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Posted 2/26/2014 8:02pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Saturday, February 22, 2014 was a promising day of sunshine and warmth in a long winter of freezing temperatures and deep snow. As is typical on weekends at home, we had a lot on our agenda. Weekdays, Roy and I run the farm separately; Roy around the edges of his full time job as a district forester and I negotiating demands from the office, barn, market, and home. I look forward to the days we can work together on projects and this particular Saturday we had pig pens to clean, fences to repair, and odd jobs to do around the farm.  

In the afternoon I took the girls to a birthday party and when I returned home Roy met me in the driveway. Buddy, one of our team of Belgium draft horses was sick. The vet was on her way. We’d been through a similar scenario about three years ago and we knew that horses are not easy patients. As Dr. Kresge put it, prey animals will not easily show weakness because when they do, they become a target. Sheep are the same way, when they actually appear sick, things have often progressed further than can be reversed. 

Buddy’s symptoms were of intestinal discomfort, usually lumped into the diagnosis of colic in horses. He wanted to stay laying but we knew the best thing for him was to get him up and keep him moving. We took turns walking him around the barnyard, happy to see that he pooped normally several times. When the vet arrived and examined him, she didn’t feel anything too alarming, but acknowledged he was clearly in distress. We gave him water, kept him moving, and were hopeful that we had caught it early. But by late evening we were seeing increased signs of stress and when Dr. Kresge came this time she attempted to tube him so that we could get mineral oil into his gut. Unfortunately, he was very difficult to tube and the more experienced horse vet from the practice was unavailable. The tube went in to the trachea easily enough, but not the esophagus, where it needed to be! Dr. Kresge was very apologetic and frustrated. She acknowledged that her lack of experience may have played a part, but one never knows. She was giving him great care and came out several times over a 24 hour period. Each time Buddy would give us hopeful signs; good bowels sounds, pooping, getting up and walking for us, etc. And then suddenly symptoms would change and it was obvious things were not well. With large horses, even the reach of a vet’s arm is a limited exam. It is just impossible to know what is going on in that large cavity without imaging and that would cost a lot of time and money. Neither of which we could afford. 

Around noon on Sunday, the signs of stress had increased. Buddy was calm, but sweating profusely, and another rectal exam made it clear that an intestinal loop had pushed back into the colon. It was this experience that suddenly felt like deja vu all over again. The options were similar to what we faced with Bud. A trip to the Bolten Center with a suffering horse to an outcome of less than 25% survival, and more money than we could really afford or relieve Buddy’s suffering with euthanizing drugs. 

So with more than few tears, we had Buddy put down. We all feel saddened at this loss and somewhat helpless in the face of suffering and death of such a magnificent presence. If only we could have slipped him into our Subaru wagon and hustled him down the road to an animal ER.

Buddy will be missed and his absence leaves us questioning whether we continue to pursue draft power on our farm. Those thoughts will have to wait for another blog.