"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another Pair of Ears

And they are mine.

And yes, I'm shamelessly copying Mel's way of introducing a new horse just because I thought it was so brilliant!

I present to you, my friends, Gracie.

This photo barely does her mane justice!
Charles says she looks like a cool surfer chick: tan with the bleached blonde hair. He insists I should call her Roxy, after the surfer girl's brand. I know a couple of Roxy animals and I just don't like the name for her; she really does look like a Gracie and she responds to the name so well. It's part of the reason why I called Lily "Lily" - it was very similar to the name she came with, "Lely", which means she has responded to it from day 1. Gracie's registered name is "Milli-On-Aire" (Charles asked, "So technically you have a Lily and a Millie?" Yeah that has a ring to it, but no! I don't like Millie as an animal name, personally. Nothing against Millies out there; just personal preference!), which is kind of cool if you think about it..."Aire" would have been an awesome name that would have worked both in Spanish and English, but it sounds nothing like "Gracie". Her mom that loves her so much gave her that name; I'm not changing it.
She is a young Rocky Mountain Horse that I'd been exercising for several weeks now. I've mentioned her in passing in the past - she was the first horse to be switched to field board since our arrival at this barn and was Lily's first companion in the field. She can be a treat hound that loves attention, initially to the point where she would try to chase other horses away so SHE could get first dibs on petting. Lily finally started standing up to her when I walked in the field. Lily didn't care about getting attention from other people but I am her person. Funny enough, Lily and Gracie became friends after that. I think Gracie was the leader of the herd and Lily was the second in command. It was common to see them grazing away from the herd, especially as the herd became smaller in the more recent months (several boarders have moved away; newcomers have been geldings so far, so they have been going in other fields).

Gracie has some of the smoothest gliding gaits I've ridden in a long time. I've ridden Pasos and TWH but had yet to experience the gaits of a Kentucky Mountain Horse. They are one of the few breeds that can maintain that same smooth gait over rough terrain.

I can confirm that this is true.


Looking like an Andalusian while chugging away down the trail!
To the point of being very forward on the trail. Which I honestly don't mind. She had not been ridden in over 6 months so she's being brought along slowly: shorter trail rides while rebuilding her confidence and fitness. She has a slightly wonky stifle so the trail and some basic dressage work in the arena are the perfect remedy.

Gracie loves to lead but sometimes needs mental breaks. She also has questions about obstacles on the trail, like fallen tree trunks and water crossings, questions that are often brought up with a stop and a spin, or a cow kick or buck, all things to be expected of a young horse. However, she is brilliantly smart, with a sense of humor, general good spirits, the spirited nature that I love in gaited horses, and a great work ethic: she will have a question about an obstacle once. The next time, she'll remember the spot where that obstacle was at and will actually accelerate to meet the challenge and successfully surpass it! She gets a kick out of this and it cracks me up. She LIKES to work. But she is also opinionated and you have to earn her trust and respect. So far, so good.  I really, really like her and I think the feeling is mutual! Today when I went to get her in the field I couldn't see her anywhere. Two of the mares were in the run-in shed but Gracie was nowhere to be found. I called her name and she nickered in response, poking her head out from the smaller cow shed where she had been enjoying the shade to see where I was. "I'm here! Where are you? Oh! There you are!" And she came over to me. My heart may have melted a little... :)

I'd been wanting a second horse, a gaited horse, for the last year. I had put the wish out to the Universe, not expecting it to come true for a while.  When you really want something, the Universe really does conspire in helping you to achieve your dreams. The stars aligned and suddenly Gracie was mine. Her mom adored her but already had two other quieter horses and she wanted Gracie to go to a good, loving home where she would be in consistent work with a special focus on the trails. This is not a problem at all!

Lily is so sweet, friendly, serious and shy (she has no sense of humor. She's gotten better, but Lily is somewhat of a type-A personality), while Gracie is sweet, bold, curious and a bit of a clown. I honestly never imagined myself owning two mares, but what mares they are! I may just be turning into a mare person...

"What are you doing in there?"
I was setting up Gracie's feed and had to laugh when I saw her poking her head in curiously.
(She gets 1 cup of Triple Crown Lite + 2 oz of ground flax twice a day. Yes, she is very much an easy keeper! She has been wearing a grazing muzzle from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and it has helped to start getting her weight under control.)
I had Lily on the cross ties the other day when Phoebe asked how did Lily feel about having a sister.

Lily nickered happily. I kid you not!

Every time I bring Gracie up from the field, Lily walks into her stall from the dry lot and nickers at Gracie. Not at me, at Gracie. I think she definitely approves of her sister!

You may be getting some comic relief on the blog from now on because the newest addition is quite the character:

I was trying to get a picture of her in the daylight so you guys could see the shimmery summer coat coming in on her shoulders. Her color is called red chocolate.
"Whatcha doing?"
"What's that in your hand?"
"Is it a treat?"
"Are you sure that's not edible?" *Sniff sniff*
You can imagine my laughter by this point.
Yup, I may be in love with her. :)

In the meantime, Lily continues to do FANTASTIC!! She has been bootless for the last couple of days and is down to half a gram of bute once a day. She has been 100% sound since last Wednesday with no marked pulses on her legs. We were cleared to start 10 minutes of hand grazing a day and so far, so good! She is still on the low starch diet (free choice soaked grass hay, & unmolassed beet pulp with 4 oz ground flax and a cup of Triple Crown Lite twice a day) We are discontinuing the bute tomorrow and if all continues to be well, we'll be starting lunging for 10 minutes a day on Wednesday. On Friday the vet comes out again and we'll talk about starting work under saddle again.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Blog Hop: Appreciating What You Have

I've been meaning to participate in several of Viva Carlos's awesome blog hops, but life has gotten in the way each time: by the time I can sit down to participate in one, the next one has rolled out! L. Williams, thank you for these blog hops! I love getting to "meet" new bloggers through these!

