Travels With Kathi #26 – Requiem for an Old Horse

Oldest Patient

I had only met this quarter horse gelding during appointments for routine work.  Even then, our history was only a few years old.  He had always been true to his position in nature as a “hunted” or prey animal.  As soon as he saw me pull up in a vet truck, he would  cautiously walk to the other end of his pen, while keeping an eye on me all the time.  He would present his usual moment of be-hard-to-catch to make sure I was intent on capturing him.  He would then give up and stand like a rock for haltering, as he probably had done thousands of times over his life as a stock and trail horse.   How long had his life been?   The owner thought he was forty years old.  

Wow!  Forty years old.  This gelding may be the oldest horse patient I had attended in the forty years of my veterinarian career.  My first year as a licensed veterinarian was 1979.   Could this horse have been born during the first year I had started practicing veterinary medicine?  It immediately became apparent this gelding and I at least had chronological connections.  Could we share other commonalities, more  than being old?

Today’s appointment had been made because our old friend was not eating his food.  I had vaccinated him a few days earlier, so my first thought was he was sore where the shots had been given.  Soreness was a frequent occurrence following vaccinations and usually went away with a little pain control and a little time.  His physical exam was uneventful.  His  temperature was slightly elevated and his heart rate was moderately elevated.  The temperature was also a frequent sequela of vaccinations.  The high heart rate could have several origins.  This old horse had evidence of chronic arthritis in his knee.  Chronic pain frequently caused a slightly high heart rate.  Or he could be suffering from what is known in the human healthcare business as “white coat disease” caused by the presence of a doctor.  In the veterinary world, the phenomena might be more accurately called the “tan coverall disease”.  Our plan was to give pain meds and check him in the morning.

No Change

A call to the stable the next morning disclosed no change in the old horse’s condition.  He still was not interested in his feed, but otherwise seemed no worse.  I scheduled a return visit to the stables and set about to find all I could about the horse’s history.  The gelding had lived at this stable for several years.  He was owned by a couple who had retired and recently been quite busy with personal health problems.  This horse had belonged to the wife’s father who had trail ridden him for many years.  As the father became older and could not fully care for himself, the couple moved her father to their home into an apartment attached to the horse barn.  And you guessed it; this gelding moved into the barn, only separated from the father by a wall.  The father received great comfort and pleasure as he spent the remaining days of his life caring for this horse.  When the father passed on, the couple rewarded this great old gelding by committing themselves to care for the father’s horse for the rest the horse’s life.

About ten years ago the gelding had severely injured the knee that was now firm and enlarged.  The pain was great and the progress to recovery was slow and disheartening.   The owners decided to take the pain away for their old friend, who was now thirty, by ending his struggle.  An appointment was made to humanely allow this old gelding to go be with their father.  On the scheduled day, as luck would have it, the veterinarian was detained by an emergency and unable to come.  The next day, the veterinarian arrived to find the gelding somewhat better.  He decided to try one more treatment, and the pain decreased and the horse improved until the horse was the pasture-sound animal I saw today.  And as the owners had to make life changes, the old warrior was moved to this stable where he was given any type of food he would eat, and was groomed and walked every day.  For such a great horse with this real-life pedigree,  I felt I must solve the problem, I must get it right. 

As I arrived for the appointment, I was met by the owner, the husband.  I had run bloodwork on my previous visit.   There was no clear-cut indication as to what was the primary problem.  But, I had a feeling it was bad.  The man in front of me re-iterated what this gelding had been in his and his wife’s life.  He told me they knew a day would come when this gelding would not escape life’s ultimate outcome.  I told him what I had told many clients standing in front of old horses:  “With our old horses we know someday will be the last day; we just hope it won’t be today.”   What I feared for his horse was, relatively, he looked good.  If we were nearing the end, I hoped this horse would not be forced to suffer a long, slow declining course because I could not be sure the problem was not treatable.  A trip to the clinic for more diagnostics might answer that question.  Thankfully, the husband agreed to take him to the clinic. The diagnostics revealed a problem that had little hope for recovery.  The decision was made.  The day had come.  On a nice warm summer day with a blue sky, green grass, and horses all around, the soul  of a great old gelding left this earth.

