The minis are officially out of quarantine. They’ve passed the two-month waiting period and had their follow-up Coggins test. And like all good horses everywhere, they waited just a few days after the vet was at the farm before they exhibited their first health issues. Spoiler alert: this post deals with diarrhea. If you want to stop reading now, I completely understand.
Just a few days after assuring the vet that the horses had adjusted well to their new environment and being assured by the vet that they looked to be in great shape, we noticed some loose stools in the daily poop pickup. I tend to not get too excited by the occasional loose stool . . . most animals, like people, sometimes get a little stressed or eat something that doesn’t fully agree with them and that can cause a temporary change in bowel habits. But when it went from somewhat loose to downright watery the next day, it was time to act.
First, I had to determine which horse had diarrhea. Neither of them seemed to feel bad, neither was dehydrated, and they were both showing up for every meal and drinking water normally.
The next step was to simply lift their tails and check to see if anything seemed amiss. Or should I say, a mess. While little Java’s backside was clean as a whistle, Mr. Peaberry’s beautiful bushy tail was hiding a streak of runny green gunk. I sat and watched them both until they pooped and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. Java seemed normal, but Peaberry had the runs.
When our dog succumbs to diarrhea, it’s almost always because she’s eaten something awful. When a horse has it, any horse, the first suspect is almost always worms. Since I knew it had been at least two months since the horses had been dewormed, I decided to start there, even though the vet said we could go to a six-month deworming schedule. After all, they’d been on the road and in strange new places on their way to me, so deworming seemed the prudent thing to do.
Mr. Peaberry cooperated beautifully, taking a dose of ivermectin like a champ. I was able to simply squirt it in his mouth and although he didn’t look thrilled, he didn’t seem to mind. Java, as always, was not that simple. I ended up covering some of her favorite treats in the paste and she eventually mouthed them enough to get what I hoped was close to a full dose. To slow the flow from Mr. Peaberry so he didn’t get dehydrated, I also gave him a couple of Pepto-Bismol tablets which he decided were almost as good as his apple-flavored treats.
The following day I was rewarded with the observation of normal bowel movements for both. But the next day held a surprise – every pile of poop held a wad of worms. Long, icky roundworms, also known as ascarids. While it’s not unusual for horses to have worms (most carry a parasite load their entire life with relatively few ill effects), a heavy load of roundworms can be a problem for a young horse. I did not expect to see this many worms come out of my little horses. The good news is that the ivermectin appeared to work, as all the worms I observed were dead. The bad news is that these particular worms can cause quite a bit of internal trauma as they migrate through the horse’s organs during their life cycle, causing symptoms that range from a dry cough to diarrhea. When the load is heavy enough and you induce a significant die-off, you can also induce colic as the dying worms may create an impaction in the horse’s intestines. I had a moment of panic when Mr. Peaberry laid down and rolled in discomfort the next morning, but after he got up and pooped (normally), he seemed fine.
So we remain watchful and will dose again in a couple of weeks to make sure we’ve gotten the worms under control. It’s critical to keep their dry lot clean as these worms can produce millions of eggs that are passed back out in manure and then ingested as the horses pick at the grass that remains in their paddock. Wherever these worms came from, it’s a safe bet that our pasture is now infected. Once the horses are older (around 18 months), they will likely develop an immunity to these parasites, but while they’re still young, they are at continued risk. I’ll be taking a sample of manure up to the vet’s office to check for other parasites and make sure that we’re using the right dewormer to get this under control. For now, both of the minis are doing well, with good appetites and bright eyes.
The December 9 visit from the vet confirmed that the minis are doing great in their new home. Their 2-month quarantine period is almost over and Dr. Hamilton, from Veterinary Associates, came all the way from Waimea (an hour and a half drive) to check them out and draw blood for the required follow-up Coggins test. The Coggins test checks for equine infectious anemia and is usually performed anytime a horse leaves its home turf, for transfer to a new home or to attend a parade or show that would put it in contact with other horses. Horses that are imported into Hawaii from the mainland or other countries are subject to a two-month quarantine, staying at least 200 yards away from other horses on the owner’s property or under surveillance at a state-approved facility to ensure they’re not carrying any infectious diseases. Failing to provide the follow-up Coggins test can result in a $10,000 fine, so I was excited to find Dr. Hamilton and schedule the appointment.
