Friday, September 30, 2011

Still a Mystery

I went up to spend the day with Pie again at the University of Wisconsin veterinary hospital.  He's doing well - no "episodes" but then he hasn't had that much to eat yet - but is shiny and sassy and very sweet - all the staff and students like him.  He gets several walks a day outside in their sand/rubber pellet footing walking area, and the vet student who's in charge of him even brushes him.  He's not happy about being confined to a stall the rest of the time - he tells me about it - and has taken to mischief like untying the rope that secures the IV hanger (which he isn't using) or figuring out how to pick up his water dish.

Today the senior vet and resident did some repeats of exams - ultrasounds and rectals - that were done yesterday - since his GI tract was much emptier, they wanted to verify that the nodules were still there, and not just fecal matter.  They were still there - at least a half dozen that the vet could palpate just at the end of his reach when doing the rectal exam - there may or may not be more out of reach.  Ultrasounds of this area are difficult at best - Pie is too big and his abdomen is too broad. At least one seemed to be attached to the outer surface of the colon.  They also did an abdominal tap, to see if any abnormal cells (white cells or cells indicating certain types of cancer) showed up, and to also start cultures (which will take about 48 hours) to see if any bacteria show up.  So far everything looks normal - there are no abnormal cells in his abdominal fluid, and his blood work is normal except for slightly elevated GGT enzymes.

The initial thoughts were that Pie might have bastard strangles - encapsulated strep inside his abdomen.  The senior vet now thinks this isn't likely - his blood work, the fact he's not at all sick in that way and the lack of white cells in his abdominal tap make this less probable although it's still possible.  He also clearly doesn't have certain types of cancers that tend to shed cells into the abdominal space.  At this point we don't know what he has - he sure doesn't look or act like a horse with cancer of any type.  We've done the non-invasive tests that can be done - x-rays won't help in this case due to the type of thing and the location.  A biopsy isn't practical - the location is risky and the nodules tend to be very moveable.  Opening him up for surgical examination isn't warranted at this time and would be very risky.

So we really don't know.  They're going to keep increasing his hay and pellets over the next day or so - since he's already there - and see if he experiences another episode of colic pain - they can then take a closer look to see what's really happening.  At this point we're taking things one day at a time - but then that's how Pie always takes things and I'm trying to emulate his good example.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It Wasn't the Fats - Pie Makes a Trip to the Vet Hospital

Well, so much for my theories.  After taking the oil out of Pie's food on Tuesday on the theory that maybe the fats were causing him a problem due to a bile duct problem - he was fine all evening and I was congratulating myself - on Wednesday evening he had two colic attacks, one at the usual time one hour after feeding time and the other several hours later.  In both cases, after the usual 30 minutes of severe pain and gas, he would get back up and start eating hay again like nothing had ever been wrong.  We only know about the second attack because one of the boarders happened to stop by the barn to get something and found him down and in pain.  He may have had other attacks in the night that we don't know about.

In any event, enough was enough - this has been going on now for almost 10 days, and our vet recommended that we take him to the best veterinary medical clinic in our area - the hospital at the University of Wisconsin at Madison that's associated with their vet school.  It's about 2 1/2 hours away, but the couple closer clinics are more equipped to handle lamenesses and surgeries and less able to deal with medical issues like Pie's.  So off we went this morning.

It's an excellent facility - everyone from the vet techs to the receptionist to the veterinary students, residents and doctors were competent and interested.  Think of a large teaching hospital for people and you've got the basic picture. The facility handles all sorts of large animals - there was even a camel there who would call (a sort of loud roar/moan) from time to time.  We spent a lot of time going over all the details of Pie's medical history, he had a thorough physical exam, several ultrasounds as well as rectal exams, including with ultrasound.  He also had more blood work - his GGT liver enzyme is a bit higher than it was, but his AST enzyme level and white count were normal.

His GI tract seems completely normal - no structural abnormalities or obstructions.  No stones, in either the intestines or the bile duct.  The liver itself looked pretty good. But the vets did detect a number of those nodules my regular vet found on rectal exam - they're about the size of golf balls, they're harder than fecal balls but still somewhat squishy, and they're scattered around outside the GI tract inside the abdominal cavity and move fairly freely when pushed on.  As the senior vet said, he was only accessing a portion of the digestive tract, and there were likely more of these nodules where he couldn't reach, and in a horse of Pie's size and bulk ultrasound can't reach everything.  It's possible these nodules are causing the problems he's been having - the nodules could be pulling on various parts of the GI tract and making the passage of food painful.  The biliary/liver issues are likely caused by trouble in the GI tract rather than the other way around.

Tomorrow they'll take a sample of abdominal fluid to see if there are indications of whether these nodules are a series of walled-off abscesses (perhaps due to an old case of bastard strangles where a horse is exposed to strangles and doesn't develop the respiratory version but instead develops abscesses in the body that can stay there sometimes without causing problems, or a horse who had been vaccinated for strangles and then is exposed to it - this apparently did happen with some of the older vaccines) or maybe something else.  (Drifter's prior case of strangles isn't implicated in this, since Pie's first colic attacks occurred at the end of January and early February long before Drifter's arrival.) If they were strep abscesses, the antibiotic he's been on has relatively poor efficacy against strep, but they're waiting to see what shows up on the test tomorrow and then we'll have an idea of what our next steps might be.

Pie had no colicy symptoms during the day - but then he didn't get anything to eat either, poor guy.  Starting this evening, they're going to start feeding him small amounts of hay every few hours, gradually increasing and then maybe adding some pellets, to see if they can induce him to colic so they can determine what is setting it off and what his symptoms are when he's in trouble.  I'm not worried as he's in very good hands.

I met a very nice family in the waiting room - their little Arabian mare was in for colicing repeatedly as well.  Father and mother a little older than me, their daughter and a friend.  The family actually invited me to stay overnight at their house if I needed to - I ended up coming home to take care of the animals but it was so kind of them to make the offer.  And the whole family and their friend all knew who Lily, Maisie and Norman were due to reading the Paradigm Farms blog - they said they love Norman!

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Clues About Pie

We took the oil out of Pie's evening feed last evening, and voila!  no digestive pain whatsoever, despite having his Banamine reduced to one dose in the morning.  And today, when the vet came to do a blood draw to recheck his liver/bile situation (poor Pie's becoming quite the pincushion), she commented on how bright, alert and interactive he was - in fact at this point I'd say he looks great.

And there are more clues . . .  Those of you who've been reading for a while may (very vaguely) remember that Pie had what (in hindsight) was an identical digestive attack after p.m. feeding on January 31.  We blamed that on him being misfed another horse's dinner, and that horse was getting different feed.  But we were all perplexed at how acute his symptoms were considering the very small amount - one cup - of different feed he'd been given.  Here's the clue - the wrong food was a high-fat feed (Ultimate Finish) that Fritz was receiving to help him gain weight.  There's the fat again - that's what caused the problem even though the amount was small.  Then Pie had another attack on February 8, and none that we've noticed between then and last week, although there was the mysterious tying up episode on May 11 - I'm still not sure what that was all about - he was in severe pain and sweating profusely.  That may or may not be unrelated.

So, looking back, it's clear that he's had this liver/bile duct problem all along, but we didn't know because he was able to tolerate fat in his diet - he's been getting cocosoya oil all along - unless it was too much - the winter episode where he was fed extra fat - or if his system was somehow otherwise disturbed, as with the recent vaccinations.  The pain he's experienced seems to be because the fats aren't being broken down properly by bile in his small intestine, and end up undigested in the caecum - hence the pain and large amounts of gas, and his feeling somewhat better once the gas passes through.

Or at least that's the theory at this point. We'll see what the bloodwork shows and then go from there, but if we can at least make him comfortable again by removing the extra fat from his diet, that will be progress.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It May Be the Fats . . .

