So, onto the cross-ties went Salem and into the stash of first-aid supplies went I. "On the plus side, I get to actually use my super-cool new digital thermometer," soothed my always-calm Auto-Pilot Emergency Brain. "What luck that I bought it right before moving, since this barn doesn't have a first aid cabinet--that was some good thinking!" You've gotta love that Auto-Pilot Emergency Brain--it literally never lets me down and it always knows how to channel my nervous energy into something positive. :-)
After a quick exam, I was perplexed--Salem had very loud, healthy gut sounds on both sides, and his temp and respiration were normal. He felt a bit sweaty, but that's normal for Salem (who sweats like a 400 lb man that just ran a 10K through the Amazon wearing a down parka). So, I unclipped him from the crossties and took him out to the grass; and, in typical Salem fashion, he immediately dropped his head and began greedily munching grass.
Curioser and curioser. Still, given all the other un-Salem-like behavior, I felt that a call to the vet was in order. An after-hours emergency call, of course, but I have lost one horse to colic and it's not an experience I wish to repeat. As it turned out, my vet had just been seated @ a restaurant about 45 minutes away. We went over everything and, given the fact that Salem was comfortably grazing, we agreed that he would call me when he was leaving the restaurant, but if anything changed I could call him and he would come down immediately.
So, an hour and a half later, Dr. F called me back. "How's he doing?" he asked. "Well, he's been grazing comfortably this whole time," I answered. "He just dropped a big pile of manure that looks normal, and he hasn't rolled or acted uncomfortable at all." We agreed that Salem didn't need to be seen that evening, but I would stay for a while to make sure he was alright.
I decided to try an experiment and put Salem in his stall and closed both doors to see if he would eat his grain. The minute I locked him in, he completely flipped--spun around in circles, weaved like crazy, craned his head out of his stall to look towards the grove, and threw himself all over the place. It was like watching one of those cartoons where the character bounces off the walls/ceiling/floor in a blur. He had zero interest in his food and was working himself into a frenzy, so I opened the door. He immediately stopped his antics but stood in the doorway looking towards the grove in terror, like he had to keep a constant watch over it so nothing could sneak up on him.
As strange as it was, at least I knew what was wrong. While I couldn't see or hear or smell anything different, I at least knew that my horse wasn't (physically) sick. I stayed with Salem until 2:00 am to make sure he was alright, and spent lots of time trying to reassure him, but he wasn't having it.
The next day, I went to the barn early. Unfortunately, Salem still hadn't eaten anything. He was still pacing and not wanting to go in his stall. I took his grain out to him in the paddock and he dove into it, snapping his head up every few seconds to look towards the grove. But at least he was eating. Before I left, I stuffed a bunch of hay into a big muck bucket and dragged it out to him so he could at least have some distraction and a full belly.
Over the weekend, I had no less than 7 people walk Salem's paddock and stall at all hours of the day, trying to find exactly what was bothering Salem. I spent hours out there with him, walking him by the fenceline and feeding him treats, trying to reassure him that he wasn't about to be devoured by a pack of ravenous panthers. He relaxed a tiny bit, but he still wouldn't go in his stall to eat, wouldn't take his eye off the grove, and spent hours pacing. He would weave in the cross-ties, spook constantly, and was generally a live wire. He was permanently wearing his Worried Eyes. So, I decided that enough was enough and left a message with Dr. F asking him to meet me on Monday to give Salem a dose of Pony Prozac. I'm not a big drug advocate, but sometimes you need a little pharmacological help to get your horse through a rough episode. This was one of those times.
Monday afternoon, Dr. F met me out at the barn. He went over Salem's stall and paddock with a fine-tooth comb, checking the hot wire and fencing, looking at the electrical wiring of the stall, etc., but he didn't find anything amiss. "Well," he said. "I'm going to give him a low dose of Reserpine, a long-lasting tranquilizer. You should see the effects by this evening and it will last for three to four weeks." He told me that Salem might experience some loose manure and to give the office a call if he did, but that the dose was so low that he wasn't expecting Salem to experience any side effects.
Now, at my last barn, there was a mare named Inky that occasionally had to have a shot of Reserpine, and she would be stoned as a gravel road for several days afterwards. I was expecting to come out to the barn that evening and finding Salem with half-closed sleepy stoner eyes and a 5-second delay in his reaction times, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was just back to his normal, goofy, alert self. He had eaten his evening grain, chowed through most of his hay, and was hanging out under his favorite tree in his paddock. I had my horse back.
That was the second week of September, and I am happy to report that Salem has been 98% (his own "special") normal ever since. He will occasionally weave on the cross-ties or have a little spook when he hears something in the grove, but that's about it. He's settled back down and is eating with his usual gusto.
So, what was bothering him? I still have no idea. I did hear a shriek that sounded suspiciously like a velociraptor one night, so there's always the possibility that there's some sort of mini-Jurassic Park over there. Or it could have been the chupacabra or a pack of cougars or horde of brain-hungry zombies. The world may never know.
But, for the low, low price of $55, I got my horse's (semi)sanity back. Priceless!