Someone recommended I air this laundry here. I need to talk, even if it’s only into the void. What follows is probably the longest post ever.
I’ve only known my horse since December 2021. 6yo ClydexHackney mare, had one baby from a Clyde stallion before being purchased by her seller, who put her through three months of training. I’m going to start this by saying that I know she’s a lemon/moneypit/whatever, but I also love her as an individual and want to try for a future with her. She is generally quite happy and otherwise healthy, with her “bouts” spaced about a month apart, so euthanasia is not an ethical option, to me, at this time.
She also shows every sign of being twice the horse I dared hope to have.
Starting March 29, 2021, she coliced. Classic laying down, yoga stretches, lip curling. Upset demeanor. Called the vet out. Vet found a gas bubble the size of a basketball, gave banamine, waited twelve hours–colic seemed to go away, but after 12 hours–the yoga came back. BUT she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just repeatedly stretching. Real conundrum, that. Vet was not okay with that and genuinely believed we were looking at surgery.
So we went up to the hospital–New Bolton, so not playing around, and not cheap either.
Hospital said she had displaced her right colon, but it would probably shift back into place with medical management.
So they managed her, and she came home.
And started yoga again, literally the day she came home. Local vet waved it off as her having just gotten off the trailer.
Then it happened again, April 15. Local vet came out, noted mildly elevated vitals and…gas. Hmm.
Back up to hospital.
This time we scoped her.
Ulcers in both sections of the stomach. Prescribed misoprostol and sucralfate.
So at this point we thought the yoga was due to the ulcers. Maybe that’s also causing gas. For months, we managed the ulcers. The yoga came and went, lip curling came and went, and didn’t seem to match the severity of the ulcers as they healed–the ulcers were nearly gone and she was still showing on-and-off signs of abdominal pain.
So began the saga of her having symptoms and us–myself, my local vet, and the hospital vet–trying to figure out WHY while doing monthly re-scopes May, June, July, and August. She had x-rays. She had blood tests. She had ultrasounds. She had a rectal and duodenal biopsy. Ulcers were stubborn–weirdly, they took an unusual amount of time to heal, and at one point increased in severity before we got them gone.
She had a lipoma in her shoulder that we removed–at the time, vet thought that it was singular and a by-product of an old injury. We popped that out since it was such a simple procedure and she was up there anyway. More on this later.
All other tests and imaging came back unremarkable. We started targeting any and all sand accumulation in her stomach starting in June, but no matter how trace her levels seemed to be, it didn’t seem to change anything. She’d have days where I thought she was normal, and days where she’d stand off by herself in the field, not grazing, acting sluggish. Perpetually loud gut. No diahrrea–softest she’s gotten is when she was on psyllium or her cycle. Around July, we started wondering if her cycle had something to do with all this, since her first colic was at the end of March. So she went on Regumate for a little bit. No change. She had a full reproduction exam, where it was noted that she did have a cyst–she was re-evaluated at the end of the month and the cyst had gone.
Then, at the very end of August, she walked out of the field, ate her breakfast, and went full down-ward facing dog.
There are not ENOUGH swear words.
Called transport. Sent her up to the hospital because “It is happening NOW, let’s see what shows up.”
And like many times before, her vitals were FINE, she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but when the vet stuck their arm up there–Uh. oh. Colon’s displaced. This was the second time they’d examined her within two hours of yoga and the second time they found a displaced colon.
Medically managed again, and sent home. So now we’re concerned that she KEEPS displacing. And at this point the ulcers are managed. So what the hell is going on??? Hospital vet did a faecal transplant to re-set her microbiome and put her on motility drug Bethanacol. The belief then was that she was getting gas over and over again due to dismotility. Okay.
GETTING COLDER - MOTILITY, GAS DISTENSION AND ALLERGIES
September and October marked instances of her being “off,” but at this point I’m sure I’m overanalyzing every sh*t this horse takes because I’m completely overwhelmed. My riding instructor got me to take her for a bareback hack September 22nd–that went okay, but when we got back from a walk-only, walk-and-graze type hack, she was breathing heavily. Then she tried to go down. While I was on her.
Got off, walked her until her heart rate went down.
Two hours later I found her laying down in the field–very abnormal for that time of night, she should have been waiting at the gate for dinner.