Sometimes when you see something suddenly in a pattern of facts, things snap into focus.  I've been mulling over the odd timing of Pie's nightly colic pain and gas after eating and trying to figure out why it happens then and what might be causing it.  It's clear that there's some underlying condition - stones in the bile duct or the small intestine, or an infection/inflammation caused by something - encysted small strongyles or tapeworms (he's been treated for both and his recent fecal test was negative but those might not have shown up), bacteria or even the protozoa that cause EPM.  But something aggravates the condition every evening, about 30 minutes to an hour after he eats dinner, and the timing and the specific elevated liver enzymes clearly indicate a problem with the bile ducts/small intestine.  The underlying condition is not stomach ulcers - he doesn't present like a horse with ulcers - no unhappiness at feeding time or refusal to eat pellets - in fact he's an eager eater.  It isn't likely to be sand colic - there's no diarrhea and his weight is good and he's eating eagerly.  It isn't an impaction in the large colon - his manure if anything is a little loose after being on the antibiotics, and is profuse.

So what could it be?  Nothing has changed in his diet, but if his sensitivity to whatever it is has increased, as a result of a change in the underlying condition perhaps triggered by his vaccinations a week ago, there's some component of his evening feed that's causing him extra distress.  (He's not 100% normal the rest of the time, but about 90% OK until after evening feeding, when his condition becomes very uncomfortable very fast, and then usually improves again just as rapidly after a period of extreme discomfort.)

So I reviewed what goes into his evening feed - mineral/vitamin balancer pellets, magnesium/chromium powder, U-Gard and cocosoya oil.  But wait!  Bile is produced specifically to digest fats, and its production is increased as fats are presented to the digestive system.  It could be the oil . . .

Tonight we're trying a test - we're giving him only his pellets, his Uniprim antibiotics and a little water to hold it together.  We'll see what happens . . .

And our vet/chiro was out to look at him.  She didn't do a full adjustment - until we get at whatever is making him feel punky, any adjustment she does won't stick, but she did some little things to make him feel better.  She also did a neurological exam - I love that our chiro is a vet as she's useful for this stuff and very well informed.  Pie has a couple of neurological oddities - one test is to pick the horse's foot up and put in in an odd position to the side and see if the horse corrects it - horses that are normal neurologically do this on their own.  Pie was good with the fronts - the test is to place them to the side away from the body - Pie said "no, they belong here" and moved them back to center.  The test with the hinds is to place one hind leg across and behind the other - Pie moved his right hind back immediately but would leave the left hind in the odd position for quite a while without moving it.  When turned in a tight circle, he also didn't move his left hind completely normally, wanting to rotate on it and not lift it and cross it over.  He's also had two incidents - one today - where he's stepped on his left hind with his right hind, once on the heel and once on the inside of the pastern, while running around.  This could mean that his kinesthetic sense of where his left hind is located isn't quite right. This could be his normal, related to some stifle issues, or it could be a sign of something going on (that might or might not be related to his digestive difficulties).  We did a blood draw to rule out EPM - the definitive results from the new ELISA test, which is inexpensive, should be back in a few days.

Pie has also developed a couple of sarcoid-like spots - one on his right barrel and one on his neck - that could also be an immune system response to the vaccinations - sometimes when a horse's immune system is challenged, either by illness or vaccination, other things that have been brewing and that the horse has been able to manage until then pop up and become symptomatic.  I'll keep an eye on those spots - for now they're not a problem.

Our regular vet is coming back tomorrow to do a blood draw to recheck his liver enzyme levels - we want to be sure things aren't moving in the wrong direction and I want to discuss whether it makes sense to refer him to a vet clinic, where we could do a liver and spleen ultrasound and also a liver biopsy if that were warranted - we've got a couple of good clinics within two hours of us.

Keeping fingers crossed that we'll figure this out and get it under control, and we'll see if removing the fats from his dinner helps him be more comfortable.

Update at almost 2 hours after feeding time - so far Pie is feeling fine, no colic, no symptoms of any pain!  Hoping this is a good sign, or that at least we've figured out how to keep him more comfortable while we're figuring out what the underlying problem is.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not Out of the Woods Yet

I would have said that Pie was a lot better - we'd had a couple of days with no symptoms, and this afternoon and early evening he looked great - bright, alert, friendly and pretty much back to normal.  He'd been passing a lot of manure and everything seems fine. But then about an hour after feeding time this evening, he went down in his stall again, switching from sternal to flat and back and forth, and groaning, and passing large amounts of gas.  I went in his stall and held his head for a bit, then he got up and was pretty much back to normal - alert and interactive - although a bit touchy about his left side.  This wasn't as bad as his attack last Wednesday, but was as bad as how he was feeling a day or two after that.

This is the pattern - brief episodes of sharp abdominal pain, about 45 minutes to an hour after p.m. feeding, accompanied by lots of gas.  The elevated liver enzymes, particularly GGT, suggest bile duct involvement - either inflammation or a partial obstruction by a bile duct stone, and this would fit with the timing after feeding time.  But it's really hard to tell what's going on.  He has days where he feels better and days where he doesn't, despite having been on antibiotics and anti-inflammatories for a week.  He doesn't seem to have symptoms any other time of day.

The vet is coming Wednesday to do another blood draw to see if anything's changed.  If things aren't moving in the right direction, I may trailer him to a vet clinic - we have a couple of good ones to choose from - to have a liver ultrasound and any other tests they may recommend.

I keep thinking that things are getting better and then they aren't - it's frustrating to see my horse in pain and not be able to fix it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pie Doing Better

Every day, Pie seems to be doing a bit better.  Thursday, after his first dose of antibiotics Wednesday night, he was still pretty uncomfortable about 45 minutes after evening feeding time, lying down for a while, and even flat, but not with the severe (and heart-rending) groaning that had happened on Monday and Wednesday.  He perked back up pretty quickly after feeling bad for a bit.  And then Friday and Saturday, he didn't lie down but stood in the back of his stall for a bit looking uncomfortable.  And tonight, Sunday, he looked pretty good throughout and he also seems less crabby.  I think the antibiotics are beginning to work, and we'll do a blood draw sometime next week to check that his elevated liver enzymes are starting to come back down.  Keeping fingers crossed . . .

Friday, September 23, 2011

Photo Essay and Pictures of Pie's Daddy

Pie seems to be doing somewhat better - he's eating and drinking well.  He did have a brief "episode" last night about 45 minutes after feeding time, where he was lying down and clearly a bit uncomfortable, although not as bad as the previous night.  It'll take a while for the antibiotics to have an effect, but at least the anti-inflammatories are helping him be more comfortable.  I actually got a good night's sleep for once.

It's a beautiful day - cool and sunny - so I made a trip to the barn to take some pictures.  Here's Charisma hanging out in her paddock:

Drifter was impatiently waiting for the other horses to come back within view:

Misty's still got the summer "frosting" on her rump:

Scout (in front) and Fritz (behind) were doing their synchronized grazing moves:

Pie looked fairly pleased to see me, since I didn't have a halter or any meds in my hand:

Pie decided to chase Scout:

But things settled right back down:

I seem to love to take pictures of Pie's hindquarters and his beautiful, thick, deep red tail:

Pie's former owner was out in Montana recently, and was kind enough to send me some photos of Pie's sire, Cody's Red Glo - I think he's standing on a downhill slope here - this also gives a good picture of the environment Pie was born in and where he lived until he was a weanling:

Pie's sire looks to be shorter than Pie, and a darker shade of red, but has the about the same build - although Pie also looks a lot like his dam - here's the post with Pie's baby pictures.  Pie's sire has more white, including a big blaze:

Now we know where the deepness of jowl and "Pie face" come from!:

The person in the left of the photo is the gentleman I got Pie from:

I'm glad to have these pictures - Pie's the first horse I've ever had baby pictures of or pictures of sire and dam, and that's pretty darn cool!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Update on Pie

The blood work was normal, except that two liver enzymes were slightly elevated.  The vet's best hypothesis at this point is that Pie is having bile duct pain - these two enzymes are indicative of that.  The pain could be due to a small bile duct stone that is irritating/inflaming the bile duct exit, but not blocking it - if it were blocked he would be much more ill, even jaundiced - or an infection due to gunk accumulating in the bile duct, or both.  The intermittent acute pain and the timing just after feeding time would also be consistent with that, as the irritation would be greater at that time.  Here's a description of what may be happening.  Horses do produce bile continuously, so that could also explain his general low-grade grumpiness.

