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Colic? What You Can Do While Waiting for the Vet to Arrive

Colic? What You Can Do While Waiting for the Vet to Arrive

She stood like a statue, though quaking, in the wash stall. Eyes wide and showing white, head held high in pain and panic. Her ears were ice cold. Her teenage owner waited in terror while the vet examined her, and they prepared to tube her. The girl’s anxiety perfectly mirrored what I could almost see inside the mare: a blockage or a torsion so fierce as to be life-threatening.

The mare’s ears were ice cold. Her respiratory rate was high and breathing was shallow. Her pulse weak and thready. She was in shock.

There was nothing I could do. Probably too late. Vets don’t usually take kindly to random strangers waltzing up and offering to help. Allowing me even to stroke the mare’s ears for a few minutes while she prepared the tube was a kindness, both to me and the horse. Not that I think anyone armed with skills in Tellington TTouch® can save every horse like some horse-whispering hero; but there are some amazing things you can do, armed with the right information, and a little practice.

I have been present at many a colic from its early onset and know that there are several things an owner can do to make it easier on the horse while waiting for the vet. It’s always best to call the vet, and to follow instructions to the letter. However, on a few occasions, I have even seen TTouch eliminate colic symptoms altogether before the vet arrived.

As we all know, what really causes a given episode of colic is often a mystery. Therein lies the true terror of colic. How can we prevent something we don’t really know the cause of? Like other emergencies, it inevitably occurs on a Sunday or after the vet’s office is closed, adding to our sense of helplessness. Until we learn each and every possible root cause of impaction and torsion colics, the best we can do is:

1. Be observant. A mindful horse person knows when something isn’t right. Know the horse’s baseline behaviors: what he or she does when all is well. If there is a deviation from that, know what it is and why. A normal average equine resting pulse is 32-44 bpm. Normal average respiration is 12-20 breaths per minute. Unfamiliar situations and high humidity can raise these numbers slightly.

2. Arm ourselves with the most powerful tools at our disposal for combatting any deviations from the norm. Be these tools veterinary, holistic, alternative or a combination, all horse owners have an active role to play in keeping their horses healthy, and in averting the occasional disaster. A sense of empowerment follows from knowing your horse’s baseline behaviors and vital statistics, and what to do when they vary.

I understood that this mare’s young owner had caught this colic late in the game. By the time it was detected, the mare was already in significant distress. But if we are lucky enough to notice symptoms of colic before the situation becomes dire, we can jump in, take an active role, make our horses more comfortable, and perhaps even eliminate the colic altogether.


Although I am discussing the treatment of colic, generally referring to gastrointestinal distress in the horse,Ear TTouch is also effective in treating shock.*

Number one: Call the vet first, with info on pulse, respiration, temperature, and gum color. Follow the vet’s instructions to the letter.

Number two: If the horse has few or absent gut sounds (you should have a stethoscope in your tack box—they are available from most good drugstores and are not expensive), try Tellington TTouch Belly Lifts.

a. Belly Lifts I have had great success with belly lifts on dogs. I have yet to use it on horses, however. Tellington-Jones says that belly lifts “ease colic signs by relieving spasm and activating the wavelike action of the gut.” In other words, they stimulate peristalsis, the movement of food through the gut directed by the autonomic nervous system. In all types of colic, peristalsis is halted.

It never fails that when emergency strikes, you are alone with your horse. Belly lifts can be done alone, but they take a little longer. If you have another person with you, by all means, recruit them.

This emergency measure is a very valuable skill. If there is no torsion, a horse will pass gas during this process, or even pass manure. You may event have stepped in in time to prevent a torsion. If not, rest assured, the vet is on the way, and you have contributed greatly to the horse’s comfort while you wait.

b. Ear TTouch The ear, especially at the tip, contains acupressure points along the Triple Heater Meridian. This meridian wraps around the ear and runs across the shoulder and down the front leg and hoof. Activating these pressure points can effect positive change in respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems. This is a key point for the amelioration of shock. I have used it myself in horses, dogs, and human beings with great success. It has prevented what I believe would have been the possible death of my pug, the diversion of a trans-pacific flight, awakened a passed out girl in a farmer’s market in Kona, Hawaii, and reversed an equine colic. Try it. You have nothing to lose if the vet is already on his way, and you might just turn the colic around. If not, then you have taken steps to calm the horse and increase his comfort level during a stressful and painful time. According to Linda Tellington-Jones, ear slides date back to the stagecoach days, when they were commonly used for faster recovery after hard, fast work.

Tellington-Jones re-discovered ear work after her endurance mare, Bint Gulida colicked in 1958. Preparing for their fist 100-mile-in-one-day ride, Bint Gulida had suffered a four-day impaction, and euthanasia was imminent, because in those days surgery was not possible. Tellington-Jones asked for one final hour in the company of her beloved mare, whose temperature was subnormal and whose ears were ice-cold. Covering the mare with warm blankets, Tellington-Jones began stroking the mare’s ears to warm them. At the end of the hour, her ears were warm and her body temperature were normal. She stood and passed manure.

Linda Tellington-Jones and Bint Gulida

Linda Tellington-Jones and Bint Gulida

Tellington-Jones had intuitively saved the life of one of the greatest endurance horses ever to live, ensured what was to become a legendary endurance career, and planted the seeds of Tellington TTouch.

If the horse is sensitive to having his ears touched, you can do a few Llama TTouches, Lying Leopard or Abalone TTouches on his forehead. Tellington-Jones reports that even ear-shy horses, if they are in enough pain, will allow ear TTouch. They may not appreciate it at first, but they will warm to it as it makes them feel better.

c. Root of the Tail Beneath the root of the tail, just above the anus, lies an acupressure point that can help with the release of gas. Try slow circles with the pads of your fingers, in a press-and-release motion, about one-eighth inch in circumference at this point.

No need to wait until disaster strikes to try out these techniques. They will not harm the horse. In fact, practice will allow a greater level of comfort with the techniques when disaster strikes. It is empowering to add an effective took kit of techniques to increase the horse’s comfort and possibly to reverse impending colic. When we feel so powerless, we can actually do something!

* A note on shock: My next post will cover possible treatments for shock on more detail.

For complete information on these techniques and more, please visit www.ttouch.com or pick up a copy of The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book by Linda Tellington-Jones and Bobbie Lieberman, with a foreword by John Lyons. Or contact your local TTouch Practitioner. A list of Practitioners is available at TTouch.com

The Tellington TTouch® techniques presented here are exclusively the work of Linda Tellington-Jones. She holds the copyright (©) and all other rights to this work. All commentary by enlightened horsemanship through touch is covered by open source uncopyright. Please credit the author if using this material.

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