Thursday, August 22, 2019

Clicking through Residual Trauma

The sound of hoofbeats woke me with a start in the barn at 6:45 the day after bringing Percy home. I jumped off the cot. Walter and Stowaway were trotting around outside for some reason. Percy was watching them a little anxiously so I quickly tossed some hay into the shed to entice them closer and to settle down. Now wide awake, I needed to start my new plan for morning chores. The previous routine dictated that all horses would be let out together for several hours grazing in a large paddock in the big field. The routine needed to change. In working out my attempt at a plan, I took as many physical and behavioral issues into account as I could.  The only thing to do was give it a try. 

First I hayed the baby-sitter and put a flake of hay into Stowaway's empty stall next to her. One of Percy's enjoyable pastimes is being allowed to play in the barn- walking around poking his nose into things and also investigating the other horses' stalls. I'd gotten permission to let him do that amount of walking, but I wasn't quite ready for that myself yet. I still didn't fully know how this sedative affected him. He worked his way into some tight spots but was always clever about extricating himself from them.  Would his coordination and cognitive abilities stand up for that with the sedative? Instead, I slowly entered his stall, knowing not to assume he'd pop his head right into his halter. I let him check it out, and clicked and treated a couple times until he was comfortable pushing his nose hesitantly in. Then I led him across the aisle and put him in Stow's stall where there was more hay waiting for him, and removed the halter. I held my breath to see if he'd panic, but he peered over the edge of the wall down at Kizzy, and circled the stall slowly, stopping to look out the windows as he always did when playing in the aisle. Then he started in on the hay with more steady circling.  So far, no worse. I opened the dutch door to the run-in shed where Walter and Stow were waiting for me to let them out and quietly closed the top doors of both dutch doors.  Now, Percy could not see south of the barn, where Stow and Walter would go far from the barn to a grassy paddock. 

Again, I checked in and Percy was still quietly eating and walking. 

Ande and Rumer live outside 24/7 in a large round pen and run-in shed of their own, west of the barn. Normally, they get led across the barnyard and are turned out with everyone in the morning.  But I wanted to leave them where they were this morning, for two reasons. One was that Percy could see them out the windows. He'd have Kizzy in a stall on one side of him and Ande and Rumer on the other side. Another reason I didn't want to put Ande out is because he goes out to pasture like he's been shot out of a cannon. Every Single Time. I think his ancestors were Pony Express, the way his thundering hooves echo out every morning as he gallops to grass, regardless of weather or what the other horses are doing. That was not something I wanted Percy to hear. 

Instead I carried some hay over to them for their breakfast in bed. They settled right into eating quietly. Now for the tricky part. Percy was watching me through the window and I casually walked toward the arena, south of the barn, then across the arena to the gate which would allow Walter and Stow to go out. At the gate, I was now out of Percy's sight. As quietly as I could, I unhooked the chain from the gate and slowly opened it. Walter and Stow are not wild types, so even though they were anxious to go out, they trotted quietly out in a somewhat dignified manner. I listened for Percy's worried calls and heard none. When I got back to the barn, I slid in through the door, shutting it behind me quickly  so he wouldn't see them way out yonder. All was quiet.  Phew. 

With Percy in Stowaway's stall, I could do a thorough cleaning of his. I was dismayed to see only a tiny wet spot from urine. He could usually flood a pretty good spot when he peed inside. I was keeping the electrolyte imbalance on arrival at Tufts in mind. Even though he had drunk more than two five-gallon buckets of water since being home, not much was going all the way through. 

As I cleaned stalls, filled water tanks and buckets, picked paddocks and all the other morning chores, Percy seemed content to eat and circle. At 8: AM, it was time for some more meds, both his SMZ's again, and some bute. The jar may say the bute is orange flavor but Percy thinks it's nasty. For him, it works better to smash a pill and mix it with peppermint but I didn't have any pills and needed to use up the powder before it expired, so that's what he got. 

He was getting less wary when I entered the stall, but carrying anything in with me resulted in him swinging away. I kept the syringe tucked under my arm and clicked and treated my way through haltering again. Having practiced dose syringing enough over the years, we had our own routine, and he seemed to settle back in to it. He still tossed his head when he saw the syringe, but when I stood quietly and touched the barrel of it to his cheek, he stayed still for me to slip it in his mouth. Squirting it in still ended up with the inevitable wearing of some of it on my end, but most of it was inside him. 

After medicating him, I got his carrot toy and stocked that up as a bit of enrichment for him. He nibbled at the carrot (which he normally loves), as long as I stood there and held it for him, but when I placed it on the ground, he only took a couple more bites before abandoning it to go back to his hay. Later in the morning when I had moved him back to his own stall, I found the carrot ball out on the lawn.  A terrier or two also like carrots. And balls. 

Once I brought Stowaway and Walter back into their stalls for the day, I was less worried about Percy's state of mind. This was normal. Everyone in for the day, eating hay and quietly dozing. 

I spent most of the day in the barn, observing him alone and seeing what he would respond to from me. I brought him out onto the cross ties and curried as much of the dried salt off that I could. He leaned into the brushing happily and stood quietly. I wanted to give him a bath, but did not want to get the bandages wet, or worse yet, dirty water in the wound. 

salt accumulation where sweat had run down his leg
The bandage they had put on yesterday was supposed to be good for 2-3 days but they hadn't counted on it becoming saturated with sweat. The vet had told me the elastikon wrap at the top was to keep shavings out of the lower bandage on his knee. There was currently a huge gap around the top of the elastikon so that not only would it not keep shavings out, it would have caught and funneled them right down in. I knew I would have to change it that day but wanted to wait until I had backup. As good as he'd been before leaving, he had had a lot of invasive behaviors on that knee between then and now. The hospital had sent extensive wrapping instructions and there were multiple layers and supplies involved.  It would be better if I had someone to hand me things so I could be as time efficient as possible on this first re-wrap.

