OLD TOWN, Maine — Andrea Mietkiewicz started saying goodbye to her 28-year-old Percheron-Appaloosa cross gelding named Coach this weekend, about one month after she believes the horse was shot by a BB gun.
“I’m afraid this might be it for Coach,” she said Saturday in her College Avenue home while the 17-hand horse stood sunning itself in the warmest spot in the field behind the house.
A few days after the New Year, Mietkiewicz was brushing Coach when she noticed a large lump on the right side of the horse’s face near the corner of his mouth. She attributed the swelling to a bad tooth, a common problem in older horses, and called the veterinarian around Jan. 7 to come take a look.
Coach has Cushing’s disease, a condition that causes his coat to grow longer and curlier than normal, especially during winter months. His thick brown-and-white coat hid a much more serious problem than an aching tooth.
The veterinarian took a closer look at the lemon-sized lump and found a small, round hole near the center. Shaving away the hair on that part of Coach’s face revealed that infection had set in and was beginning to spread.
The veterinarian told Mietkiewicz the hole was too smooth and uniform to be caused by a stick, and said it looked like the wound was caused by a BB gun. Their eyes turned toward the trailer park that abuts the back fence of Coach’s 3-acre enclosure.
Mietkiewicz said she suspects that kids at the local trailer park may have been playing with a BB gun during school vacation between Christmas and New Year’s and, either inadvertently or purposely, shot Coach in the face.
She said Old Town police told her several windows were shot out of a vacant home in that trailer park around the same time.
To treat Coach’s infection, the veterinarian cut the wound open to allow it to drain and started Coach on antibiotics. But Cushing’s disease can compromise a horse’s immune system, weakening the animal’s ability to fight infection and drastically slowing down the healing process.
After several more visits from the veterinarian and frequent hot-compress treatments by Mietkiewicz, the infection isn’t showing signs of receding.
Because of the injury, chewing hurts, and Coach’s appetite isn’t what it once was — he once ate a bale of hay each day, but is now down to a couple of flakes, or less than half a bale.
“He’s lost at least 40 pounds since all this happened,” Mietkiewicz said.
If Coach doesn’t start showing signs of healing, Mietkiewicz said she will have to have him put down in order to end more than a month of pain.
It’s a difficult idea to swallow, Mietkiewicz said, considering it was just over three years ago that she rescued mud-covered Coach from a dirty barn stall and brought him back to Old Town to be a companion for Mietkiewicz’s dressage horse, which has since passed away.
Coach was 100 pounds underweight at the time and backed into the corner of his stall when people approached. He kept his head high, always watching and staying on the defensive.
“It took me 10 months to get him to trust me enough to lower his head to my shoulder so I could groom him,” she said.
Mietkiewicz said that trust has been threatened by unidentified people who have thrown baseball-sized rocks — enough to fill wheelbarrows — into Coach’s pen while she was away. Coach was always a little skittish after those events, and moves away from the side of the enclosure closest to the trailer park when he hears a sound he doesn’t like, she said.
Another time, pins were pulled out of the fencing and several sections of the horse’s enclosure were laid down on the ground, letting Coach loose.
Now, the injury caused by an apparent shot from a BB gun has caused an infection that could kill the horse.
Mietkiewicz said she doesn’t want to leave Coach in the barn when she goes away for work because he enjoys roaming his 3 acres and she said the incidents don’t occur regularly — maybe a couple of times a year.
“You can’t expect police to stand at my back fence line and keep an eye out for kids doing this or that,” she said.
She said she reported the incidents to Old Town police and gave them permission to check on her property at any time.
Mietkiewicz, who runs Clear Light Holistic Midwifery, said she doesn’t necessarily want to see anyone punished for injuring Coach. She’d rather just show them the outcome of a poor decision and that every life can feel pain as a result, she said.
Coach’s failing health has made Mietkiewicz appreciate the horse more than ever before.
During her daily practice of holding a hot compress against Coach’s wound to draw out some of the infection, Mietkiewicz stares into her elderly horse’s eye and speaks gently to him.
“I helped Coach,” she said. “Now he’s helping me.”