Christine Budzak and Tag

Christine Budzak and Tag, 3rd official ride back in the saddle after the allergic reaction

Christine Budzak has spent some very trying months with her horse Tag that started with an allergic reaction. Thanks for sharing your story, Christine!

I Almost Lost My Horse After An Allergic Reaction

I’ve been riding my Icelandic TB, Tag for 3 years now (owned him for 2 years) and since he just turned 13 and had hock problems we were going to do injections to help him out.  It was around mid May when the vet came to give him the injections and the appointment started out like any normal vet check.  The vet checked him, we came to a conclusion of what injections we were going to do and then the vet gave him the trank (which he has had many times before).

My mom of all people started to notice that Tag was drooping his eyes and wobbling over.  I didn’t think anything of it as that is how he’s reacted to trank before, but after my mom had raised enough concern, my vet checked him, his lip was bank white and sure enough, he was having a type 1 allergic reaction to the trank (tranquilizer).  The vet made me bring Tag just outside our barn so he could get fresh air and so we were closer to her truck.

My coach held Tag’s head up, the vet tech was holding one side of him up and helping the vet, I was on the other side and by the time my barn manager got to the site, Tag was basically falling over so he wedged himself under Tag’s butt and held the remaining weight that we couldn’t hold up on his shoulder.  The vet was trying to give him reversals for the trank but his blood started to flow backwards, his blood pressure sky-rocketed and his breathing began to falter.  We were constantly slapping his face and his sides to help him stay conscious, and at some points, kicking under his belly around his heart acting as a defibrillator when his heart was failing.  Of course when you have your vet working on your horse you never want to hear “Stay with me Tag, I’m not losing you!”.  It’s a bitter sweet saying but I certainly lost it at that point.

Sure enough, an hour later and 8 liters of IV fluid, Tag was able to stand on his own.  It took 2-3 reversal shots (I believe) to reverse what the trank had done, and then at least 4 liters of IV fluid to get him standing and another 4 to get him walking. A very drunk walk, but walking nonetheless and it took another 2 hours of hand-walking and grazing before he started acting more normal.  He is on outdoor board so we kept him in a separate pen in the front and he was on 24 hour watch throughout the evening.

The following day, my vet had asked to do a blood test as she was concerned about the condition of Tag’s liver and kidneys since he had so many drugs going through him.  We got the results from the blood test a couple days later, only to discover that Tag’s liver and kidneys were absolutely fine, but that he had an enlarged heart.  My vet came out within the next week for an ultrasound to see how his heart was functioning.  Horses with enlarged hearts can live a very normal and happy life as long as all the valves and veins are in working order.

During the ultrasound we confirmed that Tag’s heart is enlarged, and all functions are working as they should be.  But my horse, being the stubborn thing that he is, wouldn’t stand still for the ultrasound. Because of that, my vet noticed something was wrong with his lungs.  In a normal ultrasound of the lungs, you shouldn’t be able to see them, other than thin muscle lines on the outside.  We were able to see Tag’s lungs entirely and my vet gave the diagnosis of pneumonia!  (This was in early June 2013).

When my vet discovered this, it’s like everything made sense.  The night of the initial reaction he most likely had a fever, which set his body out of balance, which is (most likely) why he had the reaction to the trank and why he had been so moody and uncomfortable for the past few months.  Tag has a bad case of heaves so detecting another lung problem is very difficult to do.  We had a lot of changing weather and Tag is very sensitive to weather so I thought that was the reason for the mood swings and grumpiness.

Between his initial reaction and the ultrasound I was instructed to do light riding (15 minutes of walk, 2 minutes of trot max kinda thing) and that was for about 2 weeks.  Once we discovered his sickness, we got medication and the go-ahead to start slowly riding him more.

He was on his pneumonia medication for about 6 weeks and had a follow up ultrasound, which showed he was about 75% better, which was really good news! We were given more instruction on medication, were told that we can start riding him more regularly and slowly bring jumping back into the picture. (mid July)

We started riding him more, but noticed that he was still getting a bit sore.  We treated it with bute when it got really bad, and mineral iced his hocks after every ride (beginning of August).  We gave him a week off in hopes that it would help, but I feel it only made it worse.  I was concerned so I had my vet come out again to do another check (mid August). She checked his hocks first and didn’t find any pressure points.  She checked his neck and he was a little off, and then went to his back and his ribs and that’s when everything fell into place.  We discovered that Tag’s rib cage was completely out of line and it needed to be put back into place.  My vet cracked everything back into place and noticed a significant change in his mannerisms and personality.  I went to go see him the next day and I noticed a HUGE improvement!  He was acting like his old self where he’d dance around in the alley while I’m grooming him, I could pick up both of his back feet and have no fitting or kicking, and overall he finally seemed like his cheerful old self again.

I’m not sure when we’ll be able to jump again (or if we can in the future) but after all this chaos, I’m just happy to finally have my old horse back. I can’t believe how much he has been through these past few months and how much he has fought through to be healthy.  I’m still shocked at what everything led to and now that we’re (hopefully) coming to a close on the situation, everything makes sense.  We’re still going to do an allergy test to see if he actually is allergic to anything and we still have many acupuncture appointments in the future, but I’m just hoping and praying that the worst has blown over.  I can’t thank the amazing people around me enough who helped keep Tag alive and myself mentally sane through this whole process.  I wouldn’t have been able to do this by myself and I honestly can’t thank my vet, vet tech, barn manager, coach and my mom enough.  They did everything they could to get Tag to where he is now and I am forever grateful for that.

And here we are, at the end of August with an interesting story and a happy horse on the mend.  We’re currently working to get his core strengthened and getting him back on track!  It’s been a long summer of rehab and patience but overall, I still have my horse and he’s doing better than ever.  He’s such a fighter and I’m happy to say that he’s still alive.