The vet arrived with an assistant and a vet student from UC-Davis gaining additional experience on the ground. Having been through the time-wasting scenarios when owners don’t have their horses ready for the vet or massage therapist, I was prepared with the horses haltered and on lead ropes when the vet’s SUV pulled up just minutes after the appointed time.
We got right to work, with Dr. Hamilton and the vet student taking over the horses and the assistant filling out paperwork, while I photographed and asked questions.
I explained that we were experimenting with new coffee-themed names for Comanche and after a few ideas were tossed around, the vet suggested “Mr. Peaberry”. I think we have a winner. For those not familiar with the coffee industry, a peaberry occurs every now and then when only one coffee bean develops inside the cherry instead of the usual two. Because it’s a single, it is usually larger than normal and some feel that makes it more robust in flavor as well as size. Peaberry coffee is therefore considered a premium product. Comanche, I mean, Mr. Peaberry, certainly seems to fit, robust and a little on the large side for Falabellas (although still extremely tiny at his current 29.5 inches). Certainly a premium product.
He was first up for an examination and right up until the time when a needle became part of the deal, he did great. He stood patiently while first the vet student then the vet took all his vital signs and listened to his lungs and heart through a stethoscope. He even stood still while they tried to wade through the long, silky hairs on his neck to find the jugular vein. It was just when the poke came that he lost it a little and reared. Now when a regular horse rears, it’s a terrifying thing. When you think about the damage a sharp hoof could do to someone’s skull when driven downwards with the force of a 1000-pound horse behind it, it’s a serious problem. When a miniature horse rears, I hate to say it, but it’s a little comical. Certainly, an ill-placed hoof or head butt could do some damage, but even on his hind legs, he still wasn’t as tall as the student. It didn’t take long for him to settle down to his usual easy-going self and the necessary blood was drawn. One down.
The entire time that Mr. Peaberry (still trying it on, but I like that!) was being poked and prodded, Java was standing close at hand, watching with calm, cool interest.
After he was done and his halter was removed, she was up and although she’s normally the more skittish of the two, she stayed relatively calm through the whole ordeal. Well, the horses thought it was an ordeal, but I have to say the vet and her assistants did a very efficient and humane job throughout.
Everyone agreed that these were two of the cutest little creatures in existence, so of course, I’ve found the vet we’ll be using from now on. Since I’m still new to horsekeeping on the island, and it’s a very different environment than my previous horse experience, I asked a lot of questions and Dr. Hamilton was quite kind to answer them all very patiently. She said the feeding regimen I have them on seems to be just right to meet their nutritional needs, but suggested I might add a capsule or two of Vitamin E to their feed daily. Since hay and pelleted feeds have to be shipped in they are never as fresh as their mainland counterparts and tend to lose a little nutritional value along the way. This makes sense to me and I’ll begin adding that supplement.
She also clarified that annual vaccinations here are a little different than the mainland. The important vaccines are tetanus, rhinopneumonitis, and equine flu, which I can buy from the feed store and administer myself. Equine encephalitis and West Nile virus aren’t usually found here, and although there was an outbreak some time ago, most vets don’t currently recommend vaccinating for them. And rabies is nonexistent on the island so not even dogs are vaccinated against that disease. She suggested a quarterly deworming regimen, and double dosing Strongid to get rid of tapeworms.
Since most tubes of dewormers carry a dose for horses up to 1200 pounds, I should be able to get a year’s worth out of one tube. Fortunately, the tubes are marked for weights ranging from 200 to 1200 pounds, so I can scale down the dose easily.