Forty Years

What must this animal have gone through in forty years:  Forty winters, many blizzards or bomb cyclones; thousands of lightning bolts and rain downpours; coyotes, bears, mountain lions close by; veterinarians giving shots, castrations.  What would it be like to stand out in sub-zero weather with cold feet, waiting for a ray of warm sunshine to strike your body only if you are standing in a special spot in your pen.   What would it be like to be hungry because your owner was out partying and forgot to feed you?  

Over the years, I have heard many clients describe their horse’s thought as if the horse was a human.  I have always attempted to understand a horse, or any animal for that matter, as the animal sees or reacts to their environment.  When I think of this gelding, I must think of his behavior from a “in-the-moment” point of view, without regret or worrying what they don’t or do have.   I must consider the predator-prey relationship where behavior is primarily directed toward survival.  There must be many things an old man can learn from an old horse, lessons of nature in its purest form.

This gelding would watch my approach to determine if I meant him harm, if I was a predator.  As I get older, the numbers of predators increases.  Keep an eye on the unknown. The old gelding would place himself close to the younger horses. The greying of his eyes and slower reaction time required him to rely on younger horses.  I have had to do the same thing.

The old gelding accepted the injury to his knee and the ultimate disease that led to his death without complaint.  I had to do the same with two knee replacements.  I hope to have the grace he had to face my final days.

The old gelding placed himself to catch the morning sunshine, to stand in the sun’s rays.  I hope I too will always look to stand in the sunshine to overcome a chilly night. Forty years is a long time for a gelding to live.  Forty years is a long time for a veterinarian to make farm calls.  Hopefully, I have paid attention to my lessons.

Annual Reproduction Seminar

LEqMC's Annual Reproduction Seminar

Travels With Kathi #25 – Paying It Forward

Paying It Forward

There is a natural seasonal influence on veterinary medicine in Colorado. As the temperature drops in the fall and winter, and the Christmas ornaments are brought out of storage and then put back, there is a normal slowing of veterinary activity. Equestrians have their minds diverted to family activities, and the falling temperatures furlough all but the hardiest outdoor riders. Horse emergencies continue to occur as colics increase when more horses are confined and exercise is limited. We also see injuries resulting from social interactions of horses as they are housed in tighter confinement. Routine work slows down.

Hall Of Education

The new year does bring increased activity from one source, the National Western Stock Show.
During the sixteen days of the Stock Show, LEQMC staff members are on call for equine emergencies at the show grounds. During any competitions involving horses, a LEQMC staff veterinarian must be present in the arena. All sanctioned rodeos are required to have a veterinarian in the arena before the rodeo can begin. Kathi and I participate in staffing the Stock Show primarily by attending rodeos.

Our normal routine for rodeo coverage is to arrive at the facility a safe time before the performance. We frequently stroll through the isles of the Hall of Education checking out what is new or different. The second floor is where the selling and buying occurs. Oh, did I mention the second floor is the best location for people-watching in Colorado? For an aging veterinarian from Oklahoma like me, this is truly the hall of education!

Checking out all the objects for sale can create sensory overload for me. Tractors, cattle handling equipment; tack for all species of farm animals, working clothes for cowboys and farmers, barns, stalls, gate openers, tools, boots for cowboys and farmers. Many of those items are familiar to me; I can rub my hands across the leather, wood , or metal and be immediately transported back to my family’s farm and my childhood. I wonder what life would have been like if we had some of these modern tools. That was the reason the great tradition of the Stock Show was started, for folks like my family in the agriculture business to gather to admire superior animals, check new advancements in equipment and techniques, and to go home and improve their operations and thereby improve their lives.

Today’s National Western Stock Show still has as its primary goal to promote and improve the agriculture lifestyle. However, the Stock Show can’t ignore the obvious large urban area surrounding the Complex. Providing entertainment to the city folks, good country entertainment, is an important part of the mission to educate people about agriculture. Modern farmers and ranchers find themselves walking along crowded isles filled with city dwellers, and those from agricultural America are obviously learning things too.

