Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Great Corn Escapade

That's a very special bag of frozen corn that I'm holding next to my mare, Lexi, in this photograph. In fact, I dare say that no one will ever consume the corn in that bag. Of course, there's a story that goes along with it. And since there isn't much happy news in my part of the world-- wildfires have yet to be quelled and it's 95 degrees, dry and smoky-- I thought I'd share something that happened a few weeks ago in my life with horses...

Ron and I had left our bedroom windows open in hopes that the night air would help cool off the interior of the house. He slept fine. I'm a notoriously light sleeper, however, so the fact that it didn't cool off kept me tossing and turning. About 2:00 am I could hear Lexi really thrashing around in her paddock. I knew something was up, so I hopped out of bed, shoved my feet into my slippers and dashed outside. Sure enough, something had really upset her. She was extremely aggitated, but even more peculiar, she would suddenly cease her whirling around to sit on the paddock railing and rub her tail. I mean, really, really rub her tail. I could hear the fenceposts creaking against her weight.

Unfortunately, this was a moonless night, so I ran back to the tackroom and grabbed a flashlight. I put a halter on Lexi and led her out of her paddock. She was in such a dither I figured the last thing I wanted to try was tying her up in the inky blackness. So I held the end tip of the lead rope with one hand and inspected her with the flashlight with the other hand. She seemed in good condition except for a furiously flicking tail. Naturally, you know what that meant: I had to reconnoiter hands, leadrope, flashlight and antsy palomino mare to look under her tail and see what I could see. Nothing like performing an equine gynecological inspection at 2:00 am, right?

What I saw startled me. Forgive me for being a bit clinical, but Lexi's vulva and vaginal region was swollen as if she'd just given birth. Having foaled out dozens of Thoroughbreds and warmbloods in the past, I was familiar with that post-partum appearance, but it just didn't make sense. Nonetheless, I couldn't stop myself from glancing at the bedding in her paddock, just to make sure there wasn't an unplanned surprise there. Nope. I just had a mare with a very uncomfortable, uhm, mare problem. At 2:00 am.

I put her back in her paddock and considered my options. For a moment I considered calling my vet, Jennifer. She's actually a good friend of mine, but not even good friends like to be called at 2:00 am for anything less than an emergency. Was this an emergency? Did I want to use my "Get Your Vet Out of Bed Free Card" for a swollen, itchy horse hoochie?

I decided to hold off until colic, fever or hemorrhagic bleeding was involved. It was obvious that Lexi wasn't suffering from some spontaneous vaginal tumor, nor was she bleeding or systemically ill. When she wasn't thinking about scratching her itch, she would munch hay. Hence, rather than rousting Jennifer, I figured that applying cold water might make Lexi feel better until sunrise. Then I could call Jennifer. With a new treatment regimen, I led Lexi in the dark over to the faucet, turned on the hose and then tried to juggle lead rope, flashlight (because I needed to aim just right), hose and horse tail. It was sort of like target practice by Braille. With water.

That did not go as planned.

Reasoning that the water was the problem-- Lexi was none too happy about undergoing hydrotherapy in the dark-- I came upon another bright idea: Applying ice to the afflicted area.

I bet you're seeing where the bag of frozen corn comes in, right?

I stuck Lexi back in her paddock and sprinted back inside to my kitchen. I rummaged around in the freezer, looking for that bag of frozen peas all of us horse lovers are supposed to keep on hand for times like this, when we need an impromptu cold compress. But the only frozen green veggie I had was a package of Brussels sprouts. And that just seemed like not a good choice. Then I spied the bag of corn. Purchased on sale, I'd been saving it for Thanksgiving, when I'm traditionally summoned to produce my famous creamed corn casserole. But it was needed now.

I dashed back outside and grabbed Lexi again. Wisely, I decided this was going to be a two-fisted operation, so I abandoned the flashlight. I looped the leadrope over the hitching post and lifted Lexi's tail. I stood off to the side just in case she took offense and kicked. I talked to her in a soothing tone, as soothing as I could before I put a bag of frozen vegetables under her tail. And then one, two, three! I zeroed in on Lexi's puffy parts and pressed the cold corn against the swelling.

Lexi was a bit startled, to say the least. But after a few moments, she stood still. I held the bag there for a good ten minutes, hoping that the corn wouldn't defrost before Lexi got some relief. Despite my concern over Lexi's predicament, I started to laugh. Why on earth does anyone ever think that owning a horse is glamorous? It was now 3:00 am and I was still in my pajamas and slippers holding a bag of frozen veggies on my mare's vulva.

Eventually, I re-inspected Lexi and determined that the swelling had subsided. She seemed more comfortable, so I put her back in her paddock. I then retrieved a patio chair and plunked myself down in front of her gate, just so I could keep an eye on her.

It seemed like an eternity, but eventually the horizon lightened. It was time to call Jennifer, now that the worst of the crisis was over. But I felt that I needed a true diagnosis just in case this happened again. Since Jennifer lives just a few blocks away, she arrived in minutes. She did her exam, and then told me what I had already figured: Lexi had been bitten by a bug, perhaps even a spider.

"When the swelling goes down completely you may even see the actual site of the bite," she said. Jennifer said that she's even seen young fillies, not even weaned yet, get bitten under the tail. "It's dark, it's soft, it's warm and moist in that area," she explained. "The horse lies down and the bug or spider heads for that area."

With a shot of pain meds and some oral steroids, the swelling improved dramatically in just a few hours. By the next day, Lexi was completely back to normal. Trust me, I checked.

As for the corn? I decided to re-freeze it and keep it on hand for a little while, just as a joke. That plastic bag of veggies has gained quite a reputation. And, amazingly enough, it's almost the end of October and I haven't been asked to bring my creamed corn casserole to the family Thanksgiving party.

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