It’s been a long time since I have written. To be honest, it has been a long time since I have felt like writing. A lot has happened in the few months since I last posted, and while I usually like to keep this blog strictly about Shady and Indy, I feel a brief touch into my life will help explain the direction we are going in the future.
To say that it has been a stressful few months might be an understatement; however it has been all for the good and I certainly have come out far ahead of where I ever imagined.
More detailed blogs are to follow, on most topics, but an overview will help me create a timeline while allowing me to jump around a little. My year started with an incredible trip to Germany where I learned a new trade – saddle flocking and repair. This has truly allowed my business to explode; I have been incredibly busy and having a great time meeting wonderful new people and being able to help them and their horses has provided me with immense satisfaction.
Getting away from everything and focusing on a new trade allowed me an opportunity to truly evaluate my personal life and the direction I wanted to be going.
It was difficult, as most change is, but I had to put myself first and stop wasting energy in a stagnant, emotionally exhaustive relationship. I was ready to move forward with my life, and unwilling to put any more effort into someone who wasn’t ready to do the same for me. So, I left the key on the table, walked out the door forever, boarded a plane and went to represent Stubben at Rolex.
Upon coming back, I moved into my newly purchased home. The timing was perfect, and it is everything I needed. I’ve taken some time to truly make it my own, upgrading and fixing; and now, finally, Indy and Shady are spending their first night at home. They love their new grass fields and are content now in their stalls. They will be living outside for most of the year, which will really make them happy. Soon Indy will have a friend joining them, which will be another exciting moment.
KC, my little cat, has really settled into farm life, and is thoroughly enjoying her time chasing mice in the fields and hanging out in the barn. I was feeling bad about all my travel time and one day found her a kitten to have as her very own. She was scared at first, as her previous cat-mate had been rather nasty to her, but as I type she and the kitten are running around the house playing. I’m happy she has someone for when I am traveling for work. Plus, this kitten is highly entertaining and cute as cute could be!
Six months ago I could never have imagined sitting here where I am. I never realized how badly I needed change and how good it would ever be for me. I’ve got my own farm, a growing business, and the world ahead of me.
Now that Indy lunges well, the next logical step seemed to be to add tack. He’s already used to wearing blankets, a surcingle, and a saddle pad. One night, after a good grooming, I casually put on his saddle pad and a saddle. A friend loaned me a small kids saddle, older and well used, just in case of incident. While it doesn’t fit him well, there will be no weight in it and it isn’t tight enough to cause any discomfort. When he is further along he will get his own saddle!
I tightened the girth as normal, acting like this was a regular occurrence. Indy remained calm, resting a hoof and staying relaxed. Once in the indoor I tightened the girth a little more, just about one hole looser than if I were going to ride. I don’t want it loose enough that it could slide or move at all.
He lunged completely normal, seemingly not noticing the saddle. At the trot, the saddle flaps began to bounce a little, making a flapping noise. I had taken the stirrups off for now. His ears flicked back and I could see him tense his back a little in response. I encouraged him to trot on, telling him he was a good boy in a soothing voice. He relaxed.
When we changed direction I tightened the girth one more hole. He then lunged well in the opposite direction. As he was so good and attentive, I checked the girth one more time and let him loose. It is a good reward for him as well as a good opportunity to let him figure out the saddle on his own. There was some bucking and leaping around, but not more than I would say is normal. When he really got going the saddle flaps were louder but he accepted the noise readily.
I knew adding the bridle would take more getting used to. While young horses are generally happy to take the bit, confusion takes over when they cannot eat it or spit it out. I put it on in his stall first, without his halter, and let him figure it out on his own for a few minutes. I had taken his hay out of his stall as I didn’t want him to try and eat with it in. I then took it off, patted him profusely, and groomed him.
A few days later we put the bridle on again, this time with the halter over it, and went for a walk. He chomped and played with it, occasionally tried to rub it off on me, but quieted down as we walked on, becoming more distracted by his surroundings.
For the third time, we wore the bridle while being groomed, then added our saddle and headed out to the ring. As you can see in the video, he was great. He didn’t get the chance to run around first so there was a little bit of inattentiveness. He is infatuated with the horse in the mirror (you can see him constantly looking toward the left side of the video). He had a few moments leaping around (which I found hilarious) but was overall very, very good. We went for about 8 minutes total, then I untacked him right in the ring and let him go as a reward.