So the treatment plan is Uniprim daily (apparently some horses are on antibiotics for up to 6 to 8 weeks to clear this sort of thing), and a 500-lb. dose of Banamine twice a day for 5 days and once a day after that.  We'll continue the Gastrogard, but not add probiotics at this point as they can result in firmer manure which is the opposite of what we want at this point.  No riding at least until blood work is rechecked in about 10 days, but he can have his chiro appointment, which will probably feel good.  And I'll be keeping a very close eye on him, and if there are any more acute episodes the plan may change, but for now we've got a plan - let's hope it works.

Here We Go Again - I Slept In My Clothes

Last night was like Groundhog Day, and not in a good way.  Tuesday Pie was fine all day, and we went on a nice easy trail ride with Scout.  Yesterday, Pie seemed to be fine as well and he and I had a nice work session in the arena after the farrier visited - not too hard, but with some trotting work.  After I put him back in his paddock, he seemed a bit sleepy, but nothing more than that.  And he told me in no uncertain terms that his stifles hurt - both of them, although the right seems a bit worse.  I found out by touching the stifle joints - he made faces at me.  I then did some massage on the insides of his thighs, and the inside of the right thigh had some cramps.  I'm hoping the chiropractor can put that right, or at least better, on Monday.

But then, after bring-in time and feeding - Pie ate his dinner and a lot of his hay - he went down flat in his stall again - same groaning/wheezing and gas - if anything he looked worse than he did on Monday night: here's a video when he's flat - note the head position, rough breathing and bared teeth, all of which are signs of pain. He was also producing a lot of gas, which he had on Monday night as well. And here he is when he's lying sternal - out of it and rough breathing. I cut out of my art class (I'm taking a life drawing class) and headed to the barn again, calling the vet on the way.   But then when I went in his stall to take his temperature - he hasn't had a temperature that we know of throughout these episodes - he was startled and got up and his demeanor pretty quickly returned almost to normal and he started eating hay.  He also urinated, and later pooped, although the amount was fairly small and the manure balls were the oblong shape they've been taking over the past month or so.  He has also been dropping from time to time without urinating, which can be a sign of abdominal pain.   I called the vet and she said to give him one gram of bute (he'd had one already in the morning for his farrier visit) to see if that would work like it had on Monday.

I think that, although he isn't showing any of the classic colic symptoms - pawing, looking at the belly or rolling - that he's in pretty bad pain during these episodes and is just a pretty stoic horse.  Stoics are hard - they don't always tell you how bad they're feeling but it's clear he's feeling pretty bad when he has these attacks.

I checked back later and he had stopped eating and, although upright, looked fairly miserable.  So I had the vet come.  She said his elevated respiration was a sure sign of pain, as was his depressed state.  No fever was evident and he had good gut sounds.  His feet are cool and he has no worrisome digital pulses. She gave him a cocktail of pain/anti-spasmodic drugs and also did a blood draw for a variety of tests - we may have some results today.  She also did a rectal exam - there was a fair amount of manure up in there.  The troublesome thing is that she said she was somewhat worried by what she felt in there - a number of hard nodules that did not appear to be fecal matter.  I also told her that I had noted his manure balls becoming smaller and less round and more oval recently, which could mean he's got some sort of abdominal constriction or partial obstruction going on.  It took a while for the drugs to make him more comfortable, which the vet didn't like, but then he started nibbling hay again and was completely himself again.

I left him in his stall to rest.  The vet wanted me to check on him later when the drugs would have worn off.  By this time it was about 11 p.m., so I just slept in my clothes - my husband's out of town - and set my alarm for 2 a.m.  When I checked on him then, he was flat again but seemed to be breathing more normally (for him - he tends to be a snorer), and got up immediately when I came in the barn.  He seemed OK, so I went home and back to bed.  This morning there were three small piles of manure - same somewhat hard, small, oblong balls.  He wanted his breakfast and ate some hay.  He's not drinking as well as I'd like, either. I'd describe him as about 90% this morning - almost OK but not quite.  I put him out to graze with the geldings and will check on him during the day.

The timing connected to the vaccinations could be a pure coincidence or it could mean that the systemic stress of the vaccinations tipped him over the edge on some pre-existing on oncoming abdominal condition.  There have been no feed or supplement changes, other than another hay delivery - from our same supplier who produces and cuts his own hay and none of the other horses seem to be having a problem.  The lack of a fever means it probably isn't a specific reaction to the shots themselves.  The timing after eating could indicate ulcers, but the gas probably doesn't.  (We've got him on a 4-day course of Gastrogard just to rule that out and also compensate for all the meds he's received.) All very worrisome coupled with the changes in his personality and manure over the past month or so.  The back and stifle soreness could also be related if he's holding himself stiffly because of abdominal pain.  This also could or could not be related to the tying-up episode he had a while ago, which seemed at that time to be related to a mild attack of laminitis due to spring grass.  No sign of foot problems at this point and I'm keeping him off the mid to late afternoon grass anyway as a precaution, and shortening up his grazing even further on days where temperatures are below 40F at night.

I'm hoping the blood work will give us some more information.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rode All Three, and Felt Good About It Too - and Some Videos!

Yesterday was beautiful - low 70s, sunny and a bit of wind.  In contrast to other recent days, I really wanted to go to the barn in the afternoon and work with my horses.  I ended up riding all three horses, and really enjoyed it - the whole thing, from grooming, to tacking to riding.

Pie was up first - he's fine again, which is amazing considering how unwell he was for a while the previous evening (I added a video our p.m. barn lady took before I got back over to the barn to the post about his reaction to the shots - poor guy, he clearly felt awful but it cleared right up with some bute - the only time I've seen a horse look that bad was when Maisie was at another barn and had a bad impaction colic that no one noticed until things were really advanced).

But Pie felt fine, and we were able to go on a quick trail ride with Scout, since we just by chance were going out at about the same time as Scout's owner.  I kept our ride short to give him an easy work session.  We encountered a number of trail "obstacles" - I think our dense suburban environment is sometimes more challenging that a more rural trail environment.  There was the class of small children by the pond, on either side of the trail - they were carrying backpacks, and notebooks, and coats, and were right by the trail on either side.  Pie looked hard at them and we eased on by - they started to follow us and he scooted a few steps but came right back.  I've developed this most uncool habit, when he spooks or scoots, of calling out "whoa" in a shrieks-like-a-girl voice - sorry girls but I bet you know what I mean - I never used to do this, it certainly doesn't help if Pie is nervous and it really annoys me but I expect it'll go away as I become less nervous.  Anyway, we recovered from the children of doom, and then we had the "giant tractor pulling flatbed trailer with rustling brush and logs being heaved up on it" and then we had the "group of children coming out of the woods" who had to be very carefully watched and analyzed - Pie is still figuring out children and the range of their possible behaviors.  And then we had a bike come up fast from behind - he scooted and then was very nervous as it passed by, but recovered well.  He had to do a lot of shot trot sets to catch up with Scout from time to time.  I was very pleased with how he did on our ride.

