Gator: A Special Horse

by Mary Ettinger

Gator the horse recently fought off a nasty bit of colic.

Gator the horse recently fought off a nasty bit of colic.

Gator is a horse — a very special horse — who lives at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island. He loves people and has an infectious personality. He is the kind of  horse who would love to come inside and sit with you on your sofa, if he could.  Anyone can ride Gator. He has an uncanny ability to sense a rider’s level of expertise and adjusts to accommodate a novice or an accomplished rider. He is a truly good horse.

Gator loves any form of attention and responds to kind words, petting, grooming, and treats, although occasionally his love of the limelight gets him in trouble. When he first arrived on the island, he opened the gate latch and let two of his buddies out. The three horses then took a tour of Haig Point’s golf course running up and down the fairways, across greens, and rolling on their backs on the driving range, scattering golfers in all directions. 

One morning last month, Rachel Allen, the Equestrian Center Director, arrived to feed the horses and bring them into their stalls for the day. She found Gator, who is usually first in line for this, laying in the pasture which is highly unusual for him. Rachel brought him into the barn, and it was immediately apparent that he was not feeling well. He appeared to have the early symptoms of colic — an impaction of grain and hay in the colon of horses. This condition can be very painful for a horse and is life threatening if not successfully treated promptly. Dr. Dessie Carter, DVM, was called and gave instructions on how to begin Gator’s care.

News travels fast on our small island, and immediately many helping hands arrived to aid in his treatment. Gator was surrounded by friends and supporters petting and talking to him.

He was walked in the arena in an attempt to induce intestinal motility. When he tried to lay down, his friends surrounded him in a ring of chairs offering encouragement. As the day went on, Gator did not respond to treatment and Dr. Carter was urgently summoned.

His examination confirmed that Gator had a large impaction in his colon, and would need intensive treatment and care for the next 12 to 24 hours. If he did not respond, the only alternative would be to transport him to the mainland for surgery with, at best, a 60% chance of success. Depending on that outcome, there was a possibility that he might need to be put down within the next 12 to 24 hrs. The situation was tense and very worrisome.

Meanwhile, the “barn” continued its watch and formulated a plan. Sleeping bags, pillows, drink coolers, popsicles, bags of food appeared, and volunteers decided to stay the night to help care for Gator. He was very agitated going into his stall to begin treatment. Rachel, realizing that all of the other horses had been put out to pasture, brought Seminole, Gator’s best friend, back in and put him into the adjacent stall. This calmed Gator, and facilitated his treatment.

Hydration and walking are mainstays of initial treatment for equine colic. Doctor Carter skillfully inserted a surgical tube into Gator’s stomach via a nostril, pouring water and oil into his stomach and small intestine in an attempt to loosen the colon blockage. He started IV fluids, and Gator received several gallons within a few hours.

Volunteers stayed with Gator all night, brushing him, walking him every hour, massaging his sore belly and giving him words of encouragement. Around 4:00AM, he had a small bowel movement for the first time and another shortly thereafter. But Gator was still uncomfortable, pawing the floor, raising his lip, and biting at the location of pain in the area of his impaction. 

The morning brought a shift change with a new group of supporters and friends arriving. They continued walking him, allowing him to graze on some grass and as the day progressed, he began to drink water. Thanks to the wonderful volunteers he made it! Gator survived. Two days later he was back to same old Gator we all enjoy so much.

I cannot give enough praise or thanks the wonderful people who helped save Gator’s life.  Rachel Allen, Dr .Dessie Carter, Brice Howe, Olivia Schmitt, Angela and Allison and Patrick Taylor for their support and concern. Brice, Olivia, Alison and Angela stayed all night at the barn.

The story of Gator is just one example of our special community spirit, and why we are so fortunate to live on this magical island. We love you all, and thank you so much!

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