We haven’t lunged since then as the weather has been either too cold, or nice enough that we can go for a walk outside instead. I have been spending time taking the bridle off and on, walking with it or grooming with it on. Eventually we will start leading of the bridle as he will be wearing the bridle in his in hand shows this year. By that time, it will be old hat!
In following up with my recent post about COPD in Horses, I wanted to share what I have done to keep Shady’s COPD at bay.
Environment and forage are two main considerations when managing a horse with COPD. The best situation for a horse with this issue is to live outside. In most cases, like mine, this isn’t always possible. If they must be stalled for part of each day, take a good look at ventilation. In the summer, make sure the stall has some air flow – open the window, hang a fan, put up a stall guard, etc. Keep the stall as clean as possible as ammonia from urine can trigger symptoms. If the bedding is dusty at all, wet it down. Keep in mind that the majority of the time a horse is in their stall their heads are down – eating, laying down, etc. They don’t need to breathe in dust that is being kicked up from their bedding. Also, ammonia is fairly heavy and tends to stay close to the ground.
I’ll never forget the cold day in March when I stepped out of my car to see Shady, standing in her paddock, coughing. She looked miserable. We had been soaking her hay already, but clearly more drastic action needed to be taken. My first plan of action was to take away her hay and get her some Ventipulmon. This is a bronchodilator that works by dilating the bronchioles, bringing inflammation down and making it easier for her to breathe. It is an oral medication prescribed by a vet. She took it for many days and then was slowly weaned off of it.
Secondly, I needed to get her off of the barn hay. Upon further inspection the new batch of hay we had just gotten in had mold spores. Mold spores cannot be killed or neutralized by soaking. Not wanting to take any chances, I went out and got chopped hay. The chopped hay, or dengi as it is more commonly known, is high temperature dried, a process that kills mold spores and other fungus. It is then lightly mixed with a low sugar molasses which makes the bale dust free. I got her a wide, shallow bucket for her dengi, that kept it from being on the ground or getting mixed in with her shavings in her stall. I bought her several 5 gallon buckets with lids so I could make up her hay for the day, labeling each meal to make it easy for the barn staff. Although it is rare for young horses to develop COPD, I did the same for Indy. I wanted to make sure he was getting good quality hay and not take any chances.
In one report I read it was noted that dusty hay is the most common cause of COPD in horses – a link that was established over 400 years ago. So why is this still an issue?
I think there are a lot of factors contributing to poor hay quality. Loss of land is an obvious one. Transportation costs are always rising, so not being able to buy local hay increases costs quite a bit. Storage is always an issue; not just having storage space to keep a big order of hay but also making sure it is properly stored and won’t get wet or be in direct sun. Then there is the cost of hay and board costs. Sadly, barn owners are being forced to cut costs and all too often they cut corners on nutrition.
Back to COPD – what can owners do to keep their horses breathing well? It is hard when you board and have very little control over the hay supply. In my case, I took the time to meet with the barn manager, show her the issue, and then meet with all the barn staff. I showed them what moldy hay looked like as well as good quality hay. I provided them with a bucket to make soaking as easy as possible and explained the process. I only have them soak the hay for 15-30 minutes. For Shady, I’m not soaking to lower NSC, just to reduce any dust. To me, education is very important and this has been key in managing my horse’s hay. I also keep a close eye on the hay supply and if anything looks suspicious I bring it to the staff’s attention.
Steaming the hay is another option, though not one for me at the moment, although it would actually make the barn efforts easier, especially in the winter. Steaming is a high temperature process that kills spores, removes dust and irritants, and softens the hay, making it safe. Seeing as how this condition is something I will have to manage for the rest of Shady’s life, I imagine a hay steamer in my future.
I like to supplement Shady with Omega 3 fatty acids. I had originally put her on them when she was pregnant with Indy. The purpose then was actually quite similar. Many of our commercial diets are high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 actually promotes the inflammatory response in the body. Omega 3 helps prevent inflammation. I had put her on it originally to help with swelling caused by her Lyme disease; now I like the anti-inflammatory properties to help keep her airways unrestricted.