Then I took out the much-neglected Dawn for a ride.  She was very good - we did some transition work and also some spiral in/out and some leg yield at walk and trot.  Considering she's barely been ridden over the past several weeks, she was very good although very forward and never as relaxed as I'd like.  There was one small scoot/spook when a farm truck drove by on the path around the pond behind her - trucks almost never drive there - but she recovered well and went right back to work.  There was a big milestone for her today - I'd set up three poles in a fan - Dawn has always had a big phobia of poles (due to some specific very bad prior experiences involving jumping) - but today she just walked over all three poles, in both directions - she did rush a bit but there was almost no hesitation and no balking/refusals to go over, which is a big first for her.  I think the fact that there were multiple poles actually helped - she couldn't worry too much about the first pole because she had to think about the whole array of three.

Drift did very well - he was very interested in being ridden - I think he's a bit jealous of Pie - and was soft-eyed and well-behaved throughout.  We worked on our figures - serpentines and circles, including some spiral in/out and leg yield, and some transitions and lengthening/shortening work.  I asked our p.m. barn lady to take some videos to compare to a video from May when he was just starting his training with me.  Please ignore the horrible posture of the person (me) in the videos.

Here's the first short video of Drifter from early May - before the Mark Rashid clinic - Drifter was just learning to soften and there's not too much consistency, but he's beginning to get the idea - he'd been ridden by me fewer than 20 times at this point, and hadn't been ridden but a few times by his prior owner for about two years prior to that, so he's not doing too bad.  The first thing I notice about this video is how tense he is, and how he's pushing on the bit and even trying to push above it from time to time - looking for the release that I'm being careful not to give him - but he's working hard on figuring it out.  I also note that he isn't really relaxed in the top line, despite the head position, and because of that and the bracing on the bit, he's using his forehand to drag himself around - the hindquarters aren't really stepping under but are trailing behind.

And here are the two very short videos our p.m. barn lady took yesterday.  Drifter was fairly distracted by the "strange" person in the arena, which introduced some inconsistency in his rhythm and softness, but I also see a lot of good things in these videos.  In part one of the video, you'll see a few steps of his very nice walk at the beginning (I think the walk tells you a lot about the horse's quality of movement and athleticism and was the first thing I noticed about Drifter when his prior owner led him out of the pasture), and a good upwards transition to trot.  There's also more evidence of relaxation - his body is much more "swingy", and although his head position isn't consistent due to his distraction, he's much more soft, with a more relaxed top line (look at the tail swinging more freely as he moves away from the camera), engaged core and much more activity in the hindquarters.  At the end of this video, when he's trotting towards the camera, I'm asking for some slight lengthening and stretching down, and he actually makes a move towards stretching out at the very end, which is big progress for him.

In part two of the video, we're doing one of our exercises involving a few steps of walk, then a few steps of trot, then a few steps of walk, and there are a number of very abrupt downwards transitions from trot to walk and trot to halt - we're still working on this and these were a bit worse than usual due to his distraction but what I like is that he's instantly responsive when I ask for the change of rhythm for a change of gait - he's really listening to me.  Smoothing out the downwards transitions won't be hard.  And at the very end he does a very nice back and looks quite pleased with himself.

And the best thing was that I thoroughly enjoyed it all - every minute - which is the first time this has happened in a long time.  I'm hoping this positive trend continues.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Research Testing and Treatment Protocol for EPM

I've been fortunate in my horse life so far to have never had to deal with a horse with EPM - equine protozoal myeloencephalitis - one of the most difficult equine diseases to accurately diagnose and treat.  First, a disclaimer - I'm not a vet, have no vet training, and I'm not in a position to advise people on how to deal with a horse who may have EPM - if you have a horse with EPM, do your own research and talk to your vet (who may or may know about this new protocol).  What I'm describing in this post was told to me by our vet/chiropractor and is based on her personal knowledge of the research, her own experience and that of her clients and their horses.  And here's a site which contains a lot of good information about EPM, including description of the current testing and treatment protocols and also the new research.

Here's the summary - there is new research on EPM that has led to the development of a new, much more accurate test to determine if your horse has EPM, and a new treatment protocol is also in research that is significantly less expensive (at least for now) than the current approved pharmaceutical treatment and which may be more effective.  According to my vet/chiro, this new treatment protocol appears so far to be producing excellent results.  Obviously, this is still research, but if you have a horse with EPM or suspected EPM, you may want to have your vet get in touch with the people doing the research (details later).

EPM has always been a difficult disease to diagnose and also treat.  It's a disease caused by a protozoan, horses pick it up in the environment, and a fairly large proportion of horses in the U.S. have been exposed to it but exhibit no clinical signs.  A small percentage of horses develop neurological signs - weakness, gait abnormalities and balance and postural problems - which can make them unrideable and even a danger to themselves and unsafe to be around.  Part of the difficulty in diagnosis is that other neurological diseases can produce similar symptoms, and the symptoms of EPM can vary widely.  The currently available tests are also not completely reliable.  Apparently horses that are treated sometime relapse repeatedly, and the current approved treatment can be very expensive, which may lead people to not treat or euthanize horses with EPM or suspected EPM.

The research is being conducted by a vet in the Ocala area - Dr. Siobhan Ellison.  The new test is an ELISA test.  Since it's an ELISA test, the reliability is much higher, and it also can be done using a blood draw instead of a spinal tap (the Western blot test that is also currently used also does not have high reliability). One reason for the treatment failures may be that existing treatments may not be effective against all strains of EPM, and a horse may have only one of the two strains that can affect equines, and current tests cannot distinguish among strains.  Here's a page which describes how you and your vet and your horse may participate in the research - it's pretty easy - submit a serum sample, and if that is positive there is an ongoing trial of the drug, Oroquin-10 (decoquimate, I'm told, although the web site doesn't say this - this is according to my vet/chiro), which is also fairly inexpensive, has been shown to be effective against protozoal disease in other species, and which is reportedly effective against three strains of EPM, including the two that have so far been detected in horses.  The page mentions a short-course oral paste treatment of the drug, but my vet/chiro indicated that there is a also a feed top dressing that is available for treatment for a three-month course.

To summarize, I am not advocating or not advocating this new test and treatment, as I have no personal experience with it, and I'm not vouching for the accuracy of the information on any of these sites - do your own research.  But I trust the judgment of our vet/chiro, and if I had a horse with EPM, I'd certainly be looking into it and you may wish to do the same - I thought it would be useful to put the information out there.

Another Clue to Pie's Grumpy Behavior

Yesterday I think we got another clue to Pie's recent somewhat grumpy behavior.  The vet came to do our fall shots - the horses got their flu/rhino shots and Pie also got his rabies shot (the rest of the horses get that in the spring but Pie's on a different schedule due to when he got his rabies shot in the fall last year before I got him).  So I've no personal experience with how Pie reacts to inoculations.

All my horses were perfect for the vet - I feel good about that.  The vet recommended not riding that day in case they were a bit stiff or sore or under the weather due to the shots.  Everybody looked good, until at about 7 p.m. our p.m. barn lady called me to say that, although Pie had eaten his dinner and had been eating hay, and had pooped and peed, he was now lying flat in his stall groaning.  She thought at first that he was snoring, as he was acting pretty unresponsive - she couldn't get him to even raise his head.  So I went over - the benefits of living very close by - and he was sitting up in a sternal position by that time but looking like he felt pretty awful.  Here's a video our p.m. barn lady took just before I got there - she thought at first that he was just sleeping and snoring.  He did get up after a few minutes, but still seemed pretty out of it - half-closed eyes and drooping head.  He didn't have a temperature but we may not have gotten an accurate reading as their was "poop in the pipeline", which will lower the reading you get.