Dr. Hamilton liked my setup with the free choice mineral block and shade shelter (to which we’ve added rubber stall mats so the horses will always have a place with dry footing). She noticed I have a couple of small feeder goldfish in the water tub. I explained that I have always done that to avoid breeding mosquitoes, especially important right now since we’re facing a dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island. The horses also seem to get a kick out of watching the fish swim around and I imagine the water must taste better with a little fish waste – at least they seem to think so. I have to take them out when I clean the water tub, but they don’t seem to mind taking up temporary quarters in a cup for the few minutes it takes to do that every other day.
All in all, it was a great vet visit, and good to hear that I’m keeping my little ones healthy and happy. Although they won’t be out of quarantine in time for the Kailua-Kona Christmas parade this year, we’ll soon start working on crowd response and noise conditioning so they can participate in the next one.
Over the last six weeks, we’ve established a routine that varies only slightly from day to day, depending on whether we have meetings to attend or errands to run. It starts every morning with me peeking over the rock wall on my way to coffee on the lanai just to make sure the horses haven’t gone anywhere during the night. And of course, every morning, there they are, with their little noses pointed up at me, asking for breakfast.
After coffee and email are done (because of the time difference, you have to do email first thing or you won’t get a response from anyone on the mainland until the next day), I head down to the paddock to give the horses their morning ration of timothy pellets. They get two cups each, which translates to about half a pound each. I brush them while they eat, but since they’re so tiny, this takes almost no time at all, so I move on to picking up manure piles and transporting them to a bucket to be composted and redistributed among the coffee trees and vegetable gardens. At the same time, I’m attempting to clear the paddock of rocks, which may prove to be impossible in my lifetime. But I get rid of a few more rock piles each day and I do see progress.
The rest of the morning for me is spent on work – either my day job as a writer/consultant/trainer or my other day job as a coffee farmer. There is no shortage of outdoor work as we get our gardens growing and do the regular maintenance associated with our hundred or so coffee trees. Tim does much of the landscaping work, but for now, there are plenty of rocks to move, trees to plant or prune, ponds to service, animals to feed, fences to build, etc. Soon we’ll be adding a chicken coop to house half a dozen or so chickens. Chores and special projects are always waiting and best done in the cooler morning hours.
After we eat our lunch, the horses get theirs. Lunch consists of a half pound or so (each) of alfalfa cubes, wetted down with water or diluted apple cider vinegar. Sometimes I sit with them through lunch, partly to make sure no one chokes on a cube and partly because I just love to listen to them chew. Nothing says meditation like the rhythm of a horse chewing food, while you soak up fresh air and sunshine. After they finish eating, we do a little work. Right now, we’re mostly working on leading. Because they’re still young, they tend to plant all four feet periodically and stare stubbornly instead of automatically following along. When that happens, I patiently wait them out with continuing pressure on the lead rope. Once they move forward, the pressure is released – with that problem solved, they follow me like it was their idea.
We also work on foot etiquette. I pick up all four feet on each horse daily, picking out mud and small rocks from their soles and checking the overall condition of the hoof. Initially, this activity met with some resistance, and still does on occasion, with one or the other of the horses tugging the hoof out of my hand or kneeling down so I can’t get to it. But we’re making progress with all of these things, so as soon as they are completely accepted as routine, we’ll move on to more difficult tasks.
They get another thorough brushing and a couple of apple snack treats as a reward for their work . . . they really enjoy being brushed and they never complain about the treats. And I head back to the house to complete farm chores or other work. Or we go to the beach. Some days you just have to take advantage of great snorkel weather.
In the evening, the horses get a final meal of orchardgrass hay – a flake weighs about three pounds, so all total, they each get somewhere between two and three pounds of food daily or about 1.5% of their ideal body weight of 125-175 pounds. Because they tend to share their food pans it’s impossible to tell exactly how much each of them eats, but they both have healthy appetites and assessing their body condition daily helps me adjust if I feel they are getting too much or too little. If I asked them, they would tell me they get too little every day at every meal. There’s a good reason for the expression “eating like a horse.” Left to their own devices, they would eat nonstop, a throwback to the days of their ancestors who relied on unlimited grazing to supply enough calories to survive harsh environmental conditions. Today’s horses, and certainly my two little minis, don’t burn nearly enough calories to justify eating all day long. Of course, neither do I and that doesn’t seem to stop me either.
