Thursday, April 18, 2013

Unchartered Territory For Me

One of the most valuable resource people I have is my farrier. The man is an endless fountain of valuable information and he is incredibly willing to share his knowledge, which is very refreshing. These days, if I have something going on with one of my horses, I don't call the vet...I schedule an appointment with my farrier.

The big bay was pretty jumpy about having his feet done...not so much the shoeing, just the being touched. I explained to my farrier what the chiro had found and we talked about the alternative therapy (my farrier is the one who has the P3 machine), so the farrier ran his hands all over the big bay and found it impossible to actually pick out where exactly the pain issues were originating. The big bay, flinched and quivered from a touch anywhere on his body. He stepped back and looked at the big bay's eye. The horse's head was up, his neck rigid and his eye was hard as a rock. He was taking being handled...but he finds nothing soothing, reassuring or likable about it.

I was feeling kind of bad that I had let the horse get to this point and told the farrier as much. He just shrugged and allowed, 'Meh...The only thing you did wrong was trying to be too nice to him for too long.' That is true. In my youth, I was far more pushy and therefore quicker to get to the root of a problem. Well, now here I am stuck with very large, very mature horse...who kind of scares me...but one I desperately want to fix.

My farrier looked at the big bay for another minute or so, turned around, walked over to his work bench and scribbled something on a piece of cardboard. Coming back he handed it to me and told me, 'If you want to fix this horse, you are going to have to get his brain back...or he is going to hurt you or kill you. He may not mean to...but he will. Give this to your vet and tell them you want 2cc. When you give it to him, give him 24 hours for it to get into his system...he may get severe diarrhea for a couple of days...and he may be dopey acting for a few days, but get to work on him immediately and KEEP working with him. This stuff lasts for 28 days. If at the end of those 28 days, he's not exactly where you want him, give him 1cc more. If at the end of those 60 days, he's still the same horse as he is today...GET RID OF HIM!!!.'

I glanced at the piece of cardboard, stuck it in my pocket and walked my horse to the trailer. Once before I had someone tell me something almost exactly the same thing about another horse and I poo-pooed them. Psshhhtt...*I* knew what I was doing. That horse wasn't going to get the best of me. About 4 months later, that horse plowed over me, stomped the shit out of me...and proceeded to lose her mind, running willy-nilly around a packed fairgrounds, jumping vehicles, bouncing off of other horses and was finally stopped when she tried to jump a 12 foot chain-link fence. A quick thinking guy jumped on her head when she bounced off the fence and fell to the ground. She ended up with a severely lacerated tongue, I ended up thoroughly bruised and battered, with a hoofprint on my chest, another one on my lower back/upper buttock and a broken finger

This day, when someone, whose opinion I highly respect and trust, tells me the same thing...I listened. NO horse is worth dying for. Even knowing the root of the problem. Knowing I was going to have to handle and work on this horse A LOT to get the physical problem fixed AND to get this horse's brain to accept that the pain was gone and it was okay to just relax and be nice....

I thought about it the whole night and into the next day. I put a call into my vet and waited to hear back from him. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore, I went to his office and happened to catch him between appointments (must have been fate) and we talked. The recommended drug is called Reserpine and is often used on horses that need long-term sedation for recovery purposes. From what I gather...It is also often used in low doses to take the edge off of particularly hot performance horses (it is a banned substance at any show that has a drug policy!) and is a favorite drug used by unethical sales people, as in...'Oh yes, this is a great beginners horse'...and 30 days later you own a fire-breathing dragon.

I have never 'drugged' a horse in my life and I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around using chemical 'therapy' as a means to an end. The vet explained that while this drug slows the horse's brain down and assists with by no means is a magic cure. If the horse wants to get nasty and/or blow up...he is perfectly capable of forming that thought process and accomplishing it, but there are few horses that bother. Considering riding the horse was the least of my worries at the moment, just needed something to take the edge off of this horse, while we worked through the initial physical issues, the vet actually thought it was a good idea to mildly sedate the horse.

