Friday, March 13, 2009

Twister the One-eyed Wonder Horse


UPDATE: Apparently, don't look at it if you are squeamish about the trots, either. (No pun intended)(Okay, I lied. Pun intended)

Yes, I have one of the smartest horses in the world, and I'm not the only one who says that.

A little bit about Twister: He's about 25 years old, and we've had him since he was 18 and William was 12. Come to think of it, Bill and Twister came into our lives right around the same time.William and Twister's first 4-H competitive trail ride. Third place!

As I've said in previous posts, he was born with a huge cataract in one eye, and developed equine recurrent uveitis, aka moon blindness in the other. When we got him, he had had recurrent infections for many years, and his eye was very scarred and caused him constant pain. It was very light sensitive so he kept his eyes closed and fell asleep a lot:About three years ago it abscessed and I had to have it removed (and not put back in like SOME people). He's been MUCH happier ever since. Interestingly, Twister isn't the first blind horse I've had. Paleface, the Pony of the Americas I had when I was growing up also went blind due to moon blindness. He also adapted and lived for many years after. (Yes, the common denominator seems to be me, but Twister had it well before I got him)

Other problems we've dealt with are: mild arthritis, mild navicular, occasional very painful hoof abscesses, and a leg wound that didn't heal for well over a year. Oh, and his teeth are almost worn down to nothing on one side, and not much better on the other, so he can't chew his food properly. I am an expert at bandaging legs, packing hooves, putting ointment in eyes (the left one, anyway), and giving shots. He also had almost constant diarrhea, for which I took him to the vet several times. They just told me that he's an old horse and there wasn't anything I could do.

What's this banana slug photo doing here? Oh, right. I'm a biologist.

Last summer, I started noticing that his poop (yes, this is a technical term - if you're a sailor) was more horselike and less cow patty-like (a scientific description). The ranch owners and I also started noticing that his water was full of hay, disgustingly stinky (another scientific description), and had to be cleaned out far more often than all the other horses. I thought he was just drinking with his mouth full, and dropping some hay in. We also thought he might be accidentally pooping in his water - after all, he IS blind. Well, turns out he's blind but he's not stupid.

One day, while I was cleaning his paddock, the ranch owner came around to feed. While we were chatting, Twister grabbed a huge mouthful of hay, carried it over to his water trough, and dropped it in. The owner and I looked at each other. Did he just do that on purpose?

I went over, scooped it out and said, "Twister, don't do that, you idiot!" He immediately sniffed around, picked it up and plopped it back in. He then spent the next few minutes slurping it off the surface. He went back over and picked up another huge chunk of hay, carried it over and dunked it in the water, and then happily slurped it up. I couldn't believe it. He was softening it up so he could chew it. We were astounded. We watched as he did this with the rest of his hay. He must have originally done it accidentally once or twice, and discovered the hay was softer and easier to chew when soaked for a while. I would never have credited a horse with the reasoning abilities to connect the dots.
And because he's able to digest his food better, an added benefit is that he managed to "fix" his own diarrhea problem.

I just have to clean out his bathtub trough frequently. I might think it stinks, but Twister's next door neighbour, Spicy, thinks it's delicious when I drain it. After:Is that a smart horse, or what? Handsome, too.


Lesley said...

This IS just what I've been waiting for! ;-)

I have to tell you (animal sap that I am): I teared up when I read that Twister had figured out how to help himself eat by making his hay softer ON PURPOSE. What an AWESOME animal. I have a friend who is a total horsey girl (she has several of her own horses and rides competitively), and through her I've learned that horses are wondrous and smart and sometimes downright amazing. And as someone who (on a much smaller scale) does anything necessary to take care of her own special needs animal, this post is a perfect example of one of the many reasons I like you THIS HUGELY MUCH: your big ole' heart!

Plus? You crack me up. ("What is this banana slug photo doing here?" Heh.)

And thank you for the link!! That's so sweet of you! I'm glad I was staring at Twitter when your tweet on this came through. I thoroughly loved this post.

sunnyskeptic said...

That's awesome, what a cool horse. Did I mention that in college I was in Equus, as long as we're talking about horses' eye sockets and all... :)

Laurie said...

Lesley - Glad you enjoyed it! Twister is pretty awesome. As my husband says, somebody's got to look after the old guy. Did I mention that my husband's pretty awesome, too?

Crystal - I think that's one play I'm going to avoid, even if my theater major son works on it...