Let's take a moment to appreciate the Pros of our current ponies, whether you own them or just ride them in lessons.

Lily has so many pros, many that I have come to take for granted.

- Best ground manners of any horse, ever. She is very responsive to body language, always politely staying "in her box", never ever crowding you. This is not just with me: she is like this with anyone who handles her. There have been rare moments when she's spooked or acted out at the end of the lead line (I can count these moments in one hand), and even then she has still stayed at the end of the lead line. She came to me already like this and it is a quality that has been easy to maintain.

Walking with Charles
- She is absolutely perfect for having her feet handled, even when there is other stuff going on in the barn. I have been known to sit on the ground with a hoof in my lap to trim her bars. (Kids, don't try this at home.)

I mean, seriously.
- She is not an in-your-pocket kind of horse, but she is very, very sweet, especially for a mare! She has never, ever tried to bite, is never mouthy, and she loves head hugs, even though she won't seek them out.

Like I said, sweetest mare ever.

- I have never met a horse that can move laterally so easily. She taught me lateral work; I had never been able to get a horse to do this properly and I've learned the cues with her. I am not kidding. If I don't ask correctly, if my posture is not correct when requesting it, I'll either get the opposite of what I want or an angry swished tail with pinned ears. "Nope, try again."

Lateral movement, even from the ground!
- She is incredibly sensitive to what I'm feeling to the point where I used to consider this a con. She has taught me to check any irritation/frustration at the door. If she's overreacting to something I'm doing, I've learned to take a step back and assess what I'm feeling, what I'm projecting at her. 99.9% of the time, it really is me. Having to be more cautious and analytical about my emotions is something that has positively influenced the way I interact with people and other animals, especially at work. It's given me the ability to read Lily better and also the ability to read people and other animals better without the use of words.

- She used to trust me on the ground more than anywhere else. I could walk through fire and she'd follow. Not only that, I can send her forward to confront things, be it jumps, bridges, water crossings, mud, or the entrance to the field. I stand aside, point, maybe cluck, and on she goes ahead, then turns around and waits for me. She now trusts me in the saddle as well. I feel like we are an invincible team when I ride her now.

- She will willingly work in the arena for me, but man she loves those trails, especially now that she is not afraid anymore. One of my goals with her has been to be able to do pretty much anything with her, and so far, so good. There is a bunch of stuff that I still want to  at least try with her, one of them being cutting/sorting. I think she'd have a ball chasing cattle once she realized what it's about.

Arena work
Pointy attentive ears!
- The fact that this mare inspired me enough to start this blog. I say it regularly, but it never ceases to amaze me the number of people I've met and the things I've tried and done thanks to the Blogosphere. There is something very special about knowing there is a group of people out there that not only enjoys reading our story, they really care. Thank you guys. :')

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Over the weekend, I continued icing Lily's fronts in the tall ice boots for 20-30 minutes once a day. I'd stand her in the cross ties on the rubber mats and wait for her feet to dry. I'd apply Magic Cushion with a thin sheet of brown paper over it to keep it in place, and on would go the EasyBoot Gloves over that. Except by Saturday afternoon she had managed to chafe her pasterns and one heel bulb raw with her pacing during the day. :( I applied Durasole to all 4 feet then moved Lily to her stall, where I applied Magic Cushion, sprinkling some of her sawdust over the Magic Cushion to keep it from sticking to the dirt outside in the dry lot. I didn't put anything else on her feet to allow her pasterns to heal. Even duct taping booties to her feet would have made that sensitive skin chafe.

This worked beautifully: the Magic Cushion stayed in place until I would remove it and re-apply it the next day. She was not walking normally yet - she wasn't head bobbing anymore, but her gait had that walking-on-eggshells appearance.

By Sunday, she had finally settled in the dry lot and had stopped pacing. She has figured out that she can see all of the other horses in the neighboring fields just fine if she just stands at the fence. On this day I touched up her trim, bringing back her toes to her white lines to take pressure off the hoof wall and thus off the laminae.

Post trim

There was a LOT of licking and chewing each time a hoof was set down after trimming.  After the trim she was standing almost square, the best she has stood since this was discovered on Wednesday of last week. Her walking on concrete was also improved - she had been very sensitive to the concrete before.

On Monday her chafed pasterns were much better. I re-applied Magic Cushion to her soles and put duct tape booties on over that. They stayed on until Tuesday.

Tuesday evening it was supposed to rain. Lily was walking without a hitch barefoot, but I wanted her feet to stay dry. I iced her front hooves for the last time, then applied Durasole only, and put her back out in her Vipers.

