When I learned that Travis Tryan's great head horse Walt had undergone a life-threatening bout of colic while at the rodeo in Nampa, Idaho this summer, I thought it would be an interesting case for a column. As of this writing in August, Walt is recovering well and we hope to see him at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December.
When I called Travis to talk to him about the incident, he turned me over to his wife, Hillary, who was with Walt that night at Nampa. (Travis was at the rodeo in Salinas, which runs concurrently with Nampa in July.) "I was sleeping in our trailer in front of Walt's stall when I woke up to hear a little 'whinny' and abnormal thrashing from Walt's stall," she said.
Hillary got up and investigated, and found Walt covered with shavings, quivering and acting uncomfortable. It was about 2:30 a.m. She knew immediately that this normally stoic, seasoned horse had a problem. Hillary had some Banamine in the trailer, so she gave him some, and walked Walt around. The horse seemed to calm down and be more comfortable, but since there is an equine clinic right across the street from the rodeo grounds-and understanding the threat of colic-she led Walt over to the Idaho Equine Hospital for further evaluation.
During the initial evaluation, things didn't seem terribly bad. Walt had reasonably normal gut sounds, and was quiet, and when a nasogastric tube was passed into his stomach there was no evidence of abnormal pressure. It was decided to leave Walt at the clinic for observation, and Hillary went back to the trailer. Two hours later, Dr. Peter Knox called Hillary to let her know that Walt was in pain again and was not responding to further pain medication.
Walt was taken into surgery at about 6 a.m. The doctors found a fatty tumor the size of a grapefruit that had strangulated a section of bowel. The tumor was removed, and the bowel appeared to be healthy, so Walt's abdomen was closed and he recovered nicely.
In my opinion, the positive outcome of this case was decided by a few factors, some of which were good fortune. Hillary being there to intervene immediately and making the right decisions was critical, as time is an enemy in acute cases of colic. It was also good fortune to be next to a well-staffed and equipped equine facility. Another fact to note is the horse seemed OK for a couple of hours before symptoms dictated the situation was critical.
The course of colic is not always predictable. Fatty tumors are not uncommon in the abdomen of older horses, are slow growing and undetectable until they physically interrupt the function and/or blood supply to a section of bowel.