The learning curve

Reading over some old blog posts from another blog life, I found a post from almost two years ago, that outlined a huge learning event for us on our little farm. 

The backstory is that late one evening on a public holiday (of course) we found our horse, Robert, frothing from the mouth and clearly very ill.  He had ‘choke‘ –  a condition that horses can get from bolting their food too fast, blocking their throat effectively.  Horses are unable to vomit, so he required our help, and eventually the vet with four feet of garden hose to save him.  Needless to say it was a wet and disgusting night, but Robert took it in his lovely standardbred stride and stood patiently and miserably while we all tried to save him.  We succeeded  but the amount of water poured down his throat that cold night, necessitated follow up  injections so that he didn’t get bacterial pnuemonia or infection.  And so the story continues…


This is going to be a really long blog but I figured this is a timely blog, given that EI (Equine Influenza) injections are now top stories on the news and the lips of any horse owners on the eastern side of Australia. Once again, I can produce a ‘how not to’ to demonstrate that, as usual, there is always a better way and if it’s to be learned through someone else’s experience, so much the better.

So, last time I left you dear reader, we had an expensive call out for the vet at dinner time on the public holiday. The vet had left us with penicillin, a syringe and packets of needles for four days of shots and I was sure I could do this…I can clip wings, I have removed dead toes (from chooks), have put my own dislocated shoulder and knees back in (but don’t recommend it) and poo and blood aren’t really problematic for me. When I practised with an orange, the needle slipped in like a hot knife through soft butter, which surprised me a bit…after all when I have a needle or donate blood, it doesn’t feel that good.

DAY 1: All ready, Simon and I took to the paddock, fully armed…and I completely chickened out. My brain was saying ‘GO’ and my hand was saying ‘the sun is in my eyes, there’s a pretty bird over there, I can’t do this, what will we have for dinner, I’d like to sew an apron, I can’t do this, what will I plant in the other wine barrel, I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this!’ Complete stalemate. Simon took over and got the job done with some trepidation but certain success. He felt very proud, as he should, and I felt somewhat ashamed. For the record, I don’t chicken out on things. I mean, I don’t bungy jump or climb huge rocks in Central Australia, or leap out of planes at great heights either, because I know my limitations. But the things that are important, that must be done…I don’t chicken out on those things. Oh well, as Simon reminded me…we are a team and we got the job done together and that’s all that matters.

DAY 2: Simon and I have read up on internet sites and we are confident. Simon has decided a shot in the bum will be better so as to have a larger target (we are talking Robert the horse’s bum, not mine, but for much the same reason.) I am a bit anxious, but he’s giving the needle so who am I to say. This is our first mistake. Our second is to take his dinner down with us and give it to him, and our third is to take him into his, somewhat confined shelter to give the chaff to him and stick him at the same time. Rob is confused, unhappy and he kicks Simon in the chest. I think Simon is dead until the moaning tells me otherwise.  Rob only has the needle in his bum and there is no way we are getting close to him to put the syringe in and give him the medicine at this point. Once Simon has scraped himself off the ground and flicked the needle out of Robert’s bum, he shakily goes back into the house. Interestingly, Robert is then very keen to show me what a good boy he is and does anything I ask of him, very eagerly. Do you want me to turn circles, look at this! Would you like to see me walk backward with the slightest twitch of your nose? Tadaaaahh! Could I interest you in seeing the bottom of all my feet, without the slightest effort on your part Madam? Certainly. You’d like me to stand dead still while you look absolutely miserable, eh? It would be my pleasure. I am miserable. Simon is in agony.

DAY 3: We call the vet and make an appointment. The vet’s receptionist is surprised we need help. It’s easy. She does it to her horse all the time. Excellent. Karmically, some higher power sends me relief in the form of two neighbours. One comes to tell us our horse has a worrying discharge out his nose, and when she gets the whole story tells me that she doesn’t give her horses injections herself because she was traumatised at the age of 13 doing it. She always gets the vet. The other neighbour tells me she gets the farrier to do it…she couldn’t possibly give her own horse a needle, but has given one to someone else’s horse. I am blissfully in town when the vet comes and he is brilliant going through everything for Simon. The icing on the cake is an email from my wonderful horsey friend:

Just in case you feel like trying again here are a couple of tips –

· Do some heavy duty ‘bonding’ with Robert before needle time. Get his attention.