On Wednesday she was walking fabulously in the Vipers. Flicking her toes up and everything like she normally does. I took her out to the arena and set her free to see what she would do:

Video of Lily taken Wednesday 4/23/14. I let her trot one lap in each direction to watch her move, then immediately called her back to me.

This mare has one of the greatest senses of self-preservation I have ever seen in a horse of my own. She is not an idiot: she will not do something if it hurts or if it's going to put her in danger. The fact that she wanted to trot around at all says something. She even had a bit of spring in her step. The only hint that she's not quite 100% yet is the fact that she's not extending her gait and flicking up her toes (landing heel first). But the head bob is completely gone and she is striding out evenly.

I chose not to ice, re-applied Durasole, put her back out in her Vipers (I want to keep her in those a couple more days until she is moving around 100% normally without them), and called the vet to schedule the insulin: glucose ratio test. She is coming out next Friday - it has to be an early morning test and she is booked every morning this week and the next until then! We are to decrease her bute dose from 1 gram once a day to half a gram once a day. Between my job and her appointments, we didn't get to talk about anything else, but she is supposed to call me back today to discuss the program for starting Lily back into work. We'll tackle the diet stuff after the test. For now, she is still on the strict low starch/low sugar diet in her dry lot.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The L Word, Part II

Continued from this post.

Which L word? Laminitis.

I told you guys about Lily's diet and introductions to grass since we moved to Maryland.

Lily grazing in the mare field this past September.
Fast forward to the present. In March, round bales were delivered and put in the fields. I was surprised to walk out to the field the day they were put out to find that the horses were barely nibbling at these round bales. They normally attack the bales. Lily wasn't even touching them this time. I went over and sniffed at them and they smelled like FL coastal hay, not like the nice timothy we've been getting. BO has had problems getting a new round bale supplier this winter so I figured she was figuring things out and didn't say anything; the round bales have always been really nice prior to this. The mares were eating, just not as zealously as usual. And I hate being a high-maintenance boarder. The mares get supplemental square bales in the evening anyway and the grass was just starting to come in. Lily's weight was good at the time. I figured we'd give her beet pulp lunches 7 days a week instead of 4 (I always gave her a third meal before and/or after riding Fridays through Sundays), and hoped that she wouldn't lose too much weight before the endurance ride at the end of April.

Over the summer, I'd been mixing Lily's Triple Crown Low Starch pellets with Triple Crown Safe Starch forage. Because I like feeding low starch. As the grass in the fields dried out and the horses were started on round bales + square bales, I'd switched from the Safe Starch forage to Triple Crown's Alfalfa Forage Blend to keep weight on Lily as our training increased over the winter since she was already getting plenty of grass hay. I also gradually switched her over to Triple Crown Senior from the Low Starch pellet due to the Senior's higher fat percentage (10% vs the Low Starch's 6%), which allowed me to continue feeding a smaller amount of grain (6 lbs total a day.) Despite added molasses, TC Senior is only 11% NSC and Lily LOVED this feed. Over the winter I also started her on 2 cups a day of Healthy Glo Nuggets as a fat supplement when she started turning up her nose at rice bran oil. She would receive a beet pulp meal after rides and on days when the temperature was supposed to be particularly low.

Lily eating a huge bowl of soaked beet pulp + TC Senior + forage for dinner.
When the grass started to grow in in March, I'd switched Lily from the alfalfa forage to Lucerne Farm's High Fiber Gold forage. She didn't like it as much as the the Safe Starch, but my main reason for the switch was just being able to buy both her forage and grain at the same feed store! There's plenty of feed stores in Maryland, they're all just really, really spread out from one another and none of them is particularly close to either our home or the barn.


Back to the round bale issue: one week of decreased forage and Lily's weight plummeted. I was okay with it until suddenly I was not. I freaked out. She still had a topline but her ribs had become quite pronounced. Around that time I was told by the guys that she had completely stopped eating her grain. She had not been eating her grain for 3 days by the time I was told, which would explain why her weight dropped so suddenly.

Of course I freaked. The only thing she was eating were the square bales that were being offered at night, and then I discovered that the hay from the square bales was not being spread out well. Candy is the herd alpha now: she is a huge black Oldenburg that came to the barn skin and bones, starved from another facility, and has gained weight beautifully over the winter. But as she has gained weight, she has turned into a bully. I have seen her get into kicking matches with some of the other mares, and more than once she has tried to attack Lily while I'm trying to get her out of the field. When the square bales didn't get spread out, Candy would park herself over the hay and chase all of the other mares away.

Gracie, the Rocky Mountain horse that also lives in the mare field 24/7 is REALLY getting beaten up by Candy.
Candy damage on Gracie.
So basically, Lily ate next to nothing over the course of a week.

I spent another week experimenting with her food, trying to figure out why she didn't want her grain: was it the fat supplement? The forage? Her other supplements? She gets Ex Stress, SmartMare Harmony and SmartCombo Ultra. Through elimination, I determined that she did not just dislike the forage - she HATED it. I still don't know why; there was absolutely nothing wrong with it: it was fresh, smelled great, wasn't dusty or moldy. But I eliminated the forage completely. She was still lackadaisical about her grain. And then I discovered that she had decided she didn't want any of her supplements, including the Healthy Glo that she had initially seemed to like so much. So I eliminated all of that too. She was JUST getting TC Senior as her am and pm meals, 6 lbs a day, plus an additional lb mixed with her beet pulp at lunch. She then decided she didn't want the beet pulp either. We started offering the TC soaked plus a flake of timothy and a flake of alfalfa at lunch.