I called our vet - fortunate that our vet doesn't charge for phone calls - and our regular vet was on duty.  She said that since there was no swelling at either injection site, that it was likely that it was just his immune system kicking into overdrive as a result of the shots, and that he felt a bit fluish - body aches and maybe a bit of a fever, like we may feel after a flu shot - that's certainly how he looked.  She had me give him 2 grams of bute to see if that would make him feel better, and within a very short time, he had perked right back up and was vigorously eating his hay.  I kept him in his stall last night to better monitor his manure and urine output, and he looked fine this morning.  His temperature was slightly elevated above his morning normal - it was 100.5 and his normal is usually sub-100 in the a.m. - so I gave him another gram of bute and sent him on his way to turnout - he trotted off happily.

Now here's the interesting part.  Those of you who have been following along will know that Pie's recently taken to being more crabby and even attempting to push people around - he actually bit another boarder a week or so ago.  Both last evening after the bute took effect and this morning, Pie was like a horse with a personality transplant - he was back to his original friendly, cheerful demeanor.  I suspect that he's got some underlying body soreness issues going on not related to the inoculations, and the bute took that away - he's looked tight in the back to me for a while, although he's not the slightest bit off.   So our chiropractor/vet will be coming out early next week to work on him.

And, while we were chatting, our chiro/vet mentioned to me that there's a new research testing protocol for EPM that is more accurate, and that there's also a lower-cost treatment that seems to be effective even in horses that have had relapses . . . more on that later.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The 15-Minute Rule Revised

As I try to get back the joy of horses, I've been thinking about the best way to do this.  I've always been a person who has to "push through" to get through hard times - if I just wait for inspiration to strike, it never comes - I just need to practice whatever it is, on a regular basis, and let the joy find its way back into the practice.  I don't know if that makes any sense to anyone else, but that's how it works for me.  For me it's a little bit like faith - if I keep practicing my faith, even with doubts and worries and discouragements, the real thing is more likely to show up - if I don't practice, the real thing - faith, or joy of horses - doesn't have the space and time to show up.

So here's what I'm doing right now with the horses.  My shoulder is giving me some trouble - not the area where the collarbone was broken, right at the end above my shoulder blade - it's fully healed (with a large bump) and my range of motion and strength are good.  Where it hurts, after I've been active for a while, although interestingly enough, riding isn't something that bothers it lot - oddly enough walking is the worst thing - it hurts on my back between my shoulder blade and spine - sort of a dull throbbing.  I expect there are ligaments and tendons in there that got rearranged in my accident.

Doing a good ride on one horse is about all I'm up to right now.  I've always had the 15-minute rule, which states that even if you don't feel like working, just do 15 minutes - either you'll get 15 minutes of work, or else you'll feel like going on longer when the 15 minutes have passed.  Sort of a version of putting one foot in front of the other.  Yesterday Pie and I had a 15 minute or so ride that didn't start so well and ended up acceptable by the end.  It was very chilly and very windy and he was frisky and distracted - I got some head shaking and a few protest grunts.  We did some walk and trot work, and it was OK, but nothing to write home about.

Today I went in with a different attitude - I wanted to work with Pie for a more extended time - if you make real progress in 15 minutes that's enough, but just marking time doesn't do it and doesn't help the horse (and me) develop a work ethic or reach a place where the horse and I can feel good about things.  So today, my objective was to work for an extended period - an hour if I could do it - with some specific objectives in the work.  For the other two - Dawn and Drift - my objective was to spend some good time with them - if only a good grooming and/or a hand graze.

Pie and I had a very good work session today, despite the chill and the winds.  We started, after he was saddled and bridled (over his halter and lead) with a 15-minute hand walk on the trail, taking some paths we've not been on recently.  I'm on zero tolerance with him for any nudges, pushes, head butts or forging ahead - he's not to put his head into my space, ever.  He's doing very well with this, and there was little testing behavior.  We walked, we looked, we stopped and stood, we walked some more.  Then I took him to the arena, took his bridle off and tied him - I haven't done this in the arena before.  He fussed and pawed for a bit as I set up poles - there was grass just out of reach - but settled down.

I set the poles in an arrangement where one pole faced east (the center pole), one to the north (to the left), and one to the south (to the right), with gaps in the middle between the ends for walking through.  There were also four cones in a line down the length of the arena off the rail - with young horses I rarely use the rail as it can create the illusion of straightness when the horse is actually crooked.  Pie and I bridled up and I mounted and we worked hard for about another 45 minutes at the walk and trot - circles, straight lines, turns on the haunches, spiral in/out, leg yield and various figures involving the cones and also the poles.  The poles should help strengthen his stifles.  He tends to overbend to the left and not bend well to the right, and also leg yields much better to the right (left bend) than to the left (right bend).  I worked a lot on activating his hind legs - at the walk, cuing in time with the barrel swinging away to cause that hind leg to engage (forwards) or step under (sideways).  He was really doing it, although he did struggle with using his right hind - I think it's his weaker one.

I was really pleased, and was tempted to get Drifter tacked up and ride, but my shoulder was hurting so Drifter and I just groomed and hand grazed.  Dawn and I also had a nice grooming session too.  It was a good day with horses, and I needed that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pie: Testing, Testing . . .

I think some of the changes in Pie's behavior, including his biting one of the other boarders, are arising out the transition he's made from still a baby horse to a mature horse.  Since I got him last November, he's grown several inches and has filled out and put on weight - he no longer looks like a young horse.  His herd status has changed, too.  When I got him, he was bottom of the herd in rank and often initiated play with the other geldings - he acted like a baby.  Now, although he ran from Drift chasing him when Drift was in with the others, Pie's the dominant gelding - I saw him today moving Scout around and he's also now dominant over Fritz, the old alpha, who's been disabled by injuries and foot problems and is in his 20s.  Pie also now rarely plays, but is more serious in his demeanor.

I think that it's likely that, now he's discovered he can move up in the horse world, he's trying on some things in his interactions with people - some of this may also come from the fact that he was handled extensively by people other than me - who may not have been as strict about boundaries as I am - while I was laid up.  He knows where he stands with me and the p.m. barn lady, and has never offered to bite either one of us, and continues to lead very nicely for me, including on a long walk we took together yesterday.  There was that odd episode when he pinned his ears at me, but I've been careful to always "answer" when he "asks" by pinning, nudging me or moving into my space - when he pinned at me in the pasture that time I immediately moved him back.  I expect what happened with the other boarder is that he "asked" her a question and she missed the ask and perhaps was in a hurry or not paying attention, and when she didn't give him an answer, he thought he'd try to take things a step further and do what he'd do to another horse - a firm bite to move her out of his space.  Since she didn't manage to immediately react, he's learned he can move her, and he might well try it on again with her or with someone else - we'll be keeping an eye out for that.  I've tested his demeanor and behavior on a number of occasions since then, by approaching him while he's grazing loose, for example, and in various grooming/leading/paddock/stall situations, and he's been just fine for me.

His increased "lookiness" when ridden may also be a sign that he's made the transition from baby (following the leader without much worry) to an adult horse who has to be in charge of himself and aware of his surroundings, and who may need to think about which human leaders he's willing to follow.  That's a natural stage for a horse to go through and I think we'll work through it just fine.

Pie is a personable horse, and easy for me to work with, although he isn't what I'd call cuddly - he's a bit standoffish and self-contained.  I think his basic somewhat "cool" personality, combined with his new-found adulthood, goes a way towards explaining his behaviors, both with horses and people.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pie Bites, and Several Good Rides

An odd thing happened on Saturday - on Saturday the boarders volunteer in rotation to bring the horses in and feed them.  Pie was in his paddock, and when Sugar's owner went to bring him in, as she led him out of his paddock gate and then turned to close the gate, he bit her on the upper arm.  He didn't break the skin, but you can see distinct tooth marks and her upper arm is very bruised and swollen.  Unfortunately she didn't say anything to him about it - she was too shocked and let the opportunity pass - so he may try it again, at least with her.  He's never bitten me or even tried to, so I can't imagine what must have caused this - not that it matters - biting is never excusable.  I cautioned her and the other boarders to never let slip any instance of ear-pinning or nudging, or pushing into their space - immediate backing should occur if any of those happen.  Pie has made a "Pie face" or two at me from time to time, but I immediately move into his space and back him up.  The only time he ever looked seriously mad at me was when I hissed at him - I haven't asked Sugar's owner if that's what she did, but something seriously bothered him (again, no excuse).  Very odd.  Yesterday when our regular p.m. barn lady was bringing in, I went up with her when she got Pie, and nothing out of the ordinary happened at all - or has ever happened in the nine months she's been leading him in 6 days a week.  Today I asked him to do various things for me - stop grazing, move away from, let me pick his feet while loose, and not once did he show any signs of crabbiness or aggression.  Whatever happened with Sugar's owner is a mystery to me - but I'll be keeping a close eye on him.

