When I went out to feed last night, I could tell just by the way that Diego was walking in the dark that something wasn't right. He had his head lowered down to ground level and was making strange slobbery noises. I quickly flipped on the lights in the barn and took a look at him. He had foamy drool coming out of his mouth and was continually "yawning" and trying to chew, but was not swallowing from what I could see. I knew right away that he was choking.
Thankfully, Diego seemed to realize that I would be able to help him out and he stood pretty still for me to do some exploratory searching in his mouth (I never did bother to halter him during this whole ordeal). I was able to pull out a few longer pieces of hay and a semi-chewed wad that he had been working on. Note: He's been getting a 3-grain hay for the past couple of months and seems to really like it, but it is more coarse than the previous grass hay I had been buying and, being a 3-grain, has various seed heads and such. I massaged up and down his neck, but could not feel any obvious lumps or firmer spots. Eventually, I had to grab his tongue and pull it out one side of his mouth so that I could work my whole hand around in there. I found about a full, big handful of chewed up hay bits, seed heads, and some stems that was somehow wadded up underneath his tongue. Dig wasn't very fond of this portion of the procedure, but he tolerated it well and only threw his head up a few times.
After I had cleared his mouth, I just stood back and looked at him for a little while. He was still kind of licking and chewing, and his eyes were still somewhat stressed looking, but he no longer appeared to be in distress or straining. It was more like he was just checking things out and tentatively making sure stuff was still working. He never had any sort of nasal discharge during this, so I think I caught his choke pretty early and was beginning to believe that it was the wad under his tongue that was the main culprit. After a few minutes, where he relaxed further and quit chewing, I decided to give him a small bit of pelleted grain (small like pencil eraser sized pellets) to see if he could chew and swallow that down without any issues. He eagerly ate his grain, but started to put his teeth on the plywood around the panels on the inside of his barn area and make a funny face at me - something I've never seen him do before. Bits of slobbery grain drool were coming out of his mouth. I realized he may still have an impaction further down in his throat.
I'm not an expert on choke, having only dealt with it once before with Sinatra during a ride. I knew that horses aren't as worrisome as people when they choke, since generally their airway is not compromised and they can still breathe. However, horses are unable to vomit, so they can't force any obstruction up and out, but rather have to work it down for the most part. There is the worry that they may aspirate some particles into their lungs, which could lead to other problems. Since Diego seemed to be able to swallow for the most part without issues, I was hopeful that if I could get him to drink/slurp up a wet soupy bran-type mash, that it might help push down and clear whatever blockage he may still have. I was hopeful that the warm wet mixture would help to soak and relieve whatever might still be causing him problems.
So I hurried back down to the house and returned quickly with a big jug of hot water (thank you instant hot in the kitchen!). I poured this into a bucket with a mixture of his pelleted grain and some wheat bran, and added a nice scoop of electrolytes as well to help encourage further drinking. Diego was watching me eagerly, but still had a bit of a stressed look in his eye. After the mash had quickly soaked (it takes less than a minute for the pellets to come apart), I added some cold water so it wouldn't be too hot and gave it to Dig. As he slurped and drank the mixture down, I massaged his throat, finding a somewhat harder spot directly behind his jaw bones in his throatlatch area. Since firmly massaging my horses throats while they're eating/drinking is not part of my normal habit, I couldn't say for sure if that was "normal" or if that was some sort of blockage. Either way, I worked my hands firmly up and down his throat, massaging, pressing downward and generally trying to loosen any harder or more firm spots. When Diego was mostly finished, I noticed that he was shivering somewhat, I figured it was probably stress induced but I put my winter weight blanket on him anyways for good measure. I fed him some nice soft pasture grass hay (not the 3-grain) and watched while he finished his mash and started eating that. His eyes looked normal again, no longer stressed, and he seemed to be eating and swallowing just fine. No more drool, no more biting the fence. He was looking perfectly normal when I went out later to check on him before bed.
So disaster averted it seems. I'm now a bit worried about the 3-grain hay, of which I still have probably 15+ bales. Not sure if this was a freak occurrence, or something that may continue. I think I'll call the feed store today and see if I can possibly exchange it for something else.