Of course she dropped more weight during this process. Lily developed ulcers last year while on stall rest so of course I now started freaking out about ulcers flaring up due to the lack of forage in her stomach. I was worried because she was also having occasional loose stools along with the decreased appetite. So she was started on probiotics and UlcerGard and I added UGard back to her meals.

You can see why there has been some radio silence on my end in between sporadic filler-type postings as I tried to figure all of this out before the endurance ride, debating all along whether we should just scratch given all of the last-minute problems with Lily's eating. You do NOT want to take to an endurance ride a horse that is reluctant to eat at home. That's just begging for a train wreck. The environment at endurance rides is conducive to a lot of excitement, especially for horses green to the sport, and has been known to cause ulcers in horses that don't already have them just because it is a consequence of trotting for so many miles on end. You need them to eat while at the ride.

Finally, we had everything sorted out. Lily was eating her 3 meals a day, along with extra hay at lunch, and new round bales were delivered: these were nice timothy bales like the ones we'd been receiving all winter. Every time I pulled up at the barn, Lily was eating at the round bales.


Finally eating.
On Thursday 4/10, I went to the barn before work to give Lily lunch. As I was pulling up the driveway I saw her way off in the field. She turned around and walked towards the fence, and as she turned, I saw that she was off in a front leg. She walked off okay enough, but she was lame when she turned.

Yes, I have a hawk eye for this mare's way of moving and can spot a single lame step from the other end of a 6 acre field. I can spot a stocked up leg on her from a baseball field distance away on her too. I want you to keep this in mind. It's going to be 3 years owning her this summer and I've already rehabbed her from two other lamenesses in the past, one from a puncture wound and one from a tendon injury. There is a reason why she is insured. Part of the reason why I like to go to the barn every day is because I literally worry that one of her legs will fall off if I'm away for one day. I'm not joking. This is a very defensive post because a rumor was already started at the barn by a person who doesn't know me and doesn't know anything about this sport, and I'm royally pissed off by it. First of all, I have owned horses for 20 years. I'm not a kid. 34 years of age is not a kid. Secondly, I am a licensed veterinary technician that went to school for my profession. I am required continued education to maintain my license. I have been working in this field for 7 years now, specifically in emergency and critical care. I can tell you right now that I know more than the average person about animal care. And thirdly, even BEFORE I was a vet tech, I have always researched every single thing I do with my horses: the supplements they get, the feed and hay they get, the training programs they are placed on based on the much-researched sport I decide to choose for them. A huge part of the enjoyment I get out of horse ownership is in doing everything right and researching the crap out of everything I do with my horse. Before my family had internet (yes, I can remember a time without internet. I'm that old), I read everything I could get my hands on about horses: every book, every magazine. Growing up I had ongoing subscriptions to Equus, Practical Horseman, Western Horseman, Horse & Rider, Paso Fino Horse World, and a full library of horse training books at my grandfather's house: I come from a family of horse people. My grandfather bred and trained Paso Finos, and so did my mom. I've read about endurance riding for years as I've wanted to try this sport since I lived in Puerto Rico. As we trained for the last 8 months, starting with a few miles at a walk and not adding trot sets until we could walk on the trail for 2 hours or more, I continued research on training for endurance, reading every bit of information out there from reputable sites like the AERC itself, endurance training books, and asking questions of other bloggers experienced in endurance with non-Arabs or Arab crosses. Hell, I went to the AERC Conference so I could learn more about the sport in person.

I pulled Lily out of the field that day and watched her walk. She had the slightest head bob on pavement at the walk, sound on soft footing. I trotted her in a circle around me on pavement and she had a marked head bob. Grade 3/5 lame on pavement at the trot, especially to the left. Grade 1-2 lame at the trot in a straight line on the grass. No swelling/scratches/anything on her legs, no tendon/ligament/joint pain on palpation. But she had marked pulses on both fronts, left worse than right.

Yes, an alarm bell did go off in my head. Laminitis? From the grass? But, it had been very muddy in the field with the random temperature changes. If this mare had been overweight, cresty, an easy keeper or even not in full work, I would have listened to that alarm bell more. Instead, since it had been muddy, I figured maybe she had an abscess she was working through. Plus, I was stupid and checked her pulses AFTER trotting her all over the place which will elevate a horse's pulse regardless and make them more marked in their legs as the blood flow from bare hooves is increased by impact.

I buted her and decided that, since we were 2 weeks out from the endurance ride, I'd just end the taper and rest her for the next 2 weeks. Several experienced endurance riders that I respect do this and I figured it would only help. She wasn't going to get any fitter than she already was and it would give her an opportunity to gain some more weight as well.

She responded well to 1 gram of bute once a day. I monitored her hooves and no abscess ever popped. I figured maybe she'd had an abscess that she re-absorbed. Sometimes that happens. The ground dried up with the increased heat and by Sunday Lily was trotting sound in the arena. She has also gained a little weight and looked like a rippling well-muscled beast.

Sunday 4/13
Monday 4/14: she was fine. Tuesday 4/15: Kathy gave her lunch and Lily was fine. It rained hard all day Tuesday and we had a 40 degree temperature drop overnight. The ground froze. Some areas in MD had snow. Deep freezes in the spring are notorious for making fructan levels in grass spike even more.

