Cold Snap and a Sick Horse
Our fingers refused to cooperate, and the plug for the trailer lights shattered in the cold. Dusk was already deepening, but we’d have to make do without the trailer lights.
Kelsey had taken over walking Nibbs around the snow-packed circuit, changing direction every so often and encouraging him to stay on his feet. She had draped her arm around his neck and was whispering to him as they circled slowly.
It was fully dark by the time we led Nibbs through the barn to the waiting trailer. The other four horses stretched their heads over their stall doors to sniff curiously as he went by. He stopped momentarily in front of Jazz’s stall. The two geldings were fast friends and pasture buddies. They held their heads close, quietly exchanging exhalations. I wondered whether they knew that this might be their last meeting. Even Jane, who ordinarily pinned her ears and grimaced menacingly at Nibbs, nickered as he went by.
The ride to Manchester was long and silent. Kelsey kept glancing back to make sure that Nibbs was still standing. I thought of them cantering in our pasture the previous summer, both brown manes blown back. Gregg was likely thinking about how powerless he was to make everything better.
Nibbs’s head hung even lower when we backed him out of the trailer in Manchester. He hadn’t made any manure. Steam rose from under his blanket and crystallized in the freezing night air. Our only comfort was the glow of light from inside the animal hospital, where we hoped he could get some relief.
The veterinarian on call, a tall, efficient woman, consulted with Gregg and checked Nibbs’s vital signs. He was staggering now, barely able to stand. She listened through her stethoscope for gut noises. “We should tap it,” she said.
Gregg nodded. I held Nibbs’s head and stroked him while they shaved a small patch and scrubbed it with disinfectant. They tapped his side with a large syringe and drew out serum, tinged ominously with blood and fecal matter. No one said anything. No one had to. Surgery wasn’t a viable option once the intestine had ruptured.
Gregg put his arm gently around Kelsey’s shoulders and drew her aside, talking softly to her. I stroked poor old Nibbs’s head and told him what a good horse he was and that I loved him.
Gregg led Nibbs away through the clinic while I took Kelsey back to the truck. I rolled his leg wraps and tucked them behind the seat. Kelsey cried silently. Gregg came back a few minutes later, looking suddenly much older.
The temperature that night dropped to a record -38°. The old farmhouse furnace churned and struggled to keep the house at 62°. The next morning, despite how we felt, the chores had to be done. I dreaded going into the barn, but knew I had to.