The photo I put on the top of Northernhorse.com today isn’t going to win any prizes but it is a favorite for me right now. Just the fact that Josie, the bay mare in the lead, is in the lead brings a smile to my face every time I see it. And, you might say it was “a sign”.
It all started on Christmas Day. Not a good day to start a crisis but that wasn’t for us to choose.
I got the turkey in the oven and then skied out to the pasture to have a Christmas visit with my herd. It was cold and crisp and beautiful. It may seem strange to folks who don’t live with horses but when something is wrong in the herd they all know it and often express it and the signs must have been pretty clear as I was still quite a ways off when I knew that something was wrong. They were excited but not just to see me. I knew something else was going on. I counted. All eight were there, standing in the herd, nobody looking distressed. It was only when I got closer that I noticed the signs of the problem. The blood on Josie’s tail. Lots of blood.
Josie had lost her pregnancy.
We have raised horses and cattle for many years and have noticed that the difference between them in situations like this is remarkable. A cow can calve or abort and retain some placenta or membranes and you can just give them some time to see if they can clear it up themselves. A mare is a different story. Retained tissue can quickly lead to founder and even death. So, needless to say we knew we had to call the vet even though it was Christmas Day. He, of course, said bring her in.
We loaded her up and brought her into the clinic. Josie was shown some as a youngster and I was really proud of how nicely she behaved in public. In the herd she is the lead mare and pretty much runs the show. Not a bad boss, but fairly quick to point out how she likes things to be. When I see how she can tune in those big geldings, I am really grateful she is so obedient for us.
The vet flushed her and everything appeared to be clean. No bits of tissue appeared. No signs of any problems. He told me to keep an eye on her and put her on antibiotics if she showed signs of foundering or infection. When we got home it was dark and cold. I kind of wanted to keep her up at the barn for the night but I knew she would just be more stressed wondering what HER herd was doing without HER so I turned her out.
When I headed out to check her the next morning, the herd was up in the mare pasture. I started to head up there when I noticed they were coming back home. That’s when I snapped the photo. As they rounded the last corner towards home I could see that Josie was loping along in the front (with her lead gelding Buzz). And, just like I knew from a distance that there was a problem in the herd, I knew when I saw her setting a mean pace along the trail coming home that she was, at least for the time being, feeling just fine. It was the best sign she could give me. The truth is the rest of the herd is going to get more exercise now that she will be coming home regularly to visit the stallion. She is quite a bit more laid back when she is pregnant. It will do some of those fat old geldings good to get a bit more exercise.
I did check her feet, pulse, vulva and temperature but I knew when I saw her coming that she was going to be just fine. And now, every time I see these photos I have to smile.
I don’t know why Josie lost her pregnancy. She is getting older – she is 17 now. She has excellent conformation – no need for a caslick according to the vet. She is strong and healthy. The vet says sometimes the fetus just isn’t viable and nature ends the pregnancy. But… the vet also asked me if I gave her the Rhino shots. The answer is no I didn’t. I live out in the sticks, don’t have horses close to my herd, don’t bring many in or out. We used to give them the shots but I had a couple of mares that got pretty needle shy – these were all fodder for my decision not to vaccinate for that. We do vaccinate in the spring.
He told me that it is extremely difficult to find a herd that doesn’t have rhino carriers. Apparently it can flair up in an individual that carries the dormant virus at any time. particularly if there is some stress. Then the carrier will shed the virus and any of those near can become actively infected. Mares that are in foal will frequently abort from Rhino infections. I know when the PMU farms were active in this province that some of them had multiple abortions from this virus and apparently we are just entering the most common time for these abortions to happen.
Like I told the vet, when you don’t have any problems with something for many years you tend not to take it so seriously. We really haven’t lost many foals or pregnancies over the years. We old ranchers have a saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. We haven’t been taking Rhino very seriously here at the ranch for some time now but perhaps this is a sign that we should?
The vet didn’t indicate that he thought Rhino is what caused Josie’s abortion. But, because I didn’t vaccinate, I now have the worry that if it was, it could easily affect more of them. I believe that if I had found the fetus that I could have had it checked but in these parts things like that don’t tend to hang around for long. I skied around their main trails but it was a very cold day and I knew I needed to call the vet and get her to town.
I am so glad I still get to take photos of my Josie mare. Would have loved to have had a foal to play with in the spring but am happy to settle for a healthy mare.
I am curious about how many of you give the Rhino shots to your pregnant mares. I know it is recommended. I have to admit that I am now concerned that if it was Rhino that I could have more problems – not only abortions but foals born weak and dying. That makes dealing with needle shy issues less of a problem for sure. Do you give the Rhino shots to your pregnant mares? Please comment below.
Oh and I need to put in a big disclaimer here that I am in no way a vet and these are only my opinions. If your mare shows signs of trouble, call your vet.
Also a big thank you to Dr. Rick Katchuik of Alberta Vet Centre Ltd. in Red Deer for giving up his Christmas afternoon to treat our mare.