Wednesday 4/16: I went to the barn to give her lunch and Lily was majorly head bobbing at the walk in the muddy field. I made her come with me and we made it all the way up to the barn with difficulty.

She was crippled walking down the concrete aisle to the wash stall. I wanted to cry. I rinsed off the mud that covered her legs up to her hocks and knees and that's when I saw the pink rings around her coronet bands. Yup, this was not abscesses. I checked her pulses on her legs: marked on her hinds, downright bounding on her fronts. I lightly rasped the bottoms of her hooves to check her white lines: no pink in there, thankfully. With bad laminitis, the white lines will be pink/bloody.

I wanted to punch myself. I should have been more careful, we should have introduced her to spring grass carefully, I should have gotten a grazing muzzle for now...I just didn't think this would happen, you know? Not with her breed, not with her current body condition, not with her level of work. Plus she'd been absolutely fine on summer and fall grass.

There is an empty stall in the main barn that had been offered to me if I ever needed it for Lily. I went back to the run-in shed and grabbed Lily's feed baggies that I'd set up for the week and unclipped my haynets from the run-in shed rings: I hang up haynets for the mares when the weather is going to be bad. I was going to need them now.

Walking back up the hill from the field, I met BO and told her what was going on. She gave me permission to use the stall and one of the hospital paddocks (they are dry lots) for turning Lily out while all of the other horses are outside.

In a daze, I did the emergency IR treatment that I'd read so much about in the past: Lily got to wear ice boots while munching on soaked grass hay, and I set up a bucket of soaked, rinsed, unmolassed beet pulp for her to eat for the week. Tough shit if she turned her nose up at it; she was going to have to eat it now. I never in my wildest dreams thought that THIS horse might have a metabolic problem. Sure, I'd always fed her low starch because it's the correct thing to do. But given the fact that she's mostly TB and a hard keeper, I never thought she might have a sugar sensitivity.

I was astounded by how good she was with those boots. They were filled with cold water and ice. The hay in front of her had been previously soaked.

I quickly packed her hooves with Epsom salt poultice, wrapped them and she got to wear her brand new Vipers for protection. Each time I picked up a leg, her other legs would shake in pain. :( She had a dose of bute and later some UlcerGard and probiotics since I knew she'd be stressing over being away from her herd. She HATES being locked up. She started pacing and screaming the second I put her in the hospital paddock.

The vet was coming on Friday 4/18 to do Lily's health certificate for travel to VA for the No Frills endurance ride next week. I called and told them I was changing the appointment to a lameness exam.

Friday couldn't come fast enough. We continued the IR feeding protocol and treatment in the meantime.

By Friday I had switched her to Magic Cushion packed into her hooves, covered with paper, with her Easyboot Gloves on over that. The Magic Cushion seemed to have made a huge difference in her comfort levels: she was much better, almost sound in boots. Still quite lame barefoot, but you could pick up her feet without her other legs shaking.

Dr. L has tons of experience with IR. She actually leases an Arabian mare that she brought back from founder due to obesity. The little mare now looks like an Arabian and they do competitive trail rides together.

She watched Lily walk and felt her digital pulses, confirming that her fronts were much worse than her hinds. Lameness only in her fronts by this day; she had been lame on all 4 legs when I brought her up from the field on Wednesday. She scraped her soles a bit to take a look and discovered quite a bit of bruising on both fronts and the right hind. Not as bad as in the photo on my previous post, but enough to make me gasp. (No photos; my phone has been bipolar lately when it comes to taking photos.) I do my horse's trimming. I keep an eye on bruising, especially this winter when the ground has been so very hard and frozen. Her soles were not like that a week ago.

Dr. L was almost as befuddled as I was. We went in detail over Lily's exercise regime and diet, and she agreed that this should not have been caused either by my training program or the way I was feeding her. Even after listening to Lily's lack of history with spring grass, she didn't want to call this a grass-induced laminitis. She said that this time of year when it's starting to warm up and there is so much mud, she does see sole bruising like this in horses that stand around in the mud a lot: their feet get soft. That did make me feel a little better. I asked if that could happen even if the horse was NOT worked over hard ground while their feet were soft (our most recent rides 2 weeks ago had been on flat land with hoof boots and the field had been the driest it's been in a while at the time).  Dr. L confirmed that it could happen just from the horse standing in the mud for prolonged periods of time.

The mare field this week.

She didn't want to completely eliminate a grass-induced laminitis, however. We couldn't test for it at the moment because Lily was still painful and pain can create false positives in the insulin:glucose test. (I was relieved that my vet is so educated on this subject!) We will test, but it won't be done until Lily is sound again. I need to know. The test results will change everything about how Lily is managed on field board; I'm still not sure how I'm going to keep weight on her if she needs to live in a grazing muzzle. And if it's the mud, I don't know how to keep her off of it at the current barn. The entire field becomes deeply rutted and muddy when it's wet, even the run-in shed. They have no break from the mud and because it's at the bottom of the property, it can take up to a full week of sunny weather for it to dry up.