Soaking her grain is another option I do as well, and she likes the warm, mash like meals.
Being at the barn everyday and keeping on top of things isn’t always a viable solution for everyone. I realize that not everyone can do this, nor does everyone want to. I would recommend starting by voicing your concerns to the manager/owner and perhaps that is all you need. If your barn is unwilling to acknowledge or correct the issue, it may be time to relocate. COPD is not reversible!
When I’m at the barn at night I like to have their doors open to help encourage airflow. Here is Indy experiencing his first stall guard.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is also known as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) or Heaves. It is a problem that can be treated, but, once a horse has it, never cured.
With my mare, it began slowly, a cough when we would pick up the trot, then nothing more that day. An occasional cough when she was in her stall. Then it became several coughs while trotting, often bringing us back to the walk until she cleared her throat. I blamed it on the cold, dry weather, added some oil to her feed, and soaked her hay in the barn at night. The hay was a little dusty, but not moldy.
It seemed to do the trick; she stopped coughing and we could go back to full work. About a month later however, she was coughing on a trail ride, couldn’t trot, and was coughing while standing still in her paddock. I noticed that she, Indy, and several other horses in the barn weren’t finishing their hay. Upon closer inspection I saw that we had gotten in a batch of hay that was not only dusty, but had mold spores in it as well.
I of course was furious, as now my horse has a lifelong issue and will require more work to maintain on my end. I decided to explore more into this affliction so I can best manage her.
COPD can manifest itself in numerous ways in the horse. It most commonly shows as a cough which is caused by the horse trying to expel mucus through narrowed airways. The narrowing can be caused by inflammation (due to irritation from allergens), tightening of surrounding muscle, and thickening of the tissue surrounding the airway. When the cells in the lungs are exposed to allergens, such as fungal spores, mold, and dust, the body responds by producing cells that thicken the tissue and produce mucus – the body’s defense mechanism. Extra effort is required for the horse to bring their regular volume of air through these thickened, narrow passageways. The more the horse is exposed to the allergen, the more sensitive the lungs become, the more difficult it is to breath. This shows up as an increased respiratory rate (above the normal 8-12 breaths per minute) and a longer recovery after exercising.
In addition to the cough, horses may also develop nasal discharge. The discharge comes from increased airway secretions – the body’s attempt to heal itself. These secretions can also cause further obstruction of the airway.
The term heaves came from the increased respiratory efforts required by the horse, simply put, labored breathing. These horses will often have a “tucked up” appearance, with a line of abdominal muscles called the “heave line”. This is caused by the increased effort by the abdominal muscles to force the air out of the lunges during expiration. When listening with a stethoscope, one will often hear wheezing when the horse breathes.
An extreme complication of heaves is a bacterial infection (such as pneumonia) resulting from bacteria becoming trapped in the airway.
Diagnosis of this condition is based mostly on history. Your vet will want to know when your horse has coughed and any discharge they have been having. A physical exam may include a re-breather test, where a bag is placed over the horses nose for a brief period to increase their respiratory rate. The vet will listen with a stethoscope for any abnormal breath sounds. This may also induce coughing from your horse.
A Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) is another test that can be done, which would show whether or not there is inflammation in the lower airways and rule out infection. This test is not usually necessary to diagnose COPD, but rather used to rule out other issues.
If your horse is displaying any of these symptoms, no matter how minimal, it is best to take action now before it gets any worse. In my next blog post, I’ll talk about prevention and maintenance.
Everyone keeps asking me ” when are you going to get on Indy? When do you think you’ll start riding him?” My answer is the same every time. When he is ready. I’m in no hurry. There is no agenda. Horses will tell you when they are ready, if you actually listen to them. I pay careful attention to Indy’s attitude, body language, and especially to the limits of his attention span. There is no point in “drilling” him and no benefit to pushing him beyond what his young brain can handle right now.
On the other hand, I do have to keep his mind busy. That’s the trouble with the smart ones; they need new challenges. While Shady would behave and perform the same exercises day in and day out, I can feel her spirit diminish if I spend too much time on one idea. A few years back I had a lovely thoroughbred who would have gladly trotted a 20 meter circle day in and day out all year round. He was a sweetheart, but not the brightest. I love the intelligence I am seeing in Indy.