In the Hall of Education you can buy lots of things to make you feel better, like vapors to sooth you, creams to soften your skin, electronic devices to electrically stimulate your muscles, vibrating easy chairs to relax those same muscles. You can buy a one-of-a-kind forty-acre mountain lot, buy a house to build on it, a barn for your horse, a fence around your forty acres of mountain majesty, and an automatic gate to install in the fence to keep others out and let you in.

At the Stock Show you can buy any sort of clothing. Most is western, boots and hats shaped just like you want them; and bling, lots of bling. There must be enough bling belts to string end to end around your forty-acre mountain lot that you just bought. Many of the urban attendees try to dress as cowboys to fit in. I have news for the guy with the dragon tattooed on his chest, exposed by an opened lycra shirt unbuttoned down to his belt loops, wearing banana-yellow sport shoes and tight legged jeans: The Toby Keith cowboy hat won’t convince anyone you are a cowboy. For you , the old saying “All hat and no cow” should be “No cow, no time.”

The most interesting sales technique on display in the Hall of Education is practiced by the folks attempting to get your attention by making eye contact in an effort to inspire you to purchase their products. My dad called those sales people “talkers”. In the Hall of Education, these skilled folks often sell household products like cookware, irons, floor cleaning devices, common household items that don’t have the “wow” appeal of revolutionary new inventions. They have sound systems capable of amplifying what appear to be soft spoken, thoughtful voices of people who have your best interest as their primary goal. The booths also have chairs for people to sit down, a luxury in a sit-down-deficient area. People seem to sit down in a chair for a rest and soon are mesmerized by a soft voice describing how their lives will be better with a new skillet or a special iron. Quite a few rested souls leave those chairs with the world’s best skillet or a miracle iron under their arm.

Foodie Experience

Stock Show food should be part of one’s annual experience. Of course, there are many available brewed beverages. Our urban friends can also get a smoothie machine to make green smoothies from avocado and spinach and other combinations not listed in my Okie red-neck cookbook. You can get bacon-on-a-stick dipped in chocolate, nuts, chip dip containing all known species of peppers, giant sausages, burritos, kettle corn, and Kathi’s favorite, funnel cakes. Fried oreos are on sale, but I can’t imagine how hot grease could improve an oreo. I’m not willing to pay five dollars to find out. There are roasted turkey legs on sale for eleven dollars. Those legs make you salivate just watching the guys roasting them. I tried one once. It took no time at all to consume the quarter pound of tastey turkey meat present on the leg. I was then left with three pounds of turkey bone, tendons, and ligament. I carried the remains around just like I did a cocklebur when, as a kid, a buddy convinced me a cocklebur was a porcupine egg. I waited until I thought nobody was watching and tossed the remains into the trash. Now when I pass someone holding a turkey leg, I give them a thumbs up. They probably think I’m congratulating them for a wise choice of food. I’m actually congratulating them for getting the need to buy a roasted turkey leg out of their system for their lifetime.

Be An Advocate

As a child who grew up on a farm and became a veterinarian, I consider the world of horses and all farm animals as my world. When at the modern-day Stock Show, I have felt like my world is being denigrated by the urban attendants and their complete lack of understanding of what goes on in the agriculture world. But I must remember eighty percent of America’s population today live in urban settings. if you would like your grandkids’ kids to be able to love their animals in a manner similar to that we have enjoyed, then how eighty percent of the population sees our world and how they appreciate the value of that world may be the most important factor in my great-grandkids animal-futures. I have come to realize the importance of enlightening a well-meaning large group of “town folks”. In an age of cow flatulence being blamed as a huge problem causing hurricanes, heat waves, and snow storms, those urban dwellers need to recognize the value of the cattle industry. They need to recognize the relationship of a young lady and a horse as the two of them complete a jumping course as a beautiful relationship important to both, not an example of animal abuse.

It truly is an important time for my world, my way of life. It is time for me to step forward and become an advocate for the way of life with animals that has been given me by those going before. Just like the “talkers” selling cookware in the Hall of Education, I need to learn to make the uneducated comfortable, speaking in a soft voice, telling them of my love for animals. Even if animals do not become an important part of their lives, maybe they will become aware of the importance of animals to others. I need to become an advocate, to pay it forward; and the time to do so is now.

