Yesterday, we took our paint horse Cody to the vet clinic for his routine therapeutic shoeing appointment which periodically involves x-rays to see how he’s progressing. Cody has “ringbone” which is a horse person’s term for osteoarthritis. In Cody’s case, as the x-rays revealed yesterday, he has both high and low ringbone, which means the arthritis affects the coffin joint and the pastern. Which means, for Cody, things hurt. His new shoeing prescription should help, as will the injections of steroids he will soon receive.
Yesterday, the clinic was slammed with emergencies, including two cases of horses with colic that needed surgery. I’ve never seen the place so busy, a line of at least half a dozen horse trailers outside waiting for their turn, and a parade of horses going into the clinic. While Cody and I waited our turn for things, I wandered around and looked at the other horses in the clinic stalls: two Belgian mares and their new leggy foals, a sleepy horse with an eye injury, a miniature horse and what must have been her foal, a mare waiting to be bred, and a high strung horse that wanted no part of whatever was going to happen next.
I also got a chance to ask a question that has been pestering me, one about the use of the word “colic” in its various forms. Colic is a kind of umbrella term for a horse that is experiencing some kind of abdominal distress. Colic can be nothing more than a little gas that will eventually pass, or something much more serious, like an impaction, a torsion of the intestines, a strangulating lipoma. I have always said, when referring to a horse that evidences signs of colic, “the horse is colicking.” But recently, while working with the editors on Still Life with Horses, the question of whether this should be “colicky” rather than “colicking” came up. I stuck with “colicking” but still… was I right?
So I asked our farrier, while he was working on someone else’s horse. Do you say “colicky” or “colicking”? He thought about it for a bit, then said,
“I say “colicky” when it looks like colic and I give the horse some Banamine; I say “colicking” when I call the vet.”
The farrier’s response clarified things perfectly. Not simply adjective vs. verb, but also a degree of emergency. The first, “colicky,” wait and watch. The second, “colicking,” intervene now. The editors were right that “colicky” is an appropriate usage; I was right that “colicking,” as used in the book, carries the sense of urgency that I meant it to have.
I really do love words, and layers of meaning, and especially finely tuned horse words like “colicky” vs. “colicking” and “ringbone” and “unthrifty” and all the rest. For me, none of this is jargon, but rather an old code that describes horses and their conditions in ways ordinary language just can’t do.
As for Cody and his ringbone, the line of horses yesterday needed the vets more than he did. Cody will get his injections soon. Let’s hope they help the good old guy.