In the meantime, Dr. L offered radiographs. She said that based on Lily's pain levels (moderate), she felt that Lily most likely did not have any coffin bone rotation and we could just play it by ear if I wanted to. I decided to go with laterals of her front feet. I wanted to know for sure, and also as a reference for myself: I'd never had Lily's front feet radiographed.

Lily was absolutely stellar for this, standing on the wooden blocks like a pro. Again, my phone failed to let me take photos.

But I was able to get some of the rads:

Left front on the left, right front on the right.
Check out those awesome heel bulbs!
No rotation in the left front, about a 1 degree rotation in the right front, but it is such a small degree that Dr. L said it could totally be Lily's normal. She was very happy with my way of trimming and said Lily's toes are perfect at the current length. (The toes look long on rads, but they are trimmed to the white line in person.) This made me smile. However, her soles are only 9 mm thick. Dr. L said that most TBs, which are notorious for thin soles, are 10 mm. So Lily's front soles are very thin. She saw my look of distress and reassured me that it can take years for a barefoot horse to grow a good hoof. I had to grin from ear to ear at the fact that for once this was a vet that never once mentioned my horse needing shoes. My vet's Arabian is barefoot too.

Now I need to go ask my barefoot trimmer friends what else I can do to help Lily's soles beef up.

For now, I am to continue doing what I'm doing with the hay and the beet pulp and Lily's treatments. She can have as much soaked hay as she wants; no need to limit the amount she gets as she is not overweight by any means. Dr. L said I can add a handful of TC Senior to Lily's beet pulp so she continues to be accustomed to it. The vet will call next Wednesday to see how she's doing. She's expecting her to be all better in another week or so, when we'll test for IR and determine what to do about Lily's turnout on grass. For now, she is going to be out in the larger dry lot behind the main barn, with access to a stall 24/7. She can come and go as she pleases, which is exactly the kind of setup she had at the FL barn.

She is still pacing and calling in this paddock during the day, but not as furiously as in the hospital paddock. When the horses are brought into their stalls in the afternoon, she calms down.

Eating her dinner under the covered area right outside her stall. This drylot is huge. It's nice. I'm glad we can give her this setup right now.
Hay soaking in a muck bucket. It should soak for at least an hour and the sugar water dumped away from any grass or horses.
Beet pulp soaking
Since I can't get ahold of unmolassed beet pulp in this area, after soaking I dump the beet pulp in a colander...
...and rinse with the hose until the water coming out of the colander runs clear, thus eliminating the molasses.
I then dump all of this into a covered paint bucket. It will keep for a day or two with our current weather. When it really heats up I'll have to keep it in the fridge.
Lily's dinner: soaked hay in the haynet, soaked hay in the box, Safe Starch forage in the deeper tub, and beet pulp in the smaller feeder. Beet pulp has 4 oz of ground flax seed added (a must for IR horses), a cup of Triple Crown Lite (a ration balancer for IR horses), her UGard, SmartMare Harmony and SmartCombo Ultra. She's eating her supplements again. Go figure.
Lily eating her dinner while wearing the Gloves with Magic Cushion.
I bet you guys have never seen so many photos in a blog post of the same horse eating! :p
So, that's all I have for now folks. No No Frills for us and I feel incredibly idiotic for not having been more careful about Lily's exposure to the damn grass. I'm hoping it's just from the mud, like the vet said, but at the same time I keep thinking: wouldn't this have happened sooner if that had been the case? It's been 6 solid months of that field alternating between fetlock-deep mud and rutted rock-solid frozen ground. I would have expected this to happen a long time ago if it had been due to the mud. But we'll see. Anything is possible when it comes to horses...

Moral of the story: no matter how hard of a hard keeper your horse is, always introduce slowly to spring grass, even if they've done well on summer/fall grass in the past!

The L Word, Part I

Not "lame". I'm talking about the one with the big "L".


Ring around the rosie.
Or rather, rosy ring around the coronet band.
All 3 of Lily's white hooves have this band at the moment. :(
Since this is not an easy post to write, I'm going to turn it into an educational thing. So this doesn't happen to anyone else.

First things first: there is no such thing as Equine Metabolic Syndrome. Before the ongoing research, vets used to lump Cushing's disease and insulin resistance under this general term, and some vets still do, which creates a lot of confusion for horse owners. They are two very different diseases with symptoms that can seem similar until you start looking into the causes. You can have a horse with both Cushing's AND IR (which is a BITCH to manage, btw. I'll tell you why in a minute), but just because a horse has IR doesn't mean it automatically has Cushing's and viceversa. I have a personal fascination with these two diseases in horses as there is nothing quite like them in any other species. Cushings is common in dogs and people but it does not present at all the way it does in horses.

1. Cushing's disease - aka Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID) is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is located in the center of the brain and is in charge of controlling the endocrine system. When an adenoma or benign tumor pops up in the pituitary, it causes an overproduction of a peptide called pro-opiolipomelanocortin (POLMC, for short), which throws the horse's entire endocrine system out of whack. One of the problems it causes is abnormally high cortisol levels. Symptoms of Cushings: excessive drinking and urination, loss of muscle along the topline, potbellied appearance, sore feet and even founder in late summer-fall, excessive sweating or anhidrosis, increased susceptibility to infections and allergies, and a long, sometimes curly, coat that either sheds out late or doesn't shed at all.