One night, without having planned to do it, we lunged. He had been inside due to lousy weather, so I brought him in the indoor to stretch his legs. He ran and jumped, bucked and reared, entertaining himself and myself. I can see so much of Shady in him. He will run up to me, just like her, stop, blow loudly out his nose, and explode off again. After about 20 minutes he stopped, licked and chewed, and calmly walked over as if to say “ok, I’m all done here.”
I stared at him, standing quietly and submissively next to me, as he huffed and puffed. I put his halter on and we began walking. We practiced a few transitions between walk and halt as we walked. He’s very good at voice commands. As we walked, I slowly let the lead out and we walked in a large circle, with him at the end of the lead. We did more transitions. He listened, staying out on his circle. We switched sides. He listened. He licked and chewed and showed all the submission signs, behaving like a pro. I unclipped his lead and we cooled out together, walking along side by side without speaking.
A few nights later we repeated the process, only this time I put a lunge line on. He walked on, making the circle bigger and bigger, until it was a full 20 meter circle. He walked, he halted, and he walked on again. He just got it. Most other youngsters I’ve started have needed a helper to lead on the outside of the circle. The exception, of course, being Shady, who also just got it.
About a week later, we tried again, and added in a trot transition in each direction. He pulled a little, but stopped when he realized he was at the end of the line. Our circle may have bulged out in places, but overall we still had a round shape.
I bought him his own surcingle, put it on, snugged it up, and nothing happened. We walked, then tightened again and nothing happened. He didn’t care. I’ve put plenty of things on him before, just getting him used to blankets, pads, etc being on him. Now it doesn’t faze him.
I left him run around with the surcingle on, giving him a chance to figure it out on his own. He was his usual self, bucking leaping and playing, seemingly not noticing the different sounds and feel of the surcingle. We then did a lunging session with it on, doing three trot transitions and three walk/halt transitions in each direction with lots of praise.
I keep our sessions very short, with not more than 10 minutes total on the lunge. The majority is at the walk, with no more than 2-3 trot circles at a time. I keep our circles as big as I can, walking along myself to keep it bigger than the lunge line length. We don’t canter; maybe a few excited strides here and there but I immediately ask him back to the trot. We don’t lunge very often and don’t plan to, maybe once per week or less. There is no need to drill him or stress his joints. This is all concept training, something we can use to develop our partnership, introduce new things, and give him some semblance of a job. He seems to take pride in his work.
When I got a text from my friend saying “the results are in. Rotavirus. Call me for more info.” I’m pretty sure I called her before her finger left the phone after hitting send. She wasn’t surprised. It was baffling to me, and apparently to the internal medicine specialist vet at the clinic, as he called the lab to ask them to double check the tests and run it again. They already had, as they too were baffled after seeing Indy’s age.
What is so baffling about this diagnosis? Or perhaps you are asking more basic, what is Rotavirus? I was familiar with the disease in preparing for Indy’s arrival, but decided to do a little more digging to get all the facts.
Rotavirus is a viral infection. It is seen in many species, including horses and humans. In the case of equine Rotavirus, it does not have the ability to be transmitted across species, nor from human to horse. In humans, it is very common in young children and typically by the age of 5 they have developed an immunity.
Rotavirus is the most common cause of foal diarrhea. Over 50% of foal diarrhea is caused by Rotavirus, with some studies reporting as high as 70%. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, electrolyte imbalance, and, albeit rare, death if left untreated.
It is baffling that this is Indy’s diagnosis because it is nearly unheard of for a horse over the age of 6 months to get it. Indy, at 16 months, should have developed immunity and just shed the virus from his system. Foals ingest Rotavirus from infected feces and typically develop symptoms within 1-2 days. Once in the system, the virus replicates in the GI tract and attaches itself to the epithelium of the villi in the small intestine. This then disrupts the digestive process, causing decreased metabolism, absorption, and digestion. It greatly affects water absorption, which contributes to diarrhea. The intestine responds to the large volume of food not being digested by producing more digestive fluids, in an effort to flush the food out of the body. This in turn overwhelms the large intestine, which is responsible for water and fluid absorption, causing more water to pass through the horse, leading to very watery diarrhea.