Evening With A Veterinarian – Dr. Katie Mullen

Evening with a veterinarian

An Evening With A Veterinarian

“Hay and Grain and Supplements!  Oh My!  What should I feed my horse?”

Speaker: Dr. Katie Mullen

Date: February 27, 2019 and March 4, 2019 

Time: 6:00pm

Location: Littleton Equine Medical Center conference room

Availability: Feb 27 – 25 seats, March 4 – 25 seats

RSVP to 303-794-6359 or email


Dr. Katie Mullen grew up in Evergreen and spent her summers on her family’s cattle ranch near Paonia. Following vet school, Dr. Mullen was an associate at a large animal ambulatory practice in Central Massachusetts. While she enjoyed the challenges and rewards of ambulatory practice, one day she received a call inviting her back to Cornell to pursue a residency in Large Animal Internal Medicine.
During Dr. Mullen’s residency and instructorship, she has had the opportunity to present research findings at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum in Nashville, TN and the Colic Symposium in Dublin, Ireland, and has published research findings in several veterinary journals. She received advanced training in transboundary animal diseases and has had the opportunity to teach both veterinary students at Cornell and veterinary agents in Haiti. Her special interests include equine neonatology and gastroenterology, but she truly enjoys all aspects of internal medicine.

2019 rDVM Seminar

Travels with Kathi

Travels with Kathi: #24 – The Holiday Gene

The Holiday Gene

You would have to be blind and deaf, locked up in a underground bunker without any power, batteries, or digital devices to be unaware of the holiday season. I think it is fair to say Kathi loves the Christmas season like no other time of the year. Her enthusiasm is centered around her love for family and friends. Her efforts get revved up at Thanksgiving , and rise to a crescendo on December 25th. Her near-obsession with making every thing as perfect as possible comes from two influences: First, she is a woman, a mother, a grandmother. Secondly, she has the Holiday Gene.

Our annual path to the 25th starts with Christmas lights. This portion of the journey must be started while the roof and the application equipment, the ladders, are free of snow. Some Decembers bring us unbearable cold and snow, so low-hanging lights must be strung wearing snow boots and heavy parkas. The snow is welcomed as a necessary background for Kathi’s magically-posed photos of our black labs, the photos she uses for her annual Christmas cards.


Kathi is a great collector of wall plaques with kind sayings, photos of dogs who have gone to heaven where they stand by the gate waiting for Kathi to arrive, and all sorts of Christmas ornaments. These treasures must be stored in many boxes in safe places awaiting the magical time. My part of the process is to transport all the boxes full of holiday stuff into the house, unpack the contained treasures as I am directed, and return the boxes now containing off-season knick-knacks back to storage. I feel comfort in being somewhat familiar with the holiday process. It’s sort of husband job security.

In the past, we would travel into the near-by foothills to a client’s woods and harvest a fresh tree. That tradition has been the victim of our old knees and backs. Kathi has begrudgingly consented to switching to a reusable tree. All lights, inside and out, are placed on timers to mute my constant complaint of having Christmas lights on during the day.

As she gets all her treasures properly placed, even to the point of replacing every-day dog toys with Christmas dog toys, Kathi is content. All is ready for Christmas. With the presence of pictures and ornaments from Christmases past, we are surrounded by family and pets that have gone before, as well as our current family and pets who will soon be celebrating the holidays with us.

The holiday season is not complete for Kathi until our New Year’s Eve celebration. That’s the time when Kathi gets to share the holiday season with our long-time friends. Sharing Christmas Day with friends is limited by friends’ obligations to celebrate with their families. The party can be preceded by an early-evening nap, but the festivities start at 9:00 pm and are completed shortly after the ball falls in New York’s Time Square; or rather the recording of the ball falling as it is repeated for our time zone. This celebration is to start next year on a positive note.


