A fateful journey
After a long trailer ride, my horse developed a case of shipping fever that nearly claimed his life.
Until last year, I’d only ever had one encounter with shipping fever. When I was a kid, a big draft mare arrived at our farm with a cough. My Dad told me she had shipping fever. The mare spent two weeks isolated in a makeshift box stall in the heated workshop, coughing and sputtering mucus. She got better, just as my Dad said she would, and---to a kid like me, at least---it didn’t seem like such a big deal.
Now I know better. In late spring of 2015, my Quarter Horse gelding, Page Martin Parker, came down with a case of shipping fever after I made a series of misguided decisions while traveling home from an event. He quickly developed pleuropneumonia that nearly killed him. He needed weeks of care, including hospitalization and dozens of invasive procedures, to bring him back from the brink, followed by several more months of rest and recuperation.
It was a very big deal. Here’s how it happened. planned to leave immediately after the award ceremony, but a huge storm system rolled in, and blowing dust severely reduced visibility on the roads. We decided to stay one more night and leave in the morning, taking a more northerly route to avoid a line of thunderstorms. This decision would add a few hours to our trip, but at the time, that didn’t seem like a big issue. We rolled out at 5:30 a.m. on May 12. We made several stops the first day, and at each we offered hay and water to the horses and checked the temperature in the trailer. We had the option of staying overnight just on the eastern edge of Nebraska, but we worried about a fastmoving storm headed our direction. Rather than risk the possibility of being stuck waiting out a snowstorm, we decided to keep moving. So, after 16 hours on the road, we arrived in Minnesota and stopped for the evening. We had only two hours of driving ahead of us, but we were exhausted and needed to sleep.
We unloaded the horses and walked and hand-grazed them before tying them to a highline---a rope strung above eye level between two trees---for the night with their hay and water. The horses had plenty of experience with this setup, and we would be sleeping TEAMWORK: Parker and Debra Martin compete in versatility ranch horse events around the country.