One of the best things about heading down to the paddock in the evening is the outstanding view of sunset over the ocean. Every night I am reminded of what a gift it is to be living on this island, especially with the even greater gift of these two little horses.
After several false starts, October 17 was designated as the flight date from Los Angeles to Kona. That morning, we were putting the finishing touches on the paddock and loafing shed right up until time to leave for the airport. I had an email from Andee at Pacific Airlift confirming that the horses were loaded and the flight would depart on time. It was a very long day, but we had been instructed to arrive at the airport at 2:30 with the trailer and we would be given further instructions for pickup when the horses arrived.
At 2:30 on the dot, an enormous airplane pulled up on the tarmac at about the same time as our new friend with the trailer. The plane looked like any passenger jet, but instead of people coming off, metal livestock containers were being conveyed via a lift onto waiting flatbed trucks that drove away someplace we couldn’t see. We knew one of those containers had to be holding our precious little cargo, but it was impossible to see into them from our location on the other side of the runway fence. So we watched as the last container came off and waited for further instructions.
About 3:00, the state veterinarian called with directions to the location for pick up. We found them in typical Hawaii fashion . . . standing on the side of the road with the state veterinarian trying to fill out paperwork in the wind, and the groom that had traveled with them holding two lead ropes with two very perplexed, and very tiny horses on the other end. Transactions on the side of the road seem to be the norm here, so the informality of the transfer was no real surprise. Everyone assured us these were the cutest little horses they’d ever seen and of course, we thought so too. The veterinarian performed a quick check to make sure the horses were okay and that the paperwork was in order and gave me instructions regarding their “quarantine.” Horses imported into Hawaii must stay at least 200 yards away from other horses or be sprayed with an approved insecticide daily for a period of two months after which they have to undergo a follow-up Coggins test submitted to the state veterinarian’s office.
The horses seemed to be no worse for the wear of the trip, though they looked a little surprised to suddenly find themselves in a distinctly different environment with a bunch of strangers surrounding them.
After we signed the paperwork, we loaded them into the trailer without any fuss, Java huddling next to Comanche for comfort. We arrived at our place 45 minutes later without incident, and they unloaded like champs, preferring
to leap out headfirst. We led them into their new paddock and removed both halters after showing them where to find fresh water. Within minutes, they were eating the kikuyu pasture grass, grazing peacefully together as though nothing unusual had happened that day. Never mind that they had traveled almost 5000 miles over the past week, leaving their former pasture mates far behind. They were a new herd of two now and they stuck together as though glued at the hip as they explored their new paddock. By the time we had satisfied ourselves that they were settled in, the sun was going down. It was time to leave them for the night, so we closed the gate and headed indoors. We checked on them before we went to bed and they were still doing fine, so heaving a huge sigh of contentment at the smell of fresh manure now wafting through the air, I slept, with visions of all the fun we would have with these two swirling in my dreams.
The next morning, Tim got up as usual to make coffee, and of course, he went out to check on the horses first thing. I did not think it was funny when he came running back to the bedroom with the news that the horses were gone. Unfortunately, he wasn’t joking. The gate was open and the paddock was empty. I remembered hearing the dogs barking around midnight, but I hadn’t checked to see what set them off. Apparently, it was the horses making their escape. Tim started checking the coffee groves around the house and I jumped in the car to check the roadways. Now I was having visions of their little bodies crushed on the road. They’re about the same size and color as the wild pigs in Kona, so someone might easily hit one on the road or shoot at them thinking they were pigs. They might catch their tiny legs in a pig snare and be struggling somewhere. Any number of things could happen to them and none of them were good. I knew they wouldn’t know their way home after just one night in the paddock, nor would they know who I was if I found them. I comforted myself that maybe someone had stolen them and then I worried about how we would get them back from that unfeeling person who had taken them. After twenty minutes of wondering how this could have happened and torturing myself with the worst possible thoughts as I searched every possible road within a few miles (there aren’t many on this part of the island), it occurred to me that neither of us had grabbed our phones so even if we found them, we had no way to tell each other. In my haste to start the search, I had also made the rookie mistake of going out without a rope or halter.
