Anyone who has looked after a number of horses for a number of years will know that, however paranoid you are, however carefully-thought-out your set-up, sometimes you will just hit a bad patch. The suicidal and/or self-harming instinct that is innate in the horse will suddenly and inexplicably rear its horrible little head again, in epidemic fashion.
A month or so ago, in an unguarded moment, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a major drama here requiring veterinary attention for a very long time. Someone must have heard me…
A day or two later, I took 2 of my mares out for their first show-jumping schooling round at a local venue. On arriving, I got on Ellie – 7 years old, big lanky Hann x TB, bought by me as a yearling, about to start her competition career. She’s been a very slow maturer, most people think she’s a 5 year old she looks so immature, so she’s had oodles of time, and I had very high hopes of this one…
I got on and she was screaming for her friend on the lorry and chucking herself around the (mercifully deserted) lorry park, and seemed to go a bit weak-kneed a few times but was then fine. After a 12 min total warm up of walk and trot, where she felt 100%, I tried canter, and she felt terrible, all over the place, hindend so disengaged it was unreal.
Had a tiny trot for the videoer – sure enough her back end was ataxic, she was wobbly as anything. Hopped off, (vid shows the last 30 secs or so ridden and how unconcerned she looks) managed to get her back on the lorry (very wobbly by now), nursed her home, somehow got her down the steep ramp upright (my boyfriend is, very fortunately, freakishly strong, and managed to hold her up as she tried to hurtle headfirst down it)
Ellie just after first signs. This is what a heart problem can look/feel like – very wobbly-legged
Vet came out, diagnosed Irregular Irregular heartbeat, all over the place.
A week of VERY careful box rest (she was as wobbly as a horse coming round from a general anaesthetic), waiting for top cardiologist to visit (I wasn’t prepared to risk travelling her again in that state), and rather dreading finding a dead horse in the stable every time I went out there, my vet checked her heart again, now Regular Irregular. Definite improvement. Slow improvement in the wobblyness too, enough that she could be turned out in the tiny paddock by the house and yard, under strict supervision.
A few days later the cardiologist arrived, did a full cardiac assessment – could find nothing wrong. Puzzled would be the understatement of the year… She’s just finished a course of steroids and we’ll see what happens next, but for now she’s on the Off Games List, and looking much better, but not 100% yet.
Ellie approx 10 days after initial ataxia showed. Some improvement.
Ellie about 3 weeks after ataxia onset, big improvement!
Next, my lovely yearling Jinni, another one bred to event, out of a good TB mare by the legendary Jumbo. Last Friday, I tried to take the other mare, Daisy, off to show-jump (same venue as before), I’d been gone 2 minutes when I got a “get back here QUICK” call from my boyfriend, who had happened to glance out of his office window and seen the yearling, Jinni, pratting about in the field, rear vertical, slip on the hard ground, and crash down onto her side.
I rushed up there, to find him standing over her, and Jinni lying there motionless and exhaling every time with effort. It took over an hour for the vet to get here, most of which I spent fairly convinced that she had paralysed herself – her eyes were open but she made no attempt to move. I covered her eyes (it had occurred to me that if we were very lucky, she was only concussed) and then, when she finally started coming to, had to stop her from trying to get up.
Imagine a 1/3 tonne punch-drunk rugby player and you get the picture. She eventually really went for it and I had to get out of the way (didn’t want to sit on a yearling’s neck/head if it was already damaged…), staggered around for a bit, then collapsed again. Hooray, not paralysed. Not looking particularly good, but avoiding an imminent date with a lethal injection (yes, she really had looked that bad).
She was now much closer to the fence though, and so out of it that she might well have collapsed/blundered into it. It’s electrified tape at the top, stock netting set back underneath it, so usually safely away from the horses. The tape carries about a 10,000 volt charge, it has a kick like a mardy mule and she’d never normally go near it, but I wasn’t taking any chances and boyfriend (he of the freakish strength) was requested to steer/push her away from the fence next time she was up, whatever it took.
He duly obliged, and I think the England rugby team are missing a prop forward. She ended up collapsing onto her other side but at least that meant the sweaty side that had been underneath could cool down. Small mercies.
The vet arrived, we let Jinni get up again so the vet could assess her, Jinni stayed up for a bit but then it got too much, time for another suicide attempt. She wobbled backwards, her hindlegs buckled, and she keeled over backwards, fortunately very softly – still so out of it that she crumpled in slow motion, so didn’t hit her head again.
Diagnosis – heavy concussion. Various injections (painkiller, steroids, antibiotics), leave out in field (less to blunder into), monitor closely, vet to visit again the next day.
I checked her constantly until past midnight, at which point she was sound asleep with her devoted and very protective companion (ancient pony Dolly) standing guard. At this point, while playing on Facebook (so, very much awake) very loud inexplicable galloping hoofbeats approaching, going past the field shelter I’d ensconced myself in for my vigil, and fading away up the field, drove me back into the house.
There were no horses galloping, I checked immediately and they were all standing around, but I heard 2 sets of galloping hooves. No other horses around, no deer. Spooky as hell. Picture me attempting to beat a dignified retreat 300 yards back to the house in the pitch dark, clutching hot water bottle and rugs I’d been wrapped in, while thoroughly spooked…
Slight improvement in her the next day, although she did a good impression of a corpse horse in the field shelter vet attended again, we managed to get Jinni to follow the pony mare to the yard and the stable. Walking that distance exhausted her, she was shaking from head to foot by the time she was in the stable. More steroids, very gradual improvement. Still waiting and seeing, she’s still slightly wobbly, and very subdued.
She’s grinding her jaw (eating fine though, but TMJ ‘out’, too soon to manipulate back in though we think), her neck is clicking although she has full range of movement and no pain with it, her head is on straight which is a good sign, but her pelvis is, according to my excellent McTimoney Chiropractor, about an inch ‘out’, but again, we’re waiting a while before attempting to correct her, as she’s still so sore. It’s ‘wait and see’ time again, then probably further investigations, and x-rays to try to find out what on earth she’s done to herself. No idea at present whether this will turn into permanent ‘wobblers’.
So, two down… but no dead horses, and tbh both had me fooled for a while there.
On Monday Daisy, who had played “Can’t catch me” at just the wrong moment on Friday night when I was already at the end of my tether over Jinni, prompting me to have a ‘stuff you, live out then’ moment, came over sporting Exhibit A.
Vet call out again. I was starting to get sympathy when I rang them now…
Fortunately the vet thinks she’s gotten away with it, it’s low enough that the tendons and tendon sheath are well protected there, so I can slightly cancel my panic. Exhibit B is the same wound after 3 days with dry bandage on, box rest, and antibiotics.
Quick healer. It’s now slathered in Active Manuka Honey, factor 25+, and rebandaged, and I’m hoping the honey will do miraculous things.
So, that’s my 3 big pieces of bad luck out of the way, I hope. The competition debut, which we’ve all waited so long for, is on hold. And if I get any more bad luck, I might be tempted to chuck it all in and spend my money on exotic holidays instead!