* * * * * *
I've had a series of very nice rides on all three of my horses.  Saturday I rode Dawn - first time in over three weeks.  Her neck is looking very good - just some bare black skin and a few remaining scabs and pleats - I actually groomed it gently with a soft curry and she seemed to enjoy it.  Whenever I ride Dawn, I have to adjust - she is so responsive and so forward that only a whisper of aids is required - otherwise you end up riding a rocket ship.  We did some lovely walk and trot work - not too long as she's out of shape - including spiral in/out and leg yield - with Dawn all you have to do is add a pound of pressure to the stirrup on the side you want her to move to and she's there.  It reminds me why I appreciate her despite her hot temperament and reactiveness - she really tells you about what you're doing (or over doing) - she teaches me to be subtle and quiet.

Sunday Pie and I tackled the trail again, by ourselves.  We rode out about a half mile - well out of sight of the barn, to where there's some nice grass and a set of rocks - I got off, loosened his girth and took his bridle off and let him graze for a bit.  Then I got back on and we rode a ways farther - the farthest we've been solo since our accident.  He was getting somewhat nervous and high-headed, so I dismounted and we walked together the rest of the way, stopping from time to time to admire the sights or look at strange objects.  He did very well, staying right with me but out of my space and adjusting his pace to mine.  We admired things like hockey nets, large farm sprinklers, laundry drying on lines, and other things. One bicycle coming up fast from behind caused him to scoot a few steps, but he calmed right down. I got back on close to the barn, and we rode around there for a bit.  It was good.

Monday, Drift was up.  It was warm and very windy, and he was great.  We had a short, intense work session in the arena, working on transitions and also spiral in/out, leg yielding and turn on the forehand.  He's really getting it and his overall softness and ability to concentrate are really improving.

* * * * * * *

I really appreciate all the kind/thoughtful words in the comments on my last post - it's a great and supportive horse blogging community that we have!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ashamed I Fell Off

You know that feeling where you really want to do something, but somehow can't bring yourself to do it, or don't feel right even when you do, or continue to have feelings of dread and anxiety when you think you should be happy because you're doing something you want to?  This is hard stuff for me to write about, but one thing I try to do in this blog is be as honest as I can.

I think I'm beginning to understand where my dread and reluctance to ride and work with my horses is coming from - it's because of the feelings I have when I think about riding, when I get ready to ride and even when I'm actually on board, although the negative feelings are usually reduced when I actually ride. Some of these feelings are ones I'd rather not experience, so like many of us do, I work hard to cover them up, replace them with activities or distract myself from them.  But feelings that aren't acknowledged and experienced don't go away, and often fester.  Horses have an advantage over people in this - they have feelings and the feelings are right there, expressed more often than not by behavior and body language.  Horses (that aren't shut down emotionally) pretty much don't stew over things, or fear their emotions - they just experience them, which can allow horses to get over things more effectively.

So I've been trying to take time - time when I'm not doing anything else, or distracted - to sit with my feelings, to allow them to emerge, without my attempting to shove them back down, or avoid them, or cover them up with activities.  As I do this - and it's an ongoing process - a lot of feelings want my attention - feelings of shame, fear, anxiety, irritation and lack of worthiness.  What I'm trying to do is just to let those feelings be what they are, without judging them (or myself for having them), or arguing with them, or rationalizing them, or trying to change them.  It's really no wonder that, when I approach working with my horses, that I feel disinclined - there are too many unacknowledged negative emotions simmering down there just under the surface.  I find that, if I can just let those emotions be properly felt and experienced, they can begin to loosen their grip on me and I can start to see a clearer path.  Just not riding except when I feel like it, or cutting down on my riding to reduce the pressure, isn't really a solution - as long as the feelings were unacknowledged, that really didn't help.

Shame is the dominant emotion right now - I'm ashamed that I fell off Pie in June.  (It's pretty clear to me now as my broken memory has slowly returned that I didn't have a cardiac problem that caused me to fall - it was a spook/spin at some fast-moving bicycles with flags on the back and the cardiac problem was likely due to the serious head injury.) It doesn't matter whether I should or shouldn't be ashamed, I just am.  There's a lot that goes into this - wounded pride (warranted or not) in my riding abilities, a feeling that I let my young horse down, a deep-down feeling that maybe I'm not good enough - a good enough rider, a good enough leader for my horses (I feel this in spades when I take Pie on the trail because his nervousness is a good "tell" that I'm not coming through for him),  or a good enough trainer to help my horses make progress on the way to being solid riding horses - hence the feelings of lack of worthiness.  Once again, I could argue whether these feelings are "valid" - justified by reality - but that really doesn't help since the feelings still need to be acknowledged in order to get past them.  And of course I'm afraid of getting hurt again - I've never been seriously injured in a riding fall before in all my long years of riding although I've had a few concussions - and don't trust my body to necessarily be up to the job of staying on - even though I could perhaps argue that it is.  My fear is actually primarily fear of the shame of failure - failure to do what I want, to do it effectively or to do it with the joy that I'd like to be there.  And so I've been approaching my riding with anxiety and irritation - everything bothers me and the joys, even the small ones, are washed out.

I'm hoping that beginning to acknowledge these feelings will begin to allow me to exercise the compassion towards myself - just letting even negative feelings to arise, be felt and allowed to pass through - that will give me a path back to the joy I know is there for me with horses.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Grazing in Formation, and More Yucky Dawn Pictures

Today it's cloudy and threatening to rain - a perfect day for taking photos!  I was taking some nature photos, but as always, I gravitated to the pastures (attracted by the black holes that are horses).  I visited a bit with Drifter in his turnout - as usual, I ended up pretty quickly with a nose shot:

But then he started looking for the mares, so I managed a profile view:

Sugar had to come up and say hi:

Dawn graced me with a nose shot:

Here's how her neck is looking - it looks nasty but it's actually on the way to being better:

In the worst areas, there's a lot of scabbing and the top layer of skin and hair is coming off - you can see the black skin underneath:

Dawn had enough of that, and said adios:

and went off to graze with Misty:

A distant shot of Sugar and Misty grazing in formation:

The three geldings were also grazing in formation - that's Pie in front, Fritz in the middle and Scout in the back:

And Fritz showed me his sweet face:

If the rain holds off, I might get in a ride later today . . .

Thursday, September 8, 2011

One at a Time

To take the pressure off for now, and to deal with the "dreads" and try to get the joy back into my riding, I've adjusted my riding schedule and goals.  For now, I'm going to the barn planning to ride only one horse a day.  If I feel like riding another horse, that's fine, but there's no requirement.  This means I can devote as much time to grooming as I want - I like to groom and all my horses enjoy it - and when I'm riding, I can take as long (or as short) as I want.  If I ride 6 days a week - that won't always happen because of weather or other things I have to do - each horse should get ridden at least two times a week.

My horses will still progress, and things will get accomplished, just not as quickly as they might.  I still believe that the ideal training schedule is 3 days on/one day off, or 5 days on, two days off.  But there's a lot to work on each time I ride, and that's enough, and all my horses are far enough along in their training that they won't "lose" things in between rides.