Long curly coat and muscle wasting along the back, creating a swaybacked appearance.
This is classic Cushings but I can tell you right now: a LOT of horses DON'T initially present like this. This is actually ADVANCED Cushings. There were 5 Cushings horses at my previous barn and there are 2 at my current barn: none of them ever did develop the long curly coat prior to diagnosis. If you have an older horse with sore feet in late summer/fall with no other signs, get him tested for Cushings STAT.
If this horse was mine, I'd have him tested for Cushings.
Dear sweet Paris, whose portrait I made recently, looked just like this horse when he was first diagnosed with the disease last year. He didn't have sore feet or even that much muscle wasting along his back. He just had this long soft shaggy coat that wouldn't shed. 
It is quite common in older horses but has been known to present in horses as young as 8 years old. If diagnosed early it can be managed fairly easily with a medication called pergolide. The dose may need to be adjusted throughout the horse's life, and may need to be temporarily increased in the late summer/fall. Why? Because in the late summer/fall, horses' cortisol levels naturally rise to stimulate the body to grow that long winter coat that will keep them warm. In a Cushing's horse, whose cortisol levels are already high to begin with, that seasonal rise can be lethal: it is what can cause laminitis and even founder in an afflicted horse during this time of year. This is often the very first sign of Cushing's. Some Cushing's horses can also develop laminitis/founder in the spring when their hormone levels change again with the warmer seasons. Unless that Cushing's horse also has IR. To read more about the physiology of Cushing's in horses, go here.

FYI: Lily is barely 7 years old and has never had sore feet in the fall. She does NOT have Cushing's.

2. Insulin resistance - I think this is one of the most misunderstood equine diseases. I briefly entertained the idea of becoming an equine vet so I could specialize in internal medicine and then just focus on this one disease and researching more about it. I'm going to tell you guys a lot more about IR than about Cushings because it's what we may end up dealing with here.

You can see insulin resistance in horses of any age. Some breeds can have a predisposition to it, especially breeds known to be "easy keepers", like Arabians, Morgans, Paso Finos and several of the gaited breeds, some Quarter Horses (especially halter bred ones), Mustangs and most pony breeds. Most of these breeds originated in barren areas of the world where survivors were the individuals who could subsist on less food. Place an individual of any of these breeds in a lush green pasture and you will quickly end up with something like this:

Classic IR horse.
One blade of grass from a full metabolic blow-up...
What is insulin resistance? In theory, it's not really a disease. It is simply a part of some horse's metabolism. These horses are intolerant of high amounts of starch and sugar. It's like having a peanut allergy in people: they just shouldn't eat them.

What happens if an insulin resistant horse eats sugar/starch? (Like lush green grass, rich hay, sweet feed) Well, this:

Cresty neck on a horse at a healthy weight. Despite being at a healthy weight, this horse could still develop laminitis if exposed to sugar/starch. The crest can often be completely eliminated if the horse's owner is able to maintain them on a low sugar/starch diet.
Lumpy, cresty neck typical of an overweight IR horse.
Lumpy fat deposits over body, also typical of an IR horse, though I have yet to see them as demarcated as this individual's in real life. But these are the areas where IR horses tend to develop fat pads.
Stance of a severely laminitic/foundered horse
Pink line growing down on a horse's hoof. (Not Lily) This can be caused by trauma to the hoof but can also be considered an event line in a pink hoof.
Solar bruising. (Not Lily) Can be from trauma, but can also be a sign of early laminitis.

Laminitis to founder.
I can post photos of what founder looks like in a hoof, but the photos are pretty graphic. Not for the faint of heart.

Why does that happen?
"With insulin resistance, circulating levels of insulin in the blood are elevated but blood glucose stays normal. The cells are resistant to insulin's signal to take up glucose, but higher levels of insulin get the job done. Horses do not progress on to be frankly diabetic as easily as other species do. Diabetes mellitus is when blood sugar is higher than normal.
High levels of insulin tend to shut down the burning of fuels in muscle and fat, channeling them instead into storage forms. Glycogen goes down because glucose entry is impaired, but at the same time the burning of fuels is inhibited so more fat gets stored - a vicious cycle."
It is those very elevated levels of insulin in the blood that will cause laminitis in an insulin resistant horse. 
To complicate matters more, you can't starve an overweight IR horse because it can actually worsen the IR. You feed forage in smaller amounts, from 1.5% to 2% of the horse's body weight, ideally in haynets so it takes the horse longer to eat. No grass; the horse must be in a dry lot. And once the laminitis, if present, is resolved, that IR horse must be exercised. Exercise and a low sugar/starch diet are the only ways to control insulin resistance. 
Signs that your horse might be IR include a cresty neck and/or abnormal fat deposits over the body even with weight loss; history of laminitis induced by grass; puffiness in hollows above eyes; and in advanced stages you may see weight loss, loss of muscle and increased thirst and urination (which is one of the symptoms that can be confused with Cushing's).

A horse with BOTH IR and Cushing's will need to have a low sugar/starch diet, be managed with pergolide, and will have to live in a dry lot, with close monitoring of the horse's feet in both fall and spring.