· Never stand directly in front of him ( he might strike) or walk behind him ( he might kick :}). The safest place is to stand just behind the shoulder facing forward watch your toes.

· Even though the rump is a big target, it’s also easy to get kicked down there so I always inject in the neck.

· Have someone holding him and try to bend his neck towards the injector a little. If he’s bowing away the needle will pop out.

· Don’t be direct-minded. Go out and get the injector to give him a brush, a bit of massage, a treat – hang out with him. Horses can always tell if you are nervous or worried – we must smell different and walk jerky – or something.

· Practice banging him on the neck with the bottom/side of your fist – in the rhythm of one, two, three. Do it a few times and rub after three. Then, randomly when things feel right – have the syringe in your hand, go bang, bang, bang and with the same force just whack it in – the harder you go the deeper it goes in and stays.

· Don’t rush to put the barrel on. Just rub etc. I don’t think they feel pain so much as shock and sudden surprise.

· When you’re ready, push the barrel on and slowly do the rest then pull it out swiftly and cleanly and really massage the area with your fist.

· It sometimes helps to grab a good hard pinch of skin just in the neck crease and hold hard until the job is done. It’s like a skin twitch.

· I have heard (and tried) a twitch that is a loop of soft thin rope passing behind the ears and between the top lip and gum and tie off firmly. It releases endorphins. Play with it before you attempt to inject. Have a go at random times to habituate him.

· Swap sides each day

DAY 4: The day pushes on me like an enormous bag of dirty laundry (where did that come from? But accurate), Simon is stewing too. His ribs are a nice yellow blue now and though it still hurts to laugh or get out of a chair, breathing isn’t as painful as yesterday. We make a plan, and based on Sandra’s advice and the vet demo, we are being strong. I go out and play with Rob, rub off his winter coat and talk to him. Simon eventually joins me and brushes him and talks to him…we breathe deeply and start to run out of things to say. Simon tells me in a singsong voice that it’s time to do it and to remember to show him who’s boss. When I look at him with panic, he reminds me…that it’s me…I’M the boss. I firmly grasp his halter, singing the alphabet by now, and Simon gets to it. Rob tries to remove my hand with his teeth, but I will generously say he was not trying to bite me. And then it was all over. YAY! We gave Robert cuddles and apples and licorice. The three of us all but high-fived! Simon and I celebrated with a glass of wine, and then decided it was worthy of a dinner out! It SO was.

DAY 5: Sandra had congratulated us, but warned us that Robert may try to think up a new trick in case we’d gotten complacent as a result of our success. So like an animal to trick you when you think you’re on a roll. That said, the tension we’d felt the last few days had eased dramatically. Unfortunately Simon was showing signs of a good cold coming and the sneezing was punctuated with groans and yelps as his tender ribs bashed together. But as it was the last needle, we wanted it over and done with. I went out and haltered him up and went through some groundwork. Simon joined us with carrots and sweet talk (for Robert) …good because I had eaten the licorice I had taken out to him in a frantic sugar rush that I couldn’t control. And just as we were about to give him the needle, Robert decided to have a lie down. He has never done this in my presence before. He didn’t roll about or anything, he just lay down and closed his eyes like he thought it might be a good time for a little snooze. He looked very comfortable. I think sneaking a glance at us from under his closed eyelids, gave the game away. We weren’t leaving, and after 6 minutes or so he gave up and got up. The shot took seconds. He turned a few times until I went crook at him, then he stopped, Simon gave him the shot, Robert sighed and it was over. Dare I say, easy. I still didn’t get to be the one pushing the needle in but that’s OK. I have to worm him in a week. 


Archived from Rural Rapture: October 2007

Postscript: I’m very proud of how far we’ve come despite always taking the longest, hardest road to get here!

4 thoughts on “The learning curve

  1. Well I know who I will be calling the first time I have to give my horse a needle 😛

    I have given needles and drenches to all sorts of farm animals, including horses where I used to work, but I dont think I could give my own pet/friend a needle. But I suppose that is one of the things I will have to deal with when I am finally a horse owner myself!

  2. Yep, Em, just call me and I will send my husband to help you – he’s great! 🙂

    Thanks Rhu, but supprting our dedication is the cost to call the vet out to your property for a 5 minute procedure!

    Escape with me anytime, LB!

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