I took the shot (it was only $30) and went home. I wrestled with my conscious for a couple of days and continued to try to work with the big bay on the ground. He needs some specialized PT between chiro visits...He needs to be kept in a smaller area with controlled exercise, he needs massage and stretching, he needs alternating heat and ice therapy, and he needs some pain/inflammation mitigation. Riding him is not out of the question, but seems rather mute at the moment.

It was going okay for those first couple of days, although its pretty difficult to make progress on a horse that just insists on being tense and 'up' every moment you are handling them. But the day he came unglued at the trailer, because my jacket crinkled when I reached up to brush his shoulder, and almost stuck me, pulled back, lunged forward and then wheeled into me, pinning me to the trailer?...Yea... That was the end of my moral dilemma!! When I could make my shaky legs work again...I walked right up to the house, grabbed that shot and administered it. Knowing why a horse acts the way they do is one thing...Getting hurt because of it?...That I cannot afford to have happen.

I put the horse away and waited a couple of days for the diarrhea and dopey-look that told me the drug had kicked in. The horse got neither!!! In didn't seem to have much affect on him at all. So then I was kinda pissed...because I was like...'Hey, I'm hoping for a doped up, docile horse here...and I got nothing.' LOL.

In reality, it took about 5 days for me to notice any difference in the horse whatsoever and it was was just a simple look and a slight dip of the head. Usually when I walk in the horse's pen, he heads for the back of it and looks for a way out. I always stand and wait for him to look at me...acknowledge me...anything that indicates he is doing anything except thinking about how he can get away or avoid being caught. This time while I stood there, he made a couple passes back and forth across his pen and then turned to LOOK AT ME!

I didn't move. I just let him look at me for a minute or two and then I started talking to him. He immediately looked away and started to move, but I took a step and his head whipped back around to look at me again. I just stood still and kept talking to him. Soon enough, I saw him take a deep breath and drop his head. I walked up to him and slipped the leadrope over his neck. He stiffened and raised his head, so I waited to make another move until he again relaxed and tipped his head to see what I was doing. He sighed, dropped his head and started licking his lips. I win!!

It was a HUGE moment. For the first time since last year, I saw and felt this horse not only accept, but relax into contact. Slowly but surely, his brain is settling down and coming back. Two weeks into it, I can still see the wheels turning while he is deciding which action to take. But the wheels in his head are turning slower and I can see him reasoning things out in his head again. He's no longer leaping around without a thought in his head over every little thing.

Most importantly, with some mental relief...he is getting some physical relief. The tension in his neck and shoulders is ever so slowly starting to ease and I am making progress with the massage and stretches. It's going to take a lot of work break down the hard, ropy muscle in his neck...

You can see the bulging muscle in front of his shoulder blade...

All of this area needs to have the muscle broken down (on both sides) and his nuchal ligament is ridiculously rigid...

And get it back to the smooth, supple muscling that should be there...
(This picture was taken last year, early summer, before I noticed his front leg starting to twist.)

So that is where we stand. I don't know (and will probably never know) if there was something going on with this horse before he went to the trainer and starting him under saddle started bringing it to the surface or if it all started at the trainer's. I guess it doesn't really matter, what's going on physically has to be fixed and then we'll see how much of the big bay's attitude was due to pain or if he is just lacking in the disposition department. 


Funder said...

This Big Bay Series is totally fascinating to me, LT. Please keep writing it; I'm loving what I'm learning!

Cindy D. said...

Yup, I'm with Funder, this is a truly fascinating story. Please keep us in the loop.

Karen Burch said...

As Mark Rashid says, "sometimes the way a trainer wants to go, isn't going to look the same way to the horse. Sometimes, the horse needs something different."

Chronic, unrelenting pain can completely fuzz the brain. I hope that, along with slowing down his brain, it is also taking the edge off the pain he is experiencing. That's got to be awful for him.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Karen-He's been on a loading dose of MSM and a daily dose of Herbal Bute since the chiro worked on him to help mitigate pain. It wasn't having much affect and I was fixing to switch over to Equioxx, to see if hitting him with a stronger anti-inflammatory would help, but after I administered the Reserpine, I decided that I didn't want to hit his digestive system with all of those chemicals at once, so I left him on the MSM and herbal bute. The pain relief started to kick in once he started to relax in the head.

in2paints said...