To try to help with his possible electrolyte imbalance, I was going to try some Gatorade. When I was eventing, and then later when my daughter was, we would offer the horses Gatorade after cross-country day. With Percy's curiosity and the sweet taste of Gatorade, I thought he might be willing to drink some. I poured about a cup into his favorite green feed tub. This is the tub that I used since he was a foal, to offer "open bar" hay stretcher pellets for things like hoof trimming. He no longer needed it but he always got really excited when he saw that tub if I brought it out. He perked up when he saw me approach his grill opening with it but as soon as he got a sniff of something different he backed away fast, snorting quietly. He was so suspicious of everything now, he turned away back to his hay. But I was not going to give up easily. I targeted him over to my fist and fed a couple treats. From there, I did just as I had with the halter, shaping him slowly to bring his head out the window, and then to reach for the tub. I kept my body language casual, leaning against the aisle wall of his stall. I finished that session when he would reach toward the tub. 

Later in the day, we did another session, this time ending when he'd dip his nose into the liquid. I just wanted him to taste it and decide for himself whether he liked it, rather than being so fearful that he wouldn't try. The video which follows is our third session. He dipped his nose in repeatedly, licking his lips afterward. At the end of this session, he actually drank a little bit.  By Saturday, he was loving the Gatorade and by Tuesday, I was able to use it as a fun break from suture removal. But that was a week away and we still had more hurdles to conquer.

After dinner, my husband came out to the barn to help while I changed Percy's wrap for the first time. I had all the materials stacked on an overturned muck tub where I could easily reach them. I decided that I'd rather not have Percy tied, so that he could move if he needed to without feeling stuck. I asked my husband to just hold the rope while I worked. My husband has worked around many horses, mine and others' before mine, but he's not a positive reinforcement trainer. He is perfectly capable of holding horses and doing all the chores if I go away, even if he enjoys cattle and sheep more. Using bandage scissors to cut through the elastikon that had sagged so badly, I discovered that everything was stuck to everything else. Not having put the bandage on myself, it was a challenge to figure out where to cut, where to unwrap, and which part wasn't accessible yet. I was clicking and treating frequently but Percy started to fidget. I wasn't surprised since his recent experiences with that knee had been painful ones. 

I mentioned in an earlier post how important it is for Percy that I take the "make it happen" out of requests. Well, "make it happen" is encoded right into the double helix of my husband's existence. It's why we have the life we do and I love him for it. It has saved my butt more times than I can count but it now caused a problem. When Percy fidgeted, my husband stood firm. So Percy left. Right out the end of the aisle and trotted a 5 meter circle around my husband on the end of a short rope while I sucked in a "no trotting, notrottingnotrotting!" I now had an upset horse with a partially unwrapped leg. I took Percy back into the barn and decided to try cross ties after all. I asked my husband to just stand by (over there) in case I got in worse trouble. I resumed cutting and unwrapping (there was seriously a LOT of bandaging material on that leg); and clicking and treating. When I got down to the last layer on the knee, Percy was shaking as badly as he had been when he stepped off the trailer. He just stood and shook. That crack in my heart got bigger. 

He needed a break. I crossed my fingers that what was left on the knee would protect it long enough to give him a break and for me to come up with a better plan. I put him back in his stall.  My husband left to do his own night chores. 

I started to putter around the barn, picking stalls and filling water buckets, knowing I couldn't put this off very long. I also gave Percy his dinner, with the sedative in it. I had no idea how quickly it would kick in, nor if it was possible that it was wearing off since the 24 hours were nearly up since his last dose. I had read it takes days to reach full effect (and it had been days) and lasted for days after taking them off it so I doubted it would make much difference but it was time for it anyway and maybe eating would help calm him. 

When he'd cleaned that up, I entered the stall as he was back at his hay bag. He stopped chewing and froze. I stroked his neck a few times and then reached down and barely touched the remaining wrap.  Click, treat. I repeated that nine more times and left his stall. He went back to eating after I left. 

I did some more chores and returned to his stall, this time doing ten repetitions with click/treat where I placed both hands gently on the knee wrap or stuck a finger into the top of the wrap as I would need to do to cut it off. Then I left his stall again.

The third time I went in, I took the bandage scissors with me. Seeing something in my hand, he froze again. I let him sniff them, and I opened and closed them right there in front of his nose, clicking and treating each time as they made their unusual sound. Then I bent over and opened and closed them by his knee; then while I had a finger in the wrap, but not touching him with them. Again I left his stall after ten clicks and treats. 

One last time I went in after a short break, and this time his body stayed softer, his head followed me down to his knee and he watched as I palpated the wrap. I figured he was as ready as I had time for. After a last little break, I put his halter back on and led him out into the aisle. I cut off the wrap while he stood quietly and I got my first look at the wound since I'd wrapped it a week ago. There were stitches with funny little tubes on the wound, and additional stitches in two more small spots where they had used the arthroscope. I touched it gently, assessing swelling, and showing Percy that I wasn't going to poke anything through his skin. He stood.

About then, my husband returned and I asked him to again stand by, but he only needed to watch. This time, we had approximated our way back to Percy feeling safe and comfortable while I wrapped him at liberty.  I didn't follow the hospital's wrapping instructions to a T, but as closely as I could. I didn't love the results, and I'd have to redo it all again the next day, but we had everything covered and safe, body and mind alike. 

That night as I stepped out of my clothes and into the shower, I realized I'd been wearing them for 36 hours straight- to Tufts and back, through the night on the cot in the barn, and through another day. The shower felt awfully good. 

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