In which a chronicle of mild colic has a happy ending

You don't have to skip to the bottom. I'll tell you the most important part right now:
She's fine.

But even a mild colic episode like this is scary--and unusual--enough that I wanted to write down the details and share what I learned.

4pm: Horses are napping in the pasture. Nothing unusual.

6pm: Feeding time. Bring the horses into the paddocks, hand out beetpulp and hay. Hana and Fiddle dive into dinner as usual.

6:30pm: On the phone with my mom. Glance out the window and see Fiddle lying down. Um, lying down? Not eating? That's not right. "Mom, I need to check my horse--I'll call you back."

6:45pm: I have never been so glad to be an endurance rider, with all the useful geekazoidal skills that go with that. Fiddle's heartrate is 36 beats per minute--normal and steady. Her skin tenting is normal. Her gums are normal, capillary refill is normal. Temp is 99.8 degrees F, well within normal parameters. But she was lying down instead of eating dinner. That is totally not right. Gut sounds are normal in the front quarters but the rear quarters are quiet, especially the lower left.

6:55pm: The vet returns my phone call. I give him Fee's stats, and tell him the punchline: something is wrong. He agrees that it is probably a gas colic, which is not necessarily cause for alarm but certainly cause for concern. His instructions were to keep her quiet, and to walk her around for 10 minutes every hour or two. Since she was interested in eating the fresh grass on the lawn (which is longer, greener and less nibbled than the pasture grass) he said to let her graze a little during while I was handwalking her. He also said to remove the hay and beetpulp from her paddock so that she didn't cause or complicate an intestinal impaction while she was feeling bad. He also recommended that I give her a gram of bute.

7:30pm: Walking my horse. She is striding out normally, and has a normal heartrate, normal temperature. Gut sounds still quiet in the rear quarters. She is happy to eat grass. Take her back to the paddock, walking by the hay and beetpulp...she isn't even slightly interested in that stuff.

8:30pm: Walking my horse. There was a small, new pile of normal-looking manure in her paddock when I went to get her. Striding out normally. Normal heartrate, normal temperature. Enthusiastic about the grass. Gut sounds are getting louder in the rear quarters, but more bubbly and cauldron-like than normal... Indifferent to the hay.

8:45pm: Back on the phone with my mom. Fiddle is better, Mom. Not all the way fixed, but better.

I'm still not going to get much sleep tonight, though.

9:30pm: Walking my horse. No new manure.

10:30pm: Walking my horse. No new manure.

11:30pm: Walking my horse. Another small, new pile of manure. Hey, she's interested in the beetpulp! Not allowed to have it, though.

2:00am: Walking my horse. TWO new piles of manure (I keep moving the stuff I've counted into a corner so I don't accidently count it twice) She is much more interested in beetpulp! I decide that 15 minutes of backyard grass is appropriate.

4:00am: Walking my horse. A new pile of manure. She drags me to the lawn. She also wants beetpulp! And hay! Hooray!

6:00am: Walking my horse. The sun is not up, but the sky is getting lighter. I can see a new small pile of manure without the flashlight. Time for breakfast, honey. Today's menu: beetpulp and hay. She wants it!

What I knew that was useful: all the vital statistic stuff. Her normal heartrate was an indicator that she was uncomfortable but not unduly worried. I know what her normal gut sounds are like, and I could tell when they were returning to normal. That was reassuring to me--and helpful to the vet.

I've had experience with a few colics in the past. The Toad had a gas colic after a ride once...he was soooooo hungry that he gobbled a bunch of air with the food he ate after the ride. When we noticed he was uncomfortable, we started walking him over to the vet's rig and on the way he farted a gigantic fart. And then he felt better. Another time there was a gas-colicky horse at a ride, and the owner loaded him into the trailer and drove slowly around camp, careful to hit every bump and pothole. After 20 minutes, the gas bubbles were gone and the horse felt fine. So I knew what a gas colic was, and how easily it could be resolved.

I also knew that it might not be a gas colic--hence the worry, and the phone call to the vet.

This incident was so mild that I'm not sure that it would even have been noticed if she had been at the old boarding barn. The routine there was to feed horses and then return 2-3 hours later to turn them out to pasture. If she had been uncomfortable right after feeding time, it might have been hours before somebody looked at her...and at that point, lying down in her stall would not have been unusual behavior. And she might have been fine without the painkiller and all the handwalking.

But maybe not.

It's that thought that gets horse people out of bed at 4 in the morning to walk a horse, isn't it?

What I learned: With my old mare Story, eating for ten minutes and then resting--even napping--was normal behavior. For Fiddle and Hana, eating steadily until all the food is gone is normal. Familiarity with "normal" for each horse is important.

I wouldn't necessarily have taken away Fiddle's feed without that advice from the vet. It is counterintuitive to endurance riders to remove feed--we tend to assume that food (and an appetite for food) is good. However, if the bellyache is caused by impaction, adding more food will only make things worse.

I knew that continual walking of a colicky horse is old-fashioned medicine and not recommended anymore. The vet encouraged me to walk her ten minutes every hour or two to help gas bubbles move in the intestinal tract, and also to allow her to eat fresh grass, which encourages gut motility to move along the food she had already eaten.


Fiddle is happy, comfortable, and hungry for second-breakfast.



  1. Thank goodness it didn't get more serious!! I haven't had a horse colic since I was a teen. I would totally freak out!!

  2. You're so right about how important it is to know what your horse's normal behavior is and what all their normal vital signs are - I wish more horse people than just endurance folk would learn these things. So glad all is better now!

  3. >>It's that thought that gets horse people out of bed at 4 in the morning to walk a horse, isn't it?

    Definitely... I've been known to drive out to the barn at 4 in the morning because of a "but what if...?" (Times like that, I know should just sleep there!)

    I have called my vet up before and let them know: his TPR is normal, he's got some tummy sounds, but he's just not right. Knowing all their idiosyncrasies helps us figure out when something's wrong.

    I'm glad to hear all is well!

  4. Hallelujah she's okay. And thank you for new information...I was still on the continual walking page. Only 10 min every hour? I must've completely exhausted several horses along with myself in the past.

    Nothing strikes as much dread as seeing signs of colic...often you don't know where it's going to go, or how long it's been going on. Nice work!

  5. So glad she's ok! 10 minutes an hour sounds really reasonable - I've seen people walk constantly for hours, and I agree that it just wears the horse out when she's already feeling bad.

  6. I am so glad to hear that your horse is okay! I have yet to experience a colicy horse, since I do not own any of myself, and I dread the day that I will have to confront a colic horse. but I know it will happen one day and I will just need to stay calm!

    Great post by the way!!


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