3. Other causes of laminitis:
- "Road founder" - caused by running a horse too fast or long over a hard surface.
- Grain overload - such as when a horse breaks into the feed room and gorges itself on all of the grain.
- Black walnut shavings - can be common in shavings obtained from wood furniture stores. It doesn't take a lot of black walnut in the bedding to cause laminitis.
- Support limb laminitis - when, for example, a horse seriously injures one leg (like a fracture) and they need to transfer their weight to the other supporting limb for extended periods of time.
- Endotoxemia/infection - when a horse has an increased circulation of toxins in the blood, such as with certain poisonings, infections causing elevated fevers for prolonged periods of time, bacterial diarrhea, Lyme disease, etc.
- Overzealous trimming/shoeing - I've heard nightmare stories of trimmers that knocked off so much hoof at once that they caused horses to founder. Hence why I trim myself. Bad shoeing can also cause laminitis.


So why is this metabolic problem of so much interest to me?

Because I had an IR horse. Cloud was IR.

Cloud a few weeks before I adopted him. He'd already been in work over 2 months and had lost quite a bit of his excessive weight. You can kind of see the fat pad that he still had over his shoulders, and he had a significant one over his tail head. He was still on the rescue's oats and T&A diet.
When I first decided to adopt him, I didn't do a formal pre-purchase on him. I'd known him and worked with him for 3 months so I knew him personality-wise and knew he was sound. He was originally obese, however, with odd fat pads over his body, due to a diet of oats and T&A hay at the rescue, and he continued to retain some of those fat pads despite slowly increasing work with me. Prior to adopting him, we did flexion tests to locate any possible arthritis (he had none yet at age 15, a testimony to his nice leg conformation) and I had bloodwork done on him: a CBC and chemistry panel, and I talked to my vet about testing him for Cushing's. He urinated a LOT and did sweat excessively but my vet recommended also testing him for insulin resistance. At the time I didn't know that the two conditions were separate issues; I just thought Cloud might be pre-Cushing's, a term that is often used to refer to IR by people who don't know what it is.

Cloud came back negative for Cushing's but positive for insulin resistance. I signed his adoption papers anyway and immediately became a member of Dr. Kellon's Equine Cushing's and Insulin Resistance Group to start educating myself, as I knew I had in my hands a condition that, left unmanaged, might result in founder in my horse. I learned that I needed to keep him on a very low starch diet and make sure that he stayed at a healthy weight with regular exercise. I switched him over to Triple Crown Lite, a very low starch ration balancer, of which he only received a cup twice a day (you can feed it in that small of an amount), and discovered that one of our local feed stores actually sold low sugar low starch timothy hay that had already been tested. I started him on that hay right away as well, offered in small hole hay nets so that it would take him longer to eat them, simulating all-day grazing. The feed store in South FL that sells tested hay is Finish Line Feed in Dania Beach, FL. They don't announce this hay on their website, but you can walk into the store and ask for it. When Cloud was in heavier work, I started adding beet pulp to his meals. The same feed store sold unmolassed beet pulp which made my life so much easier. If they ran out (this happened often), I'd buy molasses beet pulp, soak it in a bucket, dump it into a large colander, and rinse the beet pulp with the hose until the water coming off of it ran clear: this is how you remove the molasses. IR horses at a healthy weight in full work can have as much plain beet pulp as they want to eat - it is pretty much the one safe food for them. In a laminitic IR horse, you can actually eliminate all forage and just feed straight unmolassed beet pulp until you have the laminitis under control. It's called the "IR emergency diet".

Cloud never had sore feet and he never developed pulses in his legs. One perk of South FL is that sand is the most prevalent footing: it doesn't take long to turn a paddock into a drylot when you have a lot of horses being turned out in them. So I never had a problem with having to worry about Cloud's exposure to grass. I was lucky with Cloud - some IR horses are so sensitive to starch that even the wrong supplement can send them into a downward laminitic spiral.


After Cloud, I've had hard keepers. But after so much research done into equine nutrition, I still refuse to feed a high starch diet. I have this visceral reaction to the thought of feeding a high starch grain to my own horses. If others want to feed their horses that way, it's their call. But I just don't feed my own like that. Diets high in cereal grains like oats and corn with added sugars like molasses can cause hyperactivity, colitis, colic, gastric ulcers, foot problems like thrush, and if your horse happens to be IR at all, you may find yourself with a laminitic horse in your hands.

Lily was eating sweet feed and T&A during the 2 months that she belonged to my BM. When she became mine, I switched her over to free choice straight timothy hay (offered in hay nets) and 5 lbs a day of Triple Crown Low Starch pellets. When I discovered she was more of a hard keeper, she started getting beet pulp with her grain three times a day and added rice bran oil. I also gave her a flake of alfalfa hay after hard workouts as a sort of "protein shake." She did fantastic on this diet. I do miss being 100% responsible for everything that goes into my horse and the co-op arrangement we had at my self care barn.

That barn, however, had no grass at all. All the turnouts were sand. When I moved Lily to MD in October of 2012, there was still grass on the ground up here. My BM at the time introduced her slowly to it, slowly increasing the amount of time she got to spend on green pasture until she was out for 12 hours a day on it (there was no field board offered at that barn). In April of 2013, Lily injured her left hind in turnout, straining her annular ligament. She was immediately put on strict stall rest. In July 2013 when Lily finished her rehab from the injury, we re-introduced her to grass again in the same fashion until she was out 24/7.

We never had a problem.

Until now.

To be continued in a second post. It's going to be too long otherwise.