Her Very Own Stress Colic

Editor’s Note:

Summiteer Kelly Heiser

This week, we heard from Kelly Heiser, a horsewoman in Alberta, Canada. She was among the first to register way back in March and traveled 1,500 miles to attend the Summit with friend, Jackie Davis. While perhaps not an ideal Summit outcome, Heiser nonetheless share this learning experience.

Thanks, Kelly!

Kelly Heiser writes:

In the weeks leading up to the Best Horse Practices Summit, I was a bundle of nervous energy and excitement. I couldn’t wait to get to Durango. But preparing to leave my family and animals for five days had me burning the candle at both ends.

Two days prior to departure, my horse, Riley, picked a fight with a fence post. Although he probably thinks he won, it seemed to me like he lost. I watched my beloved beast gallop around the yard with a six-foot post beating him about the back, sides, and legs. I forced myself to stay calm in the path of a 2,000 pound animal in flight mode and I did my best not to cry as this animal that I have never seen flinch at anything struggled in absolute terror.

Over the next hour, while waiting for the vet, I watched every muscle in Riley’s body shake and quiver. He struggled to find his balance and remain standing on his bloodied and swollen legs. I tried to hold it together, too.

The vet treated his injuries, told me how to care for him and what to watch for. Stress colic was the immediate concern.  So, I sat with my horse in the pasture for hours watching his breathing, eye movement, whisker twitching, listening to his gut sounds, watching how he held his head, and how he moved his feet.

Riley, on a better day

Eventually, the danger passed and I was able to leave the pasture.

My family urged me not to cancel my Summit trip. So I spent the next 48 hours making sure Riley would be safe and well cared for. I told myself that all those things I’d planned to get done in advance for my husband and kids could be left undone. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel bad leaving them to take care of things. I told myself that everything was fine and everyone was ok. What I didn’t acknowledge was that I wasn’t ok.

The next few days were a whirlwind of travel, worry, and excitement. We flew 2,300 kilometers over 12 hours, hiked at Mesa Verde, enjoyed amazing food and drink, toured Durango and made new friends.

By Sunday I wasn’t feeling quite myself.  My excitement and energy had all but disappeared. I didn’t feel like visiting anymore. A trip to my favorite chocolate shop didn’t sound all that appealing and the Summit Welcome Reception that I had been looking forward to attending suddenly seemed like a chore. Yet I still didn’t recognize that I was shutting down. I thought I was just a little tired and had spent more time socializing than I was used to. I drifted in a fog. When I joined friends for supper, I had no appetite. By the time I crawled into bed I was tired and cranky.

A few hours later I awoke feeling nauseous, dizzy, and feverish. My body was achy and I had a terrible headache. I knew the symptoms and what caused them, I had been here before:

  • The adrenaline I had been running on had run out and I had pushed too hard.
  • My body had had enough.
  • I was “stress colicking.”

Kelly and Riley ride out

In hindsight, I can see all the subtle ways my body and mind tried to tell me to rest.

  • I wish I’d taken a moment to breathe and have faith in others to take care of things.
  • I wish I had given myself time to process what had happened to Riley.
  • I wish I had watched myself as closely as I watched Riley in the pasture.

Ignoring myself cost me the first day of a conference I’d waited a year to attend. It took 18 hours of sleep to get back on my feet.

My humble advice? Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself. Pay as much attention to the signs of stress and anxiety in yourself as you do in your animals. We aren’t much good to those who count on us when we don’t.

Showing 6 comments
  • Jacky Davies (travel companion 😉)

    That’s a fabulous write-up Kelly. Nicely done.

  • Julie Kenney

    I’m so sorry, Kelly, for your terrible ordeal as you prepared for the excitement of the Summit. It is always hard to hold yourself together for everyone else…all the time. “Stress colic” is such an appropriate description of what happened to you. Blessings on you today and I pray that your horse has fully recovered as well!

    • Kelly Heiser

      Thank you Jacky! And thank you for keeping an eye on me while I “coliced” 😉

  • Kelly Heiser

    Riley has got the all clear from the vet and is doing well. Thank you.

  • Audrey

    Really great advice for those of us who tend to put our animals before ourselves. Thank you.

  • Bonnie Martin

    I can understand and relate to your excitement about heading to the Summit. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to absorb it all. Your recognition of your own “colic” and reminder that we need to take care of ourselves is an important thing for us to remember! I’m glad both you and Riley are ok now.

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