It was perhaps an unsurprising way to get introduced to my new veterinary community. Some might even say it was inevitable when moving nine ponies down in elevation by five thousand feet, over 300 miles, to new forage and water and management, that there would be something go awry. That it took a week before I had a pony off her feed was what caught me by surprise. I checked the ponies at sundown a week after we arrived at our new home, and Bowthorne Matty was laying down in the pasture visibly uncomfortable and occasionally rolling while everyone else was contently grazing nearby. Fortunately, although it took 24 hours, Matty is once again doing fine.
After my first lines of defense in such situations didn’t instigate improvement (probiotics and Flunixin Meglumine), I called and introduced myself to the local vet who came highly recommended to me long before we arrived here. Dr. Stevens is only fifteen minutes away, which is such a blessing compared to veterinary proximity in other places I’ve lived. I transported Matty to the clinic at 7pm, and Dr. Stevens examined Matty. She found a tight ring in her large intestine. She tubed mineral oil in nasally and gave her additional medication and recommended I walk her until signs of improvement or otherwise.
Matty did initially show interest in hay after we got home, and she did pass a small pile of manure while we were walking. But then she lost interest in hay and attempted to lie down and roll while we were walking. Dr. Stevens referred us to Sturgis Veterinary Hospital, about two hours away, so for the second time that night I loaded Matty and her son Willowtrail Ross in the trailer and we hit the road at 1:30am. Neither Dr. Mez nor I were terribly awake when we greeted each other at 3:30am, but in time we developed a good relationship. He examined Matty and ran blood tests and diagnosed Matty with a mild torsion of the large intestine. He said that he did not consider her case to be urgent or dire and that he would keep her and observe her and keep me informed if she improved or if she would indeed require surgery to resolve the issue. I was thankful for this wait-and-see approach. When he also told me I wouldn’t be able to observe the surgery (due to insurance coverages), I headed for home. After feeding the ponies in the corral, I went to bed at 7:30am after a 24 hour day, arising again at 1:30pm to find a message from the vet clinic. Matty was eating and passing manure and able to come home.
Both Dr. Stevens and Dr. Mez asked me if Matty was bred. Now I know why: torsions of the large intestine are most common in pregnant broodmares. They are thirteen times more likely than stallions or geldings to be afflicted with this problem. While Matty is not bred, the at-risk period for broodmares extends to 120 days post-foaling, and Matty is just at the end of that window. Preventive measures include slow changes in management, regular access to fresh water, and consistent feeding routines. (1) All of these were challenged during our transition to our new home, added to which Matty is the head mare and may have felt additional stress about caring for her herd in our changed situation.
While we were observing Matty, Dr. Mez asked me if she was usually as round as she looked that early morning. My answer was a guarded no; the mares all do look rotund this time of year after being on pasture, but Matty’s shape looked unusual to me. Seeing her now, as shown in the photograph that looks to Matty’s rear from overhead, it’s clear how unusually shaped she was. The red lines indicate how distended her loin area was with gas.
I am very thankful to Dr. Stevens and Dr. Mez for their care of Matty. And I was flattered when the staff in Sturgis asked if I had a Fell Pony stud at home because they had a client with a mare who might be interested in breeding to him!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2019
More stories about helping my ponies be healthy can be found in my book The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.