I headed back to the house to find Tim holding my phone out to me. We agreed that we needed to calm down and be more thoughtful about how we approached the problem. He asked if I had seen any tracks and foolishly, I had to admit I had completely forgotten to look. So I took my phone, a halter and a lead rope, and starting at the open gate, sure enough, there were tiny hoofprints leading away from the paddock, around the fence, and uphill past the house. Clearly, that was what started the dogs barking. I should have trusted them, though it would have been impossible to round up two little horses in the dark.
I thought if I could just pull on what little tracking skills I had left from studying with a master tracker thirty years ago, maybe we had a shot of recovery. There were no people print, so my theory of theft fell by the wayside. This was a simple escape. Following the hoofprints was a study in patience. They led uphill, a typical horse behavior when faced with this sort of topography. But the ground is rocky and doesn’t hold a track well. I resorted to looking at overturned pebbles, scraped places in the rock, and trails through the morning dew on plants. Here I would find a tail hair caught on a branch and there was a chewed-off piece of grass. I kept after it for another twenty minutes, hoping our neighbors wouldn’t mind me traipsing through their coffee groves at dawn, and then, wonder of wonders, I saw two little horses calmly eating grass at the top of the neighbor’s property. A rock wall that ran across the back and one side of the property stopped them, just about two hundred yards directly behind our house. My heart rate slowed back to normal and I called Tim to report where I found them.
They weren’t panicky, but they were in a completely foreign place on a steep slope with treacherous footing and of course, they had no clue who we were. Since they’re so young, and they arrived with halters on, I wasn’t sure how reliably halter broken they might be. Was this trip the first time they’d ever worn halters? Every time one of us would get close enough to lay a hand on one of them, they would both shoot past us and into the coffee trees. Now, coffee trees aren’t very tall, but these little horses would simply disappear among them. Tim brought a pan of feed with hopes that they would recognize that time-honored sound and come running to us, but they didn’t seem to care much about it after a full night of grazing.
After we were both exhausted from going up and down hill, trying to avoid the pukas (holes) and rocks that littered the landscape while keeping the horses as calm as possible, we finally had them sort of sandwiched between us on a relatively level stretch of ground.
We sat down and waited, slowly ooching towards one another when the horses had their heads down and eyes averted. We now had totally calm horses standing in the twenty feet between us. As Comanche’s curiosity got the better of him and he started investigating the pan of timothy pellets, Tim slowly draped a loop of lead rope over his head. I held my breath as the rope caught on one ear but we finally caught some luck as a little head flip slid the rope completely down around his neck. Once we had him secured by the rope, I was able to get the halter on. Java watched all of this with interest, but was unwilling to come close enough for a repeat performance. With Comanche now in hand, Tim led him in a scramble down the slope back to our house, with Java following close behind. It took us three hours from the time we discovered they were gone until we had them safely back in the paddock.
What we learned was that our latch apparently was not fully closed. It looked like it, since the clip was fully around the chain, but in fact, the chain simply slipped through the clip when one of the horses pushed against the gate. A stupid mistake that could have ended very badly, indeed, and one that neither of us will ever make again. We now check and double-check the chains and clips to ensure that the clip goes through the chain and have even put a secondary clip on the gates in case one opens accidentally, so that there will always be a backup closure. These horses are too precious to risk losing them through carelessness.
Our new charges were off to a rather inauspicious start, but we were happy to have them back safe and sound, and even more happy that they didn’t seem to be concerned at all about any of the events of the past twenty-four hours. As we checked on them throughout the day, I was flooded with relief that they seemed to be okay. Now that the crisis had been averted, I couldn’t wait to get to know these remarkable little sprites.