Something I feel like I'm continually reminded of is that regardless of how long you've been caring for, working with, or simply admiring horses, you've never seen or done it all. And in my experiences, it's been the senior horses in my life who've reminded me of this most frequently. This weekend I chuckled to myself as I walked into the dairy section of my local grocery store thinking just that.

Last week wasn't a good one for Dorado, and I'm pretty sure I used up a good chunk of my monthly texting allowance communicating with my veterinarian each day! He developed some loose stool on Monday, which continued throughout the week. At one point his hind legs became swollen, and I never knew whether I'd find a sluggish horse or a wild one upon arriving at the barn. Fortunately, his overall attitude stayed positive and he maintained a good appetite throughout the week. Finally, after five days of no real improvement, our veterinarian came out for a visit on Saturday.

Dorado wasn't sure about the yogurt at first (his expression says it all), but he actually seems to enjoy it now.

Photo: Erica Larson

After an examination, the veterinarian diagnosed Dorado with some mild gastrointestinal discomfort and dysfunction. Fortunately, we caught it very early and our vet determined that it was nothing that couldn't be addressed by a few medications…and yogurt. That's right, yogurt. Turns out yogurt isn't just good for humans' digestive tracts, some veterinarians prescribe it for use in horses too. Be it the yogurt, the other medications he was prescribed, or a combination of the two, Dorado is doing much better now and his stool looks much more normal...hooray! A word of caution the yogurt: Dorado didn't get much (just what the doctor ordered—a few 30 cc doses over the course of a few days) and I probably wouldn't recommend adding it to your horses' feeding regimen without first talking to your vet—just because something works for one horse doesn't mean it's a good idea for all horses. But I couldn't help smiling when I picked the yogurt up from the grocery store's cooler: What would people have thought if they knew I was shopping for my horse?

Another first I experienced with the help of a senior horse was handling choke. When Cadence, a 25+-year-old Arabian gelding who lived at the farm I used to work at, got his dinner (commercially manufactured pellets) lodged in his esophagus, I really wasn't sure what to do. Honestly, none of the workers on hand that day were really sure what to do. We called the vet immediately upon discovering him in distress and before long, she'd arrived and taken care of the issue. She also told us we'd (somewhat inadvertently) handled the situation very well—first by making the emergency call and then by isolating Cadence away from other horses and doing our best to keep him quiet. Go figure!

Still another first a senior horse helped me experience was blindness. Unfortunately, this first doesn't have quite as happy an ending as the two others I've described. Despite the fact that the 20-something year old Appaloosa mare lost vision in one eye relatively slowly, she did not adjust well to the change. Despite the fact she had a forever friend whom she followed closely around the pasture during the short time she was presumably completely blind in one eye, we'd regularly see her walk into trees and other objects or find her spinning in circles, seemingly lost. It broke our hearts to see her so confused and stressed. Her owners contemplated how to best handle the situation, but their decision was ultimately made for them: the mare was euthanized after the iris in her bad eye prolapsed.

What "firsts" have you experienced with the help of a senior horse? Please share your experiences!