by Laura Crum
Recently an acquaintance of mine had his very nice roan rope horse colic—and he almost lost the horse. The culprit was stones. This guy said his horse passed a total of eighty-nine stones over a two day period, ranging from pencil eraser sized to as big as your hand. Since this horse is twenty, the owner did not want to attempt surgery, so the horse was given painkillers and oil and fluids and they waited it out. The horse had colicked due to stones before, but this time he was very painful. The vet did not think he would make it. But time passed and the horse got better. And eventually the gelding seemed fine. Eighty-nine stones later (!)
We talked about this at the roping arena, of course, and we all had a story to tell about stones. Another friend told of hearing a big thunk as his horse passed manure. When he investigated, he found a baseball sized stone. And this horse never colicked.
Another friend said that he’d had to euthanise a horse due to a sudden, violent colic—the horse went downhill incredibly fast in 24 hours. The autopsy revealed a big stone.
Of course, I had to tell my “stone” story. My son’s horse, Henry, colicked three years ago. The colic never seemed very severe, but it wouldn’t go away. Every time the Banamine wore off, Henry started going down and pawing…etc. He never got extremely painful, he never cracked a sweat, his vital signs stayed pretty normal. But after 48 hours of relatively mild colic we hauled him to the equine hospital and they ultra-sounded him. They said they could see what they thought was a large pocket of small stones and sand and recommended surgery. Henry was twenty years old at the time, but I really valued him and desperately did not want my kid to lose his horse. So I opted for the surgery.
Henry got through it just fine (though I pretty much sweated/cried the entire time he was under), but when the surgeon got inside the intestine, he discovered not just the bucket full of sand/stones they expected, but also (in another place) a single BIG stone. As big as a very large cantalope—not something a horse was going to be able to pass. They had to make a second incision in his intestine to get it out.
Anyway, three months of steady rehab and ten thousand dollars later, Henry was a riding horse again, and even though I am not a wealthy person, it was all worth it to me, because Henry is such a great horse. For those who might want to know what such a stone looks like, see the photo below. We call it our “ten thousand dollar rock”.
Previous to this, I had never even seen an enterolith before, let alone been the owner of one. I knew about stones as a problem, but that problem had never come my way. I had heard that stones can be caused by feeding straight alfalfa hay, and I never feed straight alfalfa. Usually I feed a grass/alfalfa mix that’s mostly grass. But I know for a fact that Henry ate straight alfalfa hay most of his life—he only came to me as an 18 year old horse. I’d also heard that stones are far more common here on the west coast of America—that they’re practically unheard of in the East—even when people do feed straight alfalfa. Something about the minerals in the soils and water out west is apparently conducive to making stones.
So today I’d like to ask if others have had experiences with stones or if you have some info to share. I am sincerely hoping Henry does not go through another struggle—much less make another “rock” like the one on my mantle. Hopefully it took him all of twenty years to make that one—I doubt he has enough time remaining to make another. But still, it’s a worry. Any thoughts?
PS—For those who are curious about the statue, my husband bought it in a Tibetan shop in old Delhi thirty years ago, when he was traveling the world. The figure represents Chenrezig (the Tibetan name for Avalokitesvara)—the avatar of compassion. The Dalai Lama is said to be a reincarnation of this being.