Gail M. Staines, Ph.D.
Founder, The Senior Horse
It has almost been 2 weeks since Frankie passed away and it has been a lot harder than I thought. Thank you to family, friends, and social media supporters (both horsey and non-horsey) for your kind words. Your outreach has been a great source of comfort.
I need to specifically thank Homestead Veterinary Hospital and the Animal Care Services for all of their help and kindness. Homestead took care of Frankie for about 15 years and I cannot thank them enough for their expertise, thoughtfulness, and compassion. The staff at ACS were equally as kind and, for that, I am forever thankful.
(Please note that I am not a veterinarian but have decades of equine experience and always want to learn from them why something occurred.)
Frankie experienced large left colon displacement. Part of his large colon “flipped” or became trapped by his spleen. In addition, it twisted, causing him severe pain. If you are interested in learning more, there is a very informative article by Dr. James N. Moore, DVM, Ph.D. titled Making Sense of Large Colon Displacements in Horses, Veterinarian Technician, March 8, 2019. The article includes diagrams useful in explaining this medical issue. Note that Frankie was a perfectly healthy 25-year old Thoroughbred/Oldenburg gelding, active engaging in lower level dressage training and some jumping.
It is not clear why this happened. One theory is that we did have a severe weather storm the night he colicked. The weather was very hot (90+ degrees) and very humid. I know, from experience, that he never felt like himself during this type of weather. Although in a box stall, he lived in a very breezy barn with fans turned on for the Summer, but the heat and humidity were not his friends.
Sometime overnight he started to roll. He may have gotten cast in his stall (though he has no history of doing so) and continued to roll until he freed himself. It may have been during that time that he flipped and twisted his colon. (The veterinarian who treated Frankie did indicate that displacement of his large colon could have be on-going for some time and that rolling caused it to flip and kink.)
I was at the barn in a matter of minutes and found Frankie lying down, breathing heavily, and sweating profusely. He was covered in shavings which means he had been actively rolling for some time. He has also been observed shaking – a sign that something neurological may have also been happening.
I walked Frankie in the indoor arena for 2 hours. He did not get better, even with medications to ease his pain. At one point, he just laid down against the arena wall, exhausted.
I was given 3 options:
1.) Give Frankie an injection of phenylephrine to shrink his spleen, then jog him for 10 minutes
in the attempt to flip the colon back into place. The downside of this method is that horses
over the age of 15 can hemorrhage from their nose and mouth. (Thal Equine, 2015) and this
method is rarely successful.
2.) Take Frankie to an equine hospital for surgery. This would be a major surgery on an older
horse. Although fit, his age coupled with the invasive procedure and long recovery period is
typically followed by smaller bouts of colic. The chances of a good recovery where he could live a
quality life were poor.
3.) Euthanasia. This was not an easy decision. I discussed this option with the veterinarian and with
the barn owner who had well over 40 years of experience. She had a few horses over the years
with Frankie’s condition and had tried the jogging method without success.
In the end, I do believe that I made the right decision to let Frankie go. He was in very severe pain (even with medication) and the prognosis for recovery was not good.
Again, I was fortunate to have experienced individuals help me through this process. The veterinarian contacted Animal Care Services who arrived within 90 minutes of him passing. I did not watch ACS “load” Frankie into their trailer. I just couldn’t. However, ACS staff explained what options I had in a kind and caring way.
I elected to have him cremated privately (not with other animals) and had his ashes returned to me. I decided to have his ashes placed in a large tin (not to be to insensitive, but the tin is the size of the large popcorn tins you get at Christmas). ACS engraved his name on a nameplate that I can attach to the tin. I think I will spread his ashes, though I’m not sure where. (At the moment, he is outside on our covered porch. For some reason, I can’t bring him in the house. Maybe because he loved being outside.)
Friends have been asking about costs. The barn visit, examination, medications, and euthanasia was just over $500. Pick-up, cremation, and delivery of ashes to my home was $1400. I could have purchased an urn ($250 to $500) but decided not to since his ashes will be spread.
Yes, this has been the hardest part. After Frankie passed away, I felt him waiting inside the gate to the pasture where he was turned out. I would lead him through the gate and tell him to “wait” so that I could unhook his lead rope. I’d then say “ok” and he would turn, buck, and squeal like a yearling, running out onto the grass. I told him it was “ok” to go one last time.
Since then I’ve been at a loss. My life was scheduled around Frankie – Tuesday riding lesson, Thursday training ride, Saturday and Sunday ride and play time. Some days I would just turn him out in the arena and free lunge him by voice commands, or he would just run and buck and play. When he was done, Frankie would walk up to me and put his head in my arms. For me, he was the perfect horse – no muss, no fuss, and a huge heart.
I’ve been out to see my friends and trainer, visiting with their horses. They have all been very supportive and caring. I do not know if there will be another Frankie in my life. I think time will need to tell me when and if that is right.
I will continue on with The Senior Horse (website and FB page) and I once again thank you all for reaching out to me.
Moore, James N. (2019). Making sense of Large Colon Displacements in Horses, VetFolio, https://www.vetfolio.com/learn/article/making-sense-of-large-colon-displacements-in-horses
Thal Equine LLC. (2015). "Rolling" Procedure, Non-Surgical Correction of LDD with Nephrosplenic Entrapment, Horse Side Vet Guide. https://horsesidevetguide.com/drv/Topic/420/quotrollingquot-procedure-non-surgical-correction-of-ldd-with-nephrosplenic-entrapment/