Bute and the Molasses Drift

Scene: the barn, a sick horse. Fall, a reasonably cool day. We have a huge syringe in which I’ve been dissolving two large tablets of chalky Phenylbutazone (better known, but not by many, as “bute”) for some four hours. These are like gigantic human aspirin tablets, used to cut inflammation—which, when it gets a free hand in a horse’s foot (the inflammation, not the bute) can eventually mean a dead horse. The stuff (the bute, not the inflammation) tastes a lot like aspirin. Or so they say. You can try it if you want—let me know.

The whole problem here is that I was afraid Sophie had laminitis—which a horse can get when there’s too much sugar in her diet—meaning, lush green grass, too much grain. I know this is too much info, but you have to know this in order to get at the irony in the story.


So what do you do to make the stuff taste better to a horse who will do ANYTHING she can to spit it out right into your hair—or down your sleeves, or anywhere she can reach? You add a little molasses to the syringe, that’s what you do. So we had this bottle of molasses that Geneva left with me: “Just like a dollop,” she said. Or maybe she didn’t actually use the word “dollop.” In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say that. Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pour molasses—but there used to be this really well-known expression (it came out of the south where they eat a lotta biscuits): “slow as molasses.”

What it means is, once you turn over your bottle, you can run home, take a shower, watch a PBS special, drive back, feed the horses and then go back to the upside down bottle and start worrying about whether the molasses can actually drip down into the syringe without getting all over everything. Only thing is, once molasses is committed to a flow, it’s real hard to stop. Real hard.

So, here we are, dancing around this syringe, trying to get the stuff to stop dolloping. Which it does not do until practically the whole rest of the syringe is full. And then, you can’t scrape out the extra, because by that time, the bute is all mixed into the molasses. So we shoved the stopper in and stuck a finger over the little bitty hole in the front, hoping the whole assembly wouldn’t simply blow up.

Next step: get the mixture into the horse—by the simple expedient of shoving the business end of the syringe into the horse’s mouth, which you are trying to hold way up in the air, so that it is tipped as far away as it can get from your hair. You have to get the syringe up on top of the tongue, which is very busy trying to expel anything that is not grass, hay or a bona fide treat—which means bute and all—and push hard on the plunger.

It all worked fine, that is, until the mass of molasses hit that little bitty hole in the front.

That’s all I will tell you, except to say that when we were finished, I had analgesic molasses running down my sleeves to my elbows, and Sophie, her lips now a nice burgundy-brown, was looking at us with an air of deep reproach.

Then it was left for me to hope she would not simply expire of a sugar spike during the night. I wouldn’t have worried about a dollop. A half cup is another thing altogether. But as it turns out, she survived to see another day. The next morning, the doctor couldn’t find a thing wrong with her. Okay. And now I am left to wonder: what brought about the miraculous change? Was it the bute? Or the molasses?

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