There is no “cure” for Rotavirus; the only option is to treat the symptoms and wait for it to pass. Rotavirus is highly contagious as the virus replicates extremely quickly. A single foal can shed millions of Rotavirus particles in one small particle of manure. Prevention is key – an affected foal will shed the virus for about 10 days, with a rare possibility of them shedding the virus asymptomatically for a few months. Rotavirus is not affected by bleach and can survive in the environment for up to 9 months. The human strain has also been found in water sources. Pregnant mares can be vaccinated for Rotavirus, however even those foals can still contract the disease, though the symptoms are typically more subdued.
Treatment includes fluid treatment (IV fluids if necessary), electrolytes, probiotics (to help support the hindgut), and, in extreme cases, tubing water and nutrients directly into the stomach.
In Indy’s case, he did not have diarrhea. He had a fever, which in turn caused him to feel lethargic, weak, and reluctant to drink. He may have been having some digestive upset as well, which would explain why he didn’t want to drink. Eating was only an issue when his fever was high.
Our theory is that Indy somehow came into contact with Rotavirus recently, despite not being around any young foals. The virus doesn’t live long in the digestive system as the epithelial cells where the virus lives are always replicating, sloughing off the old ones and constantly creating new cells, so the thought that he had been harboring it for a while is unlikely. Having a strong immune system, Indy didn’t react by getting diarrhea, but rather instead just developed a response to a virus – a fever. There have been some cases of healthy foals who are shedding the virus, but not showing diarrhea. I guess I can be grateful that this means Indy has a very healthy immune and digestive system, and I did pretty good to keep him from being exposed for so long!
Indy decided to give me a bit of a scare over the past few days. I had had a very busy weekend working and I guess he felt he needed more attention. I had gone to the barn Saturday night and he was his normal self. Sunday night, however, he hadn’t finished his dinner grain, quite unusual for him. It had been pouring rain all day, remnants of Hurricane Matthew, and the horses had stayed in for the day. Indy pawed a little and was stretching so I took him and Shady to the indoor to run around some. Indy started off a little quiet – standing confused while his mother tore around the indoor acting like a child. He then ran around with her some as well, kicking up his heels and getting some good energy out. We walked for a bit to cool down and each had a thorough grooming. Indy then finished his dinner and resumed eating his hay. I thought perhaps he had had a little gas buildup from being stuck inside all day, not moving.
I headed to the barn mid afternoon Monday after catching up on a lot of work leftover from the weekend. Indy had eaten his breakfast, drank, and finished his dinner hay from the night before. Barn staff said he was quiet going out in the morning, but otherwise normal. When I went out to get him however, he told me otherwise.
He walked up to me, sluggish, and put his lovely head into my arms. He gave a couple sad little paws at the ground with his hoof, trying everything he could to communicate that something was wrong. Walking into the barn he was slow and kept his nose as close to in my hand as he could. He would stop and stand, taking a break, then continue after a pat.
I took his temp as soon as we were in. 104. The normal horse temp, in case you don’t know, is 99-101. 104 is terrifying to me. Three of Indy’s hooves were quite warm to the touch. I don’t know why the fourth one wasn’t, he must have been standing in a cool area with it or something. I ran for the oral Banamine and, much to Indy’s dismay, squirted it down his throat. We then slowly walked down to the clinic. I wanted to do bloodwork as soon as possible, as it often takes a bit to get the results back.
Thankfully, I have wonderful friends that work in the clinic who were extremely supportive and quickly jumped in to help. They drew blood to send out to a lab and also some to take a look at there in the clinic. The good news was that his bloodwork looked normal – nothing elevated other than his SAA levels. SAA refers to a protein which is made in the liver. It is part of the acute line of defense, part of the first stage of response to inflammation, trauma, stress, etc. It seemed as though we were catching something in the early stages but we weren’t sure of what yet.
