It’s no secret that I’m Irish. I mean, legitimately Irish — just look at the last name. So on Saint Patrick’s Day, I make sure I wear something green (other than my ubiquitous coveralls that are green anyway), and wish all of my clients a Happy Saint Patty’s Day. Then I go home and, if not on-call, have a green beer. If I am on call, I find something green to eat (excluding vegetables, of course).
What Saint Patrick’s Day mostly reminds me of is my first horse; a 25-year-old Connemara named Wimpy. Connemaras are an Irish breed and Wimpy’s registered name was Limerick Lad. He was gray, but as grey horses age (they are actually born black), they slowly turn white. By the time I knew Wimpy, he was completely white except for a bubblegum pink spot on the tip on his nose.
One of my best teachers, Wimpy was considered a "push-button" horse, meaning if you told Wimpy to turn left, he would turn left. Trot? Trot. Canter? Well, it took some encouragement, but yes, Wimpy would eventually reward my efforts with that lovely three-beat rocking-horse gait that is between a trot and gallop.
The one thing that always awed me about Wimpy was his age. I was sixteen when I had him, which made him older than I. I always felt a reverence about him in that regard, wanting to ask him what his life was like before I had him, what he’d seen, and what he had done. I knew from his past owners that at one time he was a show jumper, but I also knew from his vet and farrier exams that he had an old bowed tendon injury in one of his front legs, and at one point had a serious bout of laminitis, also known as a founder, a potentially crippling inflammatory condition within the feet.
The things Wimpy taught me were the basics of proper horse care: how to most efficiently clean a stall, identify toxic weeds in the pasture, catch a horse who didn’t want to be caught, and clean and treat superficial wounds. Being an older horse with old horse teeth, he also taught me basic senior horse care, such as proper dietary maintenance (plenty of forage and a feed high in easily digestible energy), regular vet exams, and regular low-key exercise to keep joints supple.
One night, Wimpy taught me my very first veterinary emergency lesson. Knowing something was wrong the minute he didn’t bolt for his dinner bucket, I watched him as he stood in the corner of his stall, listless, tail swishing and taking glances at his sides. Looking around the straw on the floor, I saw no signs of defecation and suddenly I had the horrible understanding that Wimpy was colicking, that dreaded equine syndrome of abdominal pain.
In utter panic, I ran back to the house and called the vet, barely able to hold back tears, not yet knowing that most colic cases (roughly 90 percent) are mild and treatable on the farm. When the vet arrived at the darkened barn she examined Wimpy by the light of a lone, bare bulb in the stall and concluded that it was a mild case of impaction colic, easily solved by some mineral oil and pain meds. Thankfully, Wimpy was back to normal the next morning.
It was the first time in my life I had been so thrilled to see manure, but not the last, as now I celebrate with clients when their constipated horses poop (a ritualistic "poop dance" sometimes works, or at least gets a few laughs and eases people’s worries).
After three years, my family moved and Wimpy returned to his previous owners. Over the years I would get snippets of information which led me to believe that Wimpy was enjoying retirement in a pasture with a goat friend. This always made me smile, as Wimpy did tend to make friends with vertically challenged animals. His best friend when I had him was a small, brown, extremely cute pony named Oliver.
At some point, the message was relayed through old friends that Wimpy had died. I don’t know the details, but I wasn’t saddened by this news, knowing his last years were quiet and relaxing. I had him until he was 28, so that in its own right is a great, long life in horse terms. That he got to enjoy several more years of rest and relaxation, which he greatly deserved after teaching this newbie the tricks of the horse trade, is icing on the carrot cake.
So here’s to you, Limerick Lad. I raise my glass of green beer to your memory!
Dr. Anna O'Brien