Sounds similar to the Sedivet we gave Lilly when she was confined to stall rest the second time around. True to form, she got horrible diarrhea... did the Big Bay have any noticeable side effects?

I'll bet he's feeling better already... at least physically, and I'm sure that will help with the mental issues as well.

fernvalley01 said...

NO horse is worth dying for
that says it all. Glad you listened and are getting somewhere with this horse. Poor guy!

C-ingspots said...

Wow. So happy to hear that you're getting somewhere with the big guy. In enough pain, none of us would get anything accomplished, and we'd all be a bit crazy in the head and tensed up. Poor horse. I hope you can make it through to the other side with him. What an incredible learning experience for both of you. I agree though, that the most important thing is that you don't get hurt. This is definitely not a challenge for the timid, or the inexperienced. You've got what it takes, and if you make it...what a relationship you're going to have with him. Will keep you both in my prayers for success.

Cut-N-Jump said...

I know that when I was doing PT for the torn muscle in my hip/ass, when they hit a spot and the pain was instant and excruciating- I could barely even breathe, let alone do anything. We all know horse people tend to have high pain tolerances, but sometimes I had tears in my eyes it was that bad. I can totally understand the horses point of view on this. Being able to talk and reason though, I knew there would be relief at some point. Unfortunately the horses don't see it that way.

At this point it isn't worth putting much into When? all of this started with the horse, since you can't change the past. As Ed told you about riding- "You work with the horse you have TODAY." It will be interesting to see how this horse comes around and it sounds like the progress is happening. Yay for both of you on that!

As far as it goes if the horse doesn't? I know I may be alone on this one, but so be it. If this doesn't work, best bet is to put the horse down. If he is in that much pain, if that cannot be resolved, there is no reasonable way to move the horse on to someone else so they can get hurt or the horse can keep suffering. Sucks, but sometimes that is the only option left for the sake of their well being and ours. Doesn't sound like this will be the road you end up going down though and I hope its not.

Dang! I just read back through this before hitting publish and I sure sound like the cloud of doom and gloom. Not what I was going for, but you know I don't want you to get hurt either. Hang in there

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

It's alright CnJ...I've run that scenario in my head and I'm perfectly okay with putting a horse down that can't be fixed. They are few and far between, but it happens.

I will say I do believe what was done can be undone. He wasn't always this way and he hasn't been pushed to the breaking point, so the horse that he was is still in there.

kestrel said...

Holy hell! It IS Lyrica for a horse!
Pain is an interesting thing, even if not in a good way. One creature will heal and never be bothered again, while another starts a cascade of downward spirals from an injury that doesn't seem nearly as bad, that is devastating. Makes you really wonder how many 'hot' horses are also hypersensitive to pain, and whether that hypersensitivity is also part of their competitive advantage.

I just keep thinking of a friend's dear old mare that had injured a leg so badly that it was caving underneath her, yet she showed absolutely no symptom of pain. We had to put the gentle old creature down because the vet said she was so mechanically unstable her leg could break. We were concerned that we might have been keeping her around for our own sake, but had assessments from chiro's, energy balancers, masseuses and our vet that nope...she was not hurting, just looked like she absolutely should be!

With your honest assessment of him you will know when the time is up whether he is capable of healing. Good luck, and be real careful.

Fascinating stuff, can't wait to hear more!

Shirley said...

Interesting, and very cool that you have such a knowledgeable farrier. I hope this course of treatment works, and that you get your boy back. You have to retrain his muscle memory as well as his brain.

Cut-N-Jump said...

BEC- I know you wouldn't hesitate in doing what is right for the horse, even if that meant putting him down. It's just the 'giant elephant in the room' kind of thing and although many may be thinking it, not everyone is comfortable saying it. I don't have a problem addressing it and sometimes it may be sorta expected from me and I'm good with that.