I've had three really nice rides over the last three days, so perhaps my new approach is working.  On Tuesday, Pie and I worked on the grassy area behind the barn, for a change, and did a lot of walk and trot work, including transitions - my objective was for him to be with me instead of with the horses in the pasture.  On Wednesday, Drift and I worked in the arena on his walk/trot work - not a single balk! - and also on turn on the forehand - he's making very good progress on that, and he was very focussed despite the stiff winds.  Today, Pie and I rode in the arena for a while, working on walking with energy in a straight line - remarkably hard to do and we used cones to help our focus - and also turn on the forehand, and walk/halt transitions and backing, with softness.  In the turn on the forehand work, all I wanted was one nice step around at a time - I go very slowly with this as it's easy to rush the horse who's figuring out how to move the legs.  Pie struggled a bit, but got it eventually.  Pie's a horse that can benefit from some arena work - he's got good basic training in a round pen and some diverse experience, but he needs work on his softness, responsiveness and basic things like riding in a straight line when the trail doesn't define the line - if you don't have soft and forward, you can't have straight. Then we took a brief trail ride with Sugar, whose owner was nice enough to include me on one circuit - despite the high wind (hence, no ride on Dawn - I don't ride Dawn in a high wind), Pie was very good and pretty relaxed.

Dawn's neck now has areas that are losing hair and the top layer of skin, but the skin underneath looks pretty good.  I'm continuing to gently scrub those with my fingers, using soapy baby shampoo water, and then letting her air dry and applying Thermazene antibiotic ointment.  At this point, it looks a lot like rain rot, but at least it's not on the saddle area.  If we get a warmer, less windy day, I'll be back on board Dawn and I think she'll appreciate the opportunity to work.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dawn Improves

The vet was out this morning to give Dawn her second set of antibiotic shots.  She said that, since there's no more swelling, I could stop using the DMSO/furacin (thank goodness, that stuff is nasty), and can stop the bute as well - Dawn'll get one more gram tomorrow a.m. to help her with any soreness from the shots. I'll keep her on probiotics for about the next week to make sure her insides keep functioning normally.  The neck is looking better every day - there are still some pretty nasty, crusty areas, and I'm to continue washing those with baby shampoo every day and gently scrubbing with my gloved fingers to remove crusties and then continue applying the Thermazene antibiotic creme.

And, since the swelling's gone and Dawn's feeling good, I can go back to riding her again, keeping the work light to start with.  So back into the rotation she goes.

The vet said we'll never be sure what prompted the swelling - it could have been a bacterial infection or a delayed immune system overreaction to the toxins in the stings.  As a result, we may need to be careful if Dawn's stung again, as she may now be more sensitive to stings.  Just another thing to add to the list of Dawn's medical oddities and list of accidents . . .

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bright Eyes, and Dealing With Dread

Dawn continues to improve - this morning she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed - eagerly eating breakfast and marching with energy to turnout (not draggy and dull like she's been) and then galloping off when I let her go.  And her skin is improving in areas - pictures later in this post.

Yesterday, although it was a beautiful day, I didn't ride, although I did take care of Dawn and give all three horses a quick grooming.  It was very windy and cool, and the horses were frisky, and that was the excuse I had for not hopping on, then on Sunday there was Dawn's vet visit, and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday it was too hot . . . you get the idea.  A horse and carriage came by (who knows what that was about?), and all the horses started bolting around their paddocks, and I was mentally pretty spooky too.  I almost forced myself to saddle up Pie and get on, and I might have felt better if I did, but then I said to myself, wait a minute.  All three of my horses have their basic training pretty much down, and some days off aren't going to hurt them - and they're all on all-day turnout so they're not going to be building up excess energy.  I spent a good part of my life being forced, or forcing myself, to do lots of things I didn't want to do, was scared to do or wasn't well-suited to do.  Sometimes that was necessary or a good idea - I'm fairly cautious and shy by disposition (which often results in my appearing strong or even aggressive on the outside - that's the forcing at work).  But sometimes it was just forcing.  Grimly saddling up and riding isn't my idea of fun.  I want my riding to be a joy, not just a duty - although I do feel that I have a duty to my horses to keep them working and in shape and learning.

I decided yesterday that since I was dreading riding so much, I wouldn't be able to provide my horse with confident leadership and so riding was a bad idea.  I'm not sure what I'm dreading - I'm a pretty competent rider (but as we know even competent riders can come off), and once I'm on and riding I'm almost always able to cope pretty well with what comes up.  It's the free-floated dread that's hard to deal with, and it's true that I'm pretty spooked about riding on the trail - that trail surface looks pretty darned hard - in fact I know it's like concrete.  I just chalked it up to a bad day and left it at that, and tried not to be disappointed in myself - to cut myself some slack.

I think I'll be able to ride today - it's a bit warmer and the wind's not as sharp as yesterday so that'll help.

This morning I spent some time taking pictures of the horses - I haven't done a lot of this lately and really enjoy it.

Drift was telling me that the mares were too far away:

The angle of the sun made his coat gleam - although he's pretty dusty:

I liked how the mares were back-lit and how each one's shadow stood out:

Here's Dawn's neck in close-up - the swelling is pretty much gone and some areas of skin are starting to look more normal - the white glop is medicine:

The pleating of the skin is also much reduced - the worst remaining area is by her shoulder:

But she's pretty darn shiny - except for dirt from rolling:

Pie was his usual handsome self - the next several photos are of him:

Gotta love that butt and full tail:

I liked the way his muscles stood out as he walked:

And his sturdy hind legs:

His mane's deep color stood out, and if you look closely at his shoulder, you'll see "bed marks" - he must have just gotten up from a nap in the grass - he often takes a nap a couple of hours after he's turned out:

Charisma was out sunning in her paddock, and her coat was gleaming too:

I hope everyone has a good day with horses!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Clean Plate Club

This morning it was cool - about 50F - and windy.  When I brought Pie in from his paddock - I got a big whinny in greeting - he was shaking and snaking his head and popping his front end up a bit (although very nicely staying behind me and completely out of my space) due to feeling frisky.  I was delighted to find that Dawn was somewhat more bright-eyed and had licked her feed pan clean last night - when our p.m. barn lady left last night Dawn still was refusing to eat dinner.  No diarrhea and no swelling at any of the injection sites - so far so good.  This morning she ate her breakfast with relish, which is normal for her, and when I had Drift in the aisle in front of her stall to spray him with fly spray, she squealed loudly and double-barreled her stall wall - Dawn's back! (and I think she's coming into heat as well).  After I gave her her bute and probios, and slathered on the DMSO/furacin, she walked out to turnout with more energy, although she's still obviously protecting her uncomfortable neck.  When I let her go, she galloped off (first day she's done this since she's been sick) and I saw a lovely lead change.  It's clear the antibiotic has started doing some good and I hope we're turning the corner on the cellulitis.

One of the things I like about being involved in the care of my horses is that in the mornings I'm usually the one who feeds them and turns them out, which means I can observe their demeanor in the stall, the condition of any manure in the stall and whether they've been drinking from their water buckets and have urinated, behavior while eating and also notice if they aren't eating normally.  Changes in demeanor or eating behavior, or behavior when being turned out, can often be a sign that something's not quite right.  We also have an excellent p.m. barn lady, who brings the horses in and feeds them 6 days a week (we rotate the 7th day) - she's really good at noticing the subtle behavioral changes that can indicate a problem.  I call this "eyes on the horse" - having someone who knows the horse personally and knows the subtleties of their normal behavior and is around and clued in enough to notice any changes.  I've had mixed, and often not good, experiences with this at boarding barns, although there are good boarding barns where people pay close attention to the horses.

