The 6 foot of snow had melted and the fresh green grass had begun to grow. Springtime had arrived. At the outfitter cabin, this meant hauling the 40 plus horses and mules back up to the high country from their winter pasture at the ranch. The crew had repaired the fences in preparation and guys brought the horses a couple loads at a time. We were open for trail rides just a couple days ahead of schedule and things were up and running with half of the horses already at their summer home and the other half waiting in the pastures at the ranch, their winter home.
One of the horses that had already been moved up for his summer duties, was our beautiful horse, Paco. Paco was a good, hard working horse. He came to Wolf Creek Outfitters some time ago and was about 12 years old. It is hard to imagine this sweet gentle horse came from the ranks of the rodeos that involve him being a buckin’ horse! They fired him because he just didn’t cut it. He just would not buck enough to get the cowboys their high scores.
So Paco came to us. He was a hard working horse who never complained. He was a grulia gray color Warm Blood, a mixture between a quarter horse and a draft horse, giving him a large stature and size which meant he got a lot of the tough, heavy loads. He has carried many a friend for a trail ride. He was always good to go to carry men or women who had some girth to them. He also carried many of the children of the special needs program. Paco packed in a lot of camps and packed out many a hunter’s elk. He once even packed out a hunter who had had a heart attack up on the mountain. Anyone that has ridden him would tell you he couldn’t have been a kinder or more gentle horse. He used to be a buckin’ horse!
Paco never hesitated and never missed a step. He knew his duties and was proud to do them.
The morning of Memorial Day Hank and Rufis left to go brand cattle at a friend’s. Cheyann and I were left to tend the cabin and take out the trail rides. We were bringing in the horses to ride for the day and noticed that Paco’s head hung low. He stood in the dry-lot, holding pen, with his ears back and head down. Next thing we knew, Cheyann and I saw that he had loose bowels. We thought that is could possibly be colic, and kept our eyes on him. He stood there near the water tank, but would not drink. Our first ride would not be going out for a short while, so we decided to take him for a walk to work out his stomach. Here we were, two short gals walking this big horse like he was our dog. Paco lagged behind us as we walked him to the river to get a drink.
As we approached the edge of the river, Paco stood there. His head still hung low. We had to coax him to drink some water. Cupping a little in our hands, we wet his nose and then behind his ears. He looked awful sad. Finally, he took one little sip. He put his head down and slurped just a small amount. We could hear his stomach rumble as he drank. First one small sip, then picking his head up and standing and waiting. Then another small sip, picking his head up, standing, waiting. This went on over and over again until he may have possibly drank the amount you could fit into a small drinking glass. In other words he didn’t drink much. We walked him some more and saw more loose bowel so we took him for another drink. Then went back to the outfitter cabin so Cheyann could take out her morning trail ride.
I stayed behind to keep an eye on our boy. We still weren’t quite sure if it was colic, a condition where a horses stomach can turn inside of them. The horse will get a belly ache, and lie down and then their stomach can twist leading to death. The best thing if it is colic is to keep them on their feet and/or walk them. We truly weren’t sure what it was so I watched and waited. Sure enough, he decided to lay down. I ran and grabbed his halter and lead rope and coaxed and begged him to get up. He did as I told and after more coaxing I had him walking again. I called Hank and he called the vet. It was a holiday so of course the vets are all on call. He called and we waited. I hate it when horses don’t feel well.
We took another walk and headed to the river for him to drink again. The procedure was pretty similar to our first visit. A little coaching then he began to drink. Little sips and pauses, little sips and pauses. There were more loose bowels and more walking. Back to the river and more sipping. The big guy was not feeling good for sure.
I wish animals could talk. I stood there and talked to him just to ease my own mind I am sure. He turned to me and rubbed his nose up and down my side. I felt as though he just needed a hug. He sipped some more and then picked his head up standing there, letting me scratch behind his ears. There really was not much I could do for him. We walked again. If it was colic, I hoped to work it out of him. The day carried on like this with the two of us walking up and down the road. Me talking to him helpless as can be and him leaning in to get a rub, scratch or pat here and there along the way.
Finally Cheyann was back from here ride. Hank & Rufis returned from branding. We turned out all the horses for the day and Rufis took over the duties of walking our friend. It was getting late in the day so we headed to town to take Cheyann home and possibly get some supper. It wasn’t long before we received a call. It was Rufis. He said he couldn’t keep Paco on his feet. Hank tried another vet and received a call back. We quickly headed back to the cabin.
When we arrived, Paco lay in the field. We coaxed him up again, but he was having a difficult time standing. The vet told showed up. He told us he didn’t think it was colic. He said it may be a bacteria or salmonella that is highly contagious. It could quite possibly wipe out our entire string! Our hearts jumped! Thankfully not all the horses were up to the cabin yet. The vet performed a series of tests on Paco with no final determination of what was wrong. By the time the vet was done, the big guy fell to the ground. He could no longer hold himself up. The vet gave him fluids to re-hydrate him and a sedative to ease his discomfort. Now all we could do was wait and pray. We prayed that the vet was wrong and we prayed that he did not have some contagious disease. We prayed that Paco would be okay and we prayed that Paco would not suffer. Paco did not make it through that night. He left us some time around 2 a.m.
Now, what we feared appeared to be happening. First thing in the morning, the vet returned. We requested that he do an autopsy on our friend. We had to know for sure what had killed him. We disinfected the dry lot and all the places we could think of that Paco had been the day before. Then we waited on the vet and we watched the other horses to see if they presented any sign. The vet found no true indication that is was the contagious bacteria he thought it may be. He took cultures to perform tests on. Some lab tests would take two days and some as long as a week. After the time had passed, one test after another came back negative. The other horses were still under a magnifying glass, and at the slightest sign all alarms went off and horses would be quaranteened. All were false alarms but we could not be too careful.
It has been two weeks now and all results were negative. We had a biologist come out and walk the pasture to look for noxious weeds or other signs of poisons. Nothing. We have no idea what took our friend. All the other horses are healthy and strong. It is one of life’s mysteries. You never know when some one or something will be gone. Here one day and gone the next. Never leave any doubts. Live today as though there may not be a tomorrow. Love like there is no other.
Mia Anstine is an outdoor writer, licensed outfitter, hunting guide, life coach, keynote speaker, and range safety officer, firearms instructor, and archery instructor. She is the founder of MAC Outdoors and Host of the MAC Outdoors Podcast.
Mia Anstine strives to encourage others to get outside, hunt, fish, shoot, and survive life with others in a positive way.
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