet who warned us that if there were pieces of plastic still inside her, surgery might be necessary. So my husband dutifully picked through the smelly contents to make sure that the bag was intact.
We took her to the vet anyway, just to be sure, which proved to be quite a challenge. After lots of rope tugging, cooing, coaxing and cussing, Clara finally stepped into the trailer. The vet examined her and reminded us to keep the feed room latched.
"Thanks a lot for that valuable advice, Captain Obvious," I thought to myself.