I don't hate many things in this world, but one thing I truly do hate is colic. In a relatively short time span, it's claimed the lives of some world famous horses including Olympic eventer Lionheart, St Nicholas Abbey, Great Resolve (or "Einstein" to his friends), Summer Bird, and Dullahan. It's claimed the lives of countless lesser-known, but none less loved, horses, including Dorado's stall neighbor Jazz in 2012 and my good friend's mare Chloe last fall. And it provided my family and me with a horrible scare and several sleepless nights last February when our 27-year-old Appaloosa Taz was on the brink of not recovering from a colic bout. No, there's not one thing I like about colic.
Colic is something that every owner fears, but I personally worry more about it occurring in my senior horses. While a study showed that overall survival rates of geriatric horses after colic surgery were similar to those of mature horses, I think many senior horse owners face another dilemma: Should I put my aging horse through colic surgery in the first place?
With Taz, we—my parents, our wonderful veterinarian, and I—knew surgery wasn't an option. He had some pretty serious balance problems at that point, and transporting him the 30 or so miles to the nearest hospital would likely have resulted in even more serious injury. Further, it would have been extremely difficult—or even impossible—for him to stand while recovering from general anesthesia, and he could have sustained some pretty serious injuries in that situation as well. So we didn't really have a choice to make, just some prayers to say. Fortunately, things swung in our favor and Taz recovered from his episode.
But it's not that clear for all senior horses. Some geriatric horses are in overall great health, with maybe a manageable condition here or there. What if one of these horses colicked and medical management wasn't successful? Do you take him or her to surgery? Or do you make the difficult decision that he or she has lived a wonderful long life, full of love, and avoid prolonging potential suffering if surgery's not successful, and say good bye?
This is a question that I really, really hope I don't have to answer. I honestly don't know what my answer would be.
My heart obviously says do anything and everything to save my beloved senior horse, but my brain wonders if it's in my horse's best interest to stop his or her suffering in its tracks. Is there one right answer to cover all situations that arise? I don't think there is.
The only thing I do know is that I truly hate colic.
What are your experiences with senior horses and colic?