A horse not eating, or behaving abnormally while eating, is to me a big red flag, even if the horse shows no other obvious signs of illness.  Unless the horse is unusually stressed or distracted by something going on in the barn or a new supplement has been added that the horse is unsure about, not eating means something.  It can be a sign of anything from infection, pain - either from an injury or mouth pain or pain while swallowing, colic, or a serious systemic problem like kidney or liver issues.  It means that all isn't right in the horse's world.  A horse that has ulcers will often eat hay but be unwilling to eat grain, or will display signs of aggression or pain when fed.

I'm hoping to get some rides in today - yesterday I had planned to ride, but Dawn and I had our vet visit and then one of our kitties - his name is Fat Cat and he's a very sweet grey tabby - somehow managed to injure one of his rear paws.  He came limping out in the afternoon, and it looked very much as if he had broken something - he wouldn't put any weight on the leg and the paw looked odd.  So off to the emergency vet he went.  He had broken several bones in his foot, and is now splinted and wrapped and seems much more comfortable.  We have no idea how he managed to do this and didn't hear or see it happen - he's an indoor kitty  and all we can figure is he fell off something or got it caught on something.  So it was a day with vets, instead of riding, but that comes with having animals.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dawn's Treatment Plan

The vet came out this morning and we began implementing Dawn's new treatment plan.  The swelling is much better as a result of the DMSO treatment last night, and the heat is gone, although the skin is still badly pleated and shedding dead skin and some serum. And boy does Dawn stink! - that nasty DMSO garlicky/rotten egg smell has to be experienced to be believed - I could smell her from outside the barn as I walked up.  Dawn is still somewhat lackluster - not her usual hyper alert self - although she's eating her hay and drinking.  She didn't want her a.m. pellets, but we think that's due to the bad odor/taste of the DMSO in her system - that should fade over the next day or so and there's nothing absolutely essential in her pellets.  There's no temperature and her blood work is back to normal. She's off the Uniprim, as she'd already had a 4 day dose and the swelling and heat was starting to come back again.  She's now on Exceed, which is a cephalosporin antibiotic.  This antibiotic is administered in 2 doses, 4 days apart.  There is some incidence (about 4%) of injection site reactions to this drug, partly due to the volume administered, and to minimize the chances of reactions, the vet split the dose into three separate injections.  I'll keep a close eye on the injection sites for any swelling.  There is also some incidence (about 9%) of mild to more serious diarrhea from this drug, so I'll be watching for that, too, and also giving her daily probiotics.  The vet was also glad that she's on full-day pasture turnout, as that should help minimize problems - movement and grazing will be helpful both to prevent injection site trouble and also to keep her digestive system working properly.  This is, in my opinion, not a drug that should necessarily be used in a horse that won't be carefully monitored over the multi-day period the antibiotic is active.

In the afternoons, I'm to slather her neck with Thermazene, which is an antibiotic creme often used to treat burns in humans - she's had her first application and seemed to find the creme soothing.  In the mornings, I'll apply a DMSO/furacin ointment, and then gently bath the area in the afternoon before putting on the antibiotic.  I'll be using gloves for both treatments, as I'm allergic to sulfa (which is in the Thermazene) and you don't want to get DMSO on your skin.  She'll continue to get a.m. and p.m. bute for now.

Cellulitis often takes a while to resolve and requires multiple treatments, as we're experiencing.  The vet thinks this treatment plan has good prospects to get Dawn on the road to complete healing - here's hoping.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dawn's Not Quite Right, and Another Vet Visit

This morning, Dawn had a new small area of swelling on the bottom surface of her neck several inches below her chin, and by this afternoon it was larger, extending for about 5 or 6 inches down her neck.  And several of the pleated areas on the side of her neck were hot and clearly sore to the touch.  And although she didn't have a temperature, her demeanor was slightly depressed and she wasn't herself - she was quieter than normal and not as bright-eyed.  I called the vet, and fortunately, our regular vet was on call and came very quickly.  She agreed with me that swelling and heat shouldn't be returning after 4 days on antibiotics, and that it was clear that things weren't heading in the right direction.

So Dawn will be switching to a new injectable antibiotic tomorrow (details later), and tonight the vet, in addition to drawing blood to check her status, also sedated her and gave her DMSO through a nasogastric tube to help the inflammation and swelling.  We've bumped her bute back up to 2 grams morning and evening, and I'll also be doing a DMSO sweat on the pleated and swollen parts of her neck.  Once she's recovered from sedation, she can eat her normal rations and hay, and can go to turnout.  The vet said the DMSO should make her feel a bit better by tomorrow.

I think she's going to be fine, but this cellulitis (or vasculitis - the vet said it could be either) is hard to get under control, and takes careful watching.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Three Horses: A Photo Essay (Including Butts, Distinguishing Marks and a Yucky Neck)

I haven't done a photo post in a very long time, and some of you may not have ever really "met" my horses, so today I managed to drag the camera to the barn.

First, let's get Dawn's yucky neck out of the way.  It continues to look pretty nasty, but so far there are no open areas, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  Here's the pleating of the skin that I was talking about:

And here's the nastiness, which is skin and hair peeling off:

It's actually not as bad as it looks and it's not sensitive to the touch.  The swelling is now almost gone - just a little bit left between her front legs.

But Dawn's actually a very pretty, feminine mare.  She's a TB, 14 years old, and we've had her since she was 4.  She's actually very sturdy for a TB - she's about 15.1 and fairly short-coupled, with good overall balance, although she's very slightly downhill, and has very nice feet and legs - her hind end isn't as straight as it looks in the photo and she has pretty nice angulation:

For a horse that hasn't been worked that much this year, her hindquarters are looking pretty good (I had to put the word "butt" in the title - what sort of hits should that get?!):

Dawn is all bay, with no white anywhere, but she does have a number of distinguishing marks (she also has a lip tattoo since she raced), of which I keep photos in case of a need to identify her.  She has acquired most of these marks due to her tendency to have accidents of various types (in addition to odd illnesses).  On the right side of her barrel, there's a large triangular scar:

On the top of her right front leg, another scar:

And yet another scar on the right side of her chest, along with a "dent" in the middle:

And there are lots of other dings and dents . . .

Pie has just turned 5, is a QH and I've had him since November of last year.  He's slightly long in the back, and is a bit lankier than Drifter, and I think he's about 16 hands (he grew a couple of inches since I got him).  His overall balance is pretty good, and he has outstanding feet and legs (he's standing on a slight uphill slope):

His butt's developing nicely with the work we're doing:

He's got a couple of interesting distinguishing marks.  He's got a brand on his left thigh that only shows when he's in his summer coat:

And he has an interesting whorl on the right side of his neck just below the crest - I call it his "galaxy" - it's a circular whorl just to the right of another triangular hair pattern:

But then of course, his most distinguishing characteristic is his head and face, with his very deep jowl, slightly Roman profile and white markings - I like to think of him as rugged - that's my Pie!:

Drifter is also a QH, is 10 years old, and I've had him since the end of March.  He's quite heavily built, although not in a halter horse sort of way.  I think he's 14.3 hands, but his barrel is so substantial it fits my leg just fine.  He's short-coupled, very muscular, has excellent legs and feet, and his overall balance is very good.  His shoulder is unusually nice - great angle and width and heart depth.  He's got the potential to be a real athlete:

His hindquarters are coming along nicely too - when I got him he was pudgy and out of shape but that's a thing of the past (he's standing on a sight slope here so he's not quite even):

He's got a couple of interesting distinguishing marks - a "thumbprint" on the right side of his neck (I forgot to get a picture of that), and two matching whorls, one on each side of his barrel just in front of the hindquarters, with a raised "seam" of hair running under his belly between the two whorls:

He has a lovely face and head - big, broad, deep jaw and small muzzle - and his expression is often alert:

I enjoyed taking those photos - I'll have to do that again soon!