That’s what the holidays are for me. It seems I find myself more and more in the minority in today’s world. Public sentiment seems to support the presence of an increase in personal sadness during the holidays. I talked to a lady last week who had a family member who was diagnosed with a catastrophic viral infection that destroyed his heart. The condition was diagnosed and he was placed on a transplant list. A compatible heart was found and the transplant was completed in a week. When the surgeon was asked how could the whole process from diagnosis to transplant have been completed in such a short time, the doctor said each year a lot of hearts become available during the holidays because a lot of people die, the result of an increase of accidental deaths as well as suicides.

Some say the holidays have been hijacked by businesses presenting us with continual marketing: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and on and on. Those pundits claim that bombardment of retail ads has made us equate how good our holidays are by the value of gifts received, thereby leading many to disappointment and despair. If we allow our minds to focus on perpetual buying deals and gift value instead of the great messages of the holidays then the fault for the erosion of our holidays is on us, not on the advertisers. We must be vigilant in holding on to the true meaning.

Gene Therapy

Do you have the Holiday Gene? How does a person know which of us has the Holiday Gene? I would suggest you look at Kathi. She is motivated by thankfulness and love, and wants to share through gifts. She doesn’t need to get the best deal brought to her by continual advertising or Amazon Prime. She doesn’t need to go to Black Friday sales and endure near-riot conditions . Her gifts are perfect because those of us who receive those gifts know her heart. It truly is the thought that counts; not just a thought on Christmas day, but the thought all year round. She has the gene.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those of us who find ourselves Holiday Gene-deficient could receive a gene transplant, or at least gene therapy . Maybe by next year the world could be a much better place. We’d still have to reprogram old behaviors. We’d have to show our love in our eyes; we’d have to get that love in our heart. Where could we all learn that love, that look in the eye? Not everyone lives with Kathi.

For many of us the answer of the perfect role model we seek may be right in front of us. I see that love we’re looking for in the eyes of an animal as a small girl leads her pony into the tack stall of the barn. We see it when Kathi and I return home from a day of farm calls, open the door, and are greeted by three excited, loving dogs welcoming our return. The perfect love we seek exists in the eyes of our animals. Like Kathi, those animals don’t have to purchase an expensive gift to prove love. We just feel it.

Our animals may not celebrate the holidays, but they do have a similar gene to the Holiday Gene. It may be the Good Animal Gene. Best of all they display that behavior all year long.


Travels with Kathi: #23 – Connecting


The day was one of those unusually warm days we get in the middle of winter in Colorado. The temperature was a perfect fifty-five degrees, the sun was shining, there was a slight breeze. The mud around horse-boarding pens had thawed and dried. If someone had given me the task of creating the perfect day, this day would be my answer to that task. We felt lucky to be in the truck on a rather long drive to our next appointment on such a beautiful day. We were not familiar with our destination, a horse-boarding facility where we had never been. Our assignment was to vaccinate a horse we had not treated before, for people we did not know. Such calls were often a great experience, but sometimes, not so great; we soon would know which this call would be.

We obediently followed the prompts of our GPS as we approached our destination. As we received the warning our destination was one hundred feet on the left, we looked ahead to see a viaduct above us supporting the busy traffic of a major Interstate. This enormous highway was only a few hundred feet away and paralleled our destination. A narrow dirt drive wound its way through a collection of construction supplies until the drive opened to expose a menagerie of small horse pens with a variety of shelters in the individual pens. Hidden in plain sight before us was a lady holding a horse, the lady smiling to see us approach. This was our new client; she was holding our new patient

The Mare

After introductions, we started our exam. The small mare was in her late teens and was slightly under weight. She had just been brought to town from a ranch in Nebraska, a family member’s place, and she had been selected for her gentleness. Our appointment was to administer vaccines and blood tests, all of which were required for all boarders at this facility. The owner, a lady I guessed to be somewhere in her sixties, offered that she and her husband, the man lunging a horse in the round-pen just behind us, had just purchased these two horses. In the past, the two of them had enjoyed riding horses; they hoped they could rekindle past pleasures with these two horses.

