Tim McKee and his family were laughing and joking the evening of June 15 when they looked out the window of their home on Columbia Falls Stage Road and saw their horse Fury scratching his back on a tree so hard that the tree was shaking all over the place.
“This horse loved to have his back scratched,” McKee said.
But then Fury took off running and bucking through a field.
“My wife [Kathy] decided to go put him in for the night,” McKee said. “She went out there and saw what looked like mud all over his butt.”
But it wasn’t mud.
It was a mass of small black bees or hornets, the likes of which McKee said he has never seen.
Most of a large swarm of the insects fell out of the shaken tree and onto Fury, and they started stinging the horse. Kathy raked off the insects and took Fury up to the barn.
“He went into shock pretty much immediately,” McKee said.
Less than 15 hours later, Fury would be dead.
Dr. Charlene Esch of Ashley Creek Animal Clinic came out and worked in the McKee barn until about 2:30 a.m.
“This was an anaphylactic shock that went very quickly,” Esch said, adding that she has never seen another horse case like this in her 29 years of practice in the Flathead Valley. “It was bizarre. I don’t want to see it again.”
They thought they had Fury stabilized Friday night.
McKee loaded the weak horse onto a trailer and took him to Esch’s office the following morning, where he was seen for additional treatment by Dr. Denise Steele.
McKee bought 14-year-old Fury, half Tennessee walker and half Appaloosa, about seven years ago as a comfortable trail horse. A couple of years ago, his 15-year-old granddaughter, Ronalae, started to train Fury for O-Mok-See competition.
“They just fell in love with each other. She did more stuff on that horse than I ever thought about doing,” McKee said. “She was coming in second and third all year long and then next year he won her the belt buckle they give out for the top rider.”
Ronalae, who lives in Marion, was excited about her plans to ride Fury and win another O-Mok-See belt buckle this year.
When she learned about Fury’s freak accident, she went over to the veterinarian’s office as soon as she could.
“That horse got so excited to see her that they actually had to ask her to leave so he could rest,” McKee said. “He was trying to get up and come to her and she was just bawling her eyes out.”
Fury’s condition would not improve.
Because of the advanced shock, his lungs were filling with fluid, his circulatory system was failing and his intestinal lining was dying and sloughing off, causing a great amount of pain, Esch said.
Before the family could make it out to see him one last time, the horse had to be put down because of his pain and rapidly deteriorating condition.
McKee arranged for Fury to be brought home and buried. Armed with a spray can of insecticide, he went out to deal with the swarm.
“I just went out there and soaked them. One other little chunk that was still on the tree the next day, I dumped gas on them and just fried them. I was sad and angry,” McKee said.
He still has an old margarine container with some of the insects in it.
“We’re trying to get somebody to look at them because we’ve never seen them before. They look like flies. There wasn’t a hive, just a mass of them.”
A local beekeeper said they likely were wasps or hornets but were “absolutely” not honey bees. A pest-management specialist thought the insects resembled European or Africanized honey bees.
McKee said he wanted to share the story so other people know what can happen.
“I’d hate to see this happen to another horse, or to a person or a little kid. If there’s trees or bushes, just look up for these things. Fury had this reaction so fast and he didn’t make it. Less than 15 hours later and he was done.”
A week later, the family continues to lament the untimely loss of a beloved horse.
“He was such a great horse. Everybody loved to ride him and he still had seven to eight years of good life left in him,” McKee said
Edited by Eskielvr, 23 June 2012 - 11:22 PM.