Pretty Beet Up, Lessons From a Horse Named Shooter

words: stoney stamper
images:courtesy april stamper

IF you’ve read many of my stories, you’ll quickly find that the majority of them are going to involve animals. My family’s attachment to four-legged creatures goes back several generations. My great grandfather would tell us stories of himself as a youth, and just like my own stories, most involved an animal of some sort. Like when he was a young man working in a livery stable in Oklahoma. He didn’t have enough money to buy his own horse, so he’d board other people’s horses, and then at night he’d saddle up their horse and ride it all the way to Salina to go dancing. Then he’d ride it as hard as he could back to Locust Grove, some fifteen miles away, put it up, give it some feed and water, and have it waiting for the customer the next morning. Now, that’s not exactly an honest thing to do, but it sure made for a good story. Another time, he caught a full-grown coyote in the wild, brought it back to the ranch and attempted to domesticate it and make it a pet. FYI, that didn’t go well for my grandpa. Or for the coyote. Those are just a few of the hundreds of stories he told us as children. And even though we’d likely heard all of these stories multiple times, they were never any less entertaining, and more often than not, if you paid close attention, there was a lesson that could be learned.

I’ve always believed that we, as humans, could learn a lot by watching animals. Sometimes, the lessons are small and simple, and other times, they can be much more profound. Last night was a good example of the latter. I had a pretty significant life lesson pounded into me, whether I wanted it, or not. Let me explain.

IMG_6631Shooter is a two-year-old American Quarter Horse. I bought his mother from a horse farm in Wisconsin about four years ago. He is really well bred and has grown into a really nice horse. Since the moment he was born, he has been cuddled and babied and spoiled rotten. He’s really less of a horse and more akin to a Labrador Retriever. He’s a big pet. He’s gentle and calm and will normally allow me to do anything I want to do to him without so much as a flick of his ears. He trusts me implicitly and knows that I would never hurt him. However, something happened yesterday. Something scary and traumatic. He got what is known simply as “choke.” It’s exactly what its name implies; he choked on beet pulp. Being the mischievous and ornery critter that he is, he broke into the feed room in the barn and got into some feed that is meant only for our girls’ show pigs. The beet pulp got lodged in his throat, and he choked. Now, choking in horses is much different than for a human. When we choke, it blocks our airways. We turn purple and lose the ability to breathe. That is not the case for horses. It only blocks their esophagus. They can breathe just fine, they just can’t swallow. So while ultimately, it can cause some problems, it’s not quite the death sentence for them that it is for us. Their biggest problem is that they panic. They absolutely lose their minds because they’re scared.

When I saw what was happening, of course, I came immediately to his assistance. My whole purpose during that ninety minutes, until the vet could get there, was to try to make Shooter calm, reassure him, and keep him from hurting himself. He bucked, he reared, he kicked. His eyes were wide, white with fear, and he was soaked with sweat that was dripping from his body. He jerked me around like a rag doll, and since he outweighs me by 700 pounds, there was really little I could do about it. He struck out at me with his front feet and connected on multiple occasions. I’ve got the bruises on my elbow and shin to prove it. What he could not realize was that the biggest danger was not the choke itself, and it wasn’t from the man standing beside him trying to help, even though he seemed convinced that I was there to do him harm. The most severe danger posed to him in all of this was himself. If Shooter was able to lie down and roll, which is what he wanted to do, then we could begin to have some real problems. He could twist a gut and colic, which is deadly for horses. He could get hung up on the fence next to us and break a leg.

IMG_6629Thankfully, none of that happened. The vet arrived, stuck a tube the size of a water hose up Shooter’s nose, and pumped warm water into him that cleared the blockage. The entire process took twenty minutes, but probably seemed a lot longer to my anxious horse.

My point is that Shooter had taken a manageable problem and turned it into a serious situation because he panicked and overreacted. How many times in life can we say the same about ourselves? Too many times, I see people, including myself, go through difficult times, whether it be the breakup of a relationship, the loss of a job, or any other number of things, and even though those are certainly significant circumstances, they are not circumstances that will kill us, no matter how convinced we are that they will. Those problems can be overcome. We can beat them. We just need to calm down, take a few deep breaths, allow those around us to help, and most of the time, everything will be all right. It’s scary. It almost feels like the end of the world, but it’s not. This too shall pass.

Even if it’s a big wad of beet pulp.

Stoney Stamper

is the author of the popular parenting blog, The Daddy Diaries. He and his wife April have three daughters: Abby, Emma and Gracee. Originally from northeast Oklahoma, the Stampers now live in Tyler, Texas. For your daily dose of The Daddy Diaries, visit Stoney on Facebook or on his website,

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