The small mare was a willing patient, so I was soon through with her injections. As I finished, the lady asked if I would be able to check a couple of things on the other horse, the one her husband had been lunging. This gelding was larger and also younger. Before purchasing this animal, they had hired another veterinarian to perform a pre-purchase exam on him. That vet had found the gelding to be slightly lame and had found one eye had a gray haze on the cornea, a haze that he believed would obstruct vision in that one eye. That veterinarian feared these two problems might interfere with the horse being suitable for trail riding, but did administer all required shots and blood tests. The couple was asking us for a second opinion regarding these two problems. They felt this horse was perfect in every other way for their needs.

The Gelding

The husband untied his gelding from the hitch rack and brought him over for our inspection. The horse was quiet as he walked up to us, and he was attentive to the man’s commands. The horse displayed absolutely no reaction to the loud traffic noise from the Interstate only yards away. The man and horse made a perfect team as if the two had known each other for many years, not for just a few days.

There was an abnormal white cloudiness present in the left eye. My best guess as to a cause was the chronic disease of the eye called periodic ophthalmia. That condition results in a recurrent cloudiness to the cornea. This disease can often be controlled with oral aspirin. I suggested they start aspirin and watch for effect. The condition could result in the loss of the eye, but more likely, might respond to treatment.

We next watched the gelding lunge in a round pen. He was mildly lame in one front leg. His feet suffered from past lack of care. I suggested the new owners improve his trimming and shoeing. I thought foot care could improve the lameness. Besides, the lameness was minimal, and the horse could probably do light trail riding even if he didn’t improve.

Making Lemonade

While I was examining the second horse, Kathi was talking to the wife. The husband had been diagnosed with cancer some months ago. He had a large mass removed from his abdomen, and had other tumors that could not be removed. He was now doing remarkably well for someone who had been given such bad news. Getting back into horses had been his idea to get his prognosis off his mind. As Kathi shared this information with me, I immediately realized the focus of my examination should drastically change. My conclusion regarding the gelding was the problems he had might need to be managed, but he should be suitable for light trail riding. More importantly, this man and this horse had already developed a relationship that guaranteed many pleasurable hours of just hanging out. If they could work in some trail riding, that would be a bonus. The man and the horse had connected.

We spent a bit of time with this couple adding all our encouragement for the battle they were sure to face. We drove away feeling good for the attitude these two had, how they were handling their situation. Life had served them lemons; they were making lemonade. On this perfect day, in a strange little horse boarding facility, we had met two great people and two great horses, and we had been reminded what is important in life! What a great opportunity to practice a wonderful occupation, two veterinary care providers living our lives. Kathi and I had made a connection. And it was good.

Equine Body Condition Scores

Is My Horse Too Thin?

The Equine Body Condition

TGIS!  (Thank Goodness It’s Spring)


With spring comes veterinarians’ visits to many of your horses for wellness work.  A frequently received question: “How is my horse’s weight?  Is my horse too fat or too skinny?”   A body score system was developed to give a score of 1 to 9 to the body condition of horses.  Although the score is subjective, most individuals trained to interpret a visual and palpated exam on any specific horse usually vary in assigned score by only one number.


The optimum score for most horses is 5 to 7.   Most of the horses in our practice that are outside the optimum range are above 7.  Those individuals are more at risk for metabolic problems.  Our experiences at Harmony Dumb Friends facility at Franktown have presented horses scored as low as 1 or 1 ½; what a sad thing!


We are including a links to articles that describe the body scoring system.  By reading all three, one can get a good idea of the system.   Please remember you need to palpate the areas used for scoring.  Hair length can affect the appearance of the body parts.  Also, horses undergoing long stall confinement will display muscle atrophy or shrinking along the loin; all areas used to develop the body score should be nearly equal.  If you are not sure, have your veterinarian evaluate your horse. 


Another method to evaluate if your horse is losing or gaining weight is to simply use a weight tape.  Instructions for the proper application of the weight tape is included in the article on body scoring by Purina.


Body Condition Scoring and How To Use Your Weight Tape – Purina

Learn how to use the body condition score system – The Horse



Equine Body Condition Scores

2018 LEQMC Reproduction Seminar