While all we had for a symptom was sudden onset of fever, anaplasmosis was a likely possibility in all of our minds. Shady had had it a year ago, from the one lousy tick I found on her all year. She too had only exhibited a fever, with lethargy and diminished appetite as a side effect of the fever. She had actually been able to beat it on her own, without medication, only Banamine to keep the fever at bay. We decided to start him on Oxytetracycline to get a start in treating it.
I stayed with Indy until late night, waiting for the Banamine to kick in and for him to start feeling more comfortable. I scolded myself over and over again for not taking his temp Sunday night. I had been so sure he just needed to move, and maybe he did. His feet hadn’t felt warm at all, he had returned to his normal self after running around some, and was himself in the morning. Maybe he had just been starting to have some physiological changes.
His temp dropped down to 101 and he returned to being himself. I felt that the Banamine and Oxytet were doing their job and headed home for the night.
The next morning my friend texted me and said his temp was back up to 104. I raced to the barn and found the staff at his paddock, explaining how he “looked drunk”. He was weak and looked tired. Looking at his stall from the night before you wouldn’t have guessed. He had eaten his breakfast, eaten his hay, and pooped normal, though a little dry. The only sign of worry was that he hadn’t drank as much as normal.
We headed back down to the clinic for IV Banamine and also to submit some manure for testing too. We hung out in the clinic for most of the day, me sitting in his stall for company and to keep an eye on his food and water intake. He found my iPad to be quite fascinating.
His temp was down and he was feeling himself by early afternoon. It was a beautiful day outside, so I put him back out with his best bud. He did get a drink, played some bitey face, and then napped in the sun, trying to rest his chin on Cal’s back. I headed home for a late lunch and returned a couple hours later.
Upon coming back he was getting lethargic again. I hoped he was just tired from a long day of battling whatever it is. Sadly, I saw that his temp was rising again. As much as I hated to do it, we gave him more Banamine and his dose of Oxytet. The Banamine dosage we were using was less than full strength in an attempt to control the fever with minimal amounts. It was back to the waiting game.
By 9pm his temp was down to 101.3. He was eating well, still not drinking a lot, and laying down to rest often. I actually had given him his dinner “in bed” so to speak, as he was laying peacefully but really wanted to eat. Some people would have said not to feed him, but he was passing manure normally and I thought it best to keep his strength up. His hay is always soaked and I soaked his chopped alfalfa to at least get some more water in him.
I left him to rest while I had dinner and showered. At 11:30pm I got a call from the woman doing night check that his temp was up again to 104 and he was cold. I grabbed some warm clothes and headed back, for what I knew would be a long night. Driving up I began to get really worried; why wasn’t the Banamine keeping the fever down longer? Why has the Oxytet not kicked in? What is wrong with my boy???
One of the interns met me at the barn and we gave Indy a different antipyretic that isn’t an NSAID and has less negative effects on the GI tract. It would take a little longer, but hopefully last longer and be more gentle. It was a little too soon to give him more Banamine anyway, and it clearly was not helping too much!
I settle into my chair with his door partially open so we could see each other and chat. He would poke his head out and see what TV show I was watching or try to help me write an email. He would lay down, nap, get up, eat, and repeat. While he was definitely uncomfortable, he wasn’t acting colicky or as if in a lot of pain. I resisted the urge to check his temp every five minutes and resorted to feeling his feet. Those are a pretty good indicator of his temp.
Maybe it was the exhaustion, or perhaps the cold, or maybe it really happened. Whatever it was, at about 4am Indy looked at me and I knew it was over. I swear he got up, looked me in the eye, sighed contentedly and said “it’s over, I’m good, you can go home and rest now.” His temp was creeping down, then at 102.8. Still high, but it finally was breaking. He got a drink, turned to eat, and dismissed me with a swish of his tail. I went home feeling relieved and safe.
I awoke to a text from my friends saying that it had taken two of them to take my “wild” horse’s temp. He wasn’t being too naughty, rather just politely saying “you can stay out of my bum now, thanks.” His temp was down to 100.3 and he was himself.
Since that 4am moment he has returned to normal, with a low temp, good appetite, and he is back to being a good drinker. Of course, now that it is over, we got the lab results back. Before I share the diagnosis, I would love to hear what you think it could have been, based on our experience. My next blog post will be all about the disease!