She got up and ate dinner. I slept out there that night with my car parked along the fence. Vet came out the next day. I was sure at this point that I was completely out of my mind and reading too much into her being out of shape. Vet took one look at my happily-grazing horse and sighed, but we went to do a rectal anyway.
Vet put hand up there and…uh oh. Both her large colon and cecum were distended with gas. And the anti-spasmodic would counteract the Bethanacol.
Called hospital vet and arranged to try the next step–steroid. Even though none of her tests came back indicating IBS, we thought at this point we’ve tried everything else.
With the local vet, I also paid to do a blood test for allergies. And she came back allergic to absolutely everything.
Grass. Weeds. Trees. Her numbers were extremely high and she was “allergic” to most of the tested allergens. These allergy panels are notoriously unreliable, and horses often test positive to things they eat on a regular basis. But now I’m wondering why her immune system is so reactive on top of everything else. We started and remain on allergy therapy shots–she’s never had a bad reaction to the shot and it may at least help with her snotty nose come spring time.
So the horse is on steroids and allergy shots, and as we went into late October and early November, I was certain–with sinking dread–that her ulcers were back. She started cribbing agian. She was getting sluggish, plodding along after me when she would normally jog and try to knock the hay flakes out of my arms. She was immediately drinking water after eating or being turned out (to the point of going all the way across the field to the trough before going to the feed I was distributing–home girl is extremely food motivated and this is WEIRD). Booked an appointment with her hospital vet to have a re-scope done. I even sent the sucralfate up with her, as I was pretty certain they were going to find a raw stomach.
Nope. No ulcers. No sand. NOTHING.
At this point the hospital vet said we would not be unreasonable doing exploratory surgery.
The problem is, as we head into true winter cold, it’s like my horse has snapped back to the normal that existed when I got her (also in true winter cold). She came back from the hospital during a cold snap and is definitely perkier.
This is not the first time we discussed an exploratory surgery. Both hospital vets that have worked with her doubt that we’re going to find anything dramatic (wouldn’t that be nice). We’re probably looking at the world’s most invasive biopsy instead, and then if those results come back normal, I’ll have let them open her up for nothing. With that in mind, one of the hospital vets floated the idea that since her colon keeps displacing, we could consider just taking the colon out while they’re in there. I flinched away from that; if her colon is healthy and there’s no “grenade” in there like a gut stone or a lipoma, I can mark her as reasonably safe while we continue to try supplement and diet fixes.
The threat, though slight, of a “grenade with a loose pin” in there is what’s compelling me.
Because this recurrent colic was textbook for a gut stone–but then we didn’t see any on x-rays.
Because she had one lipoma removed while I’ve owned her, and there’s a dent in her neck that suggests maybe one was removed there as well–and where there’s one, there may be more.
But it’s all for…what, the mildest colic in the world? Stretching, yawning, lip-curling, shifting weight from side-to-side. She doesn’t even flank watch. I have never even seen her roll in colic distress. She’s always been responsive and the hospital vets all report that apart from that first visit at the end of March, she hasn’t displayed colic signs while in the hospital. It’s only at home, and so subtle that frankly, I don’t think I would have seen them if not for the fact that I was on “code yellow” starting in March.
This horse used to be semi-feral. She lived her first five years of life on open land, no paddocks, no stalls. She is EXTREMELY social with people and now has her own herd at my boarding stable, and a little hackney pony who she seems to believe is her child. Okay-ing this surgery–it’s not so much about the cost as it is what it’s going to cost HER. Three months at a lay-up facility, the first month of which is spent in a concrete stall. I’ll only see her during visitation hours. I’ll be sending a happy horse with intermittent issues–and very slight issues at that–to surgery.
But those intermittent issues are keeping me from riding her (haven’t risked it since the September meltdown) or trusting her. I haven’t gone out of town since March.
Her insurance, which I purchased two days after I purchased her, is of course more fed up than I am. If I didn’t do the surgery and just rolled into her new policy, her payments have more than doubled. I have been asked to provide a vet’s note that she is back in work and has not had any new colic signs. LOL. Her policy expires at the end of December. She has surgical coverage and colic surgery coverage remaining until that time. Her hospital vet, upon hearing all of this, moved heaven and earth to get her surgery lined up before the deadline.
I am now sitting here staring at my phone, knowing that I need to call the insurance company tomorrow and in so doing:
~Commit to the surgery
~Condemn this horse to three months of stress, depression, and wondering what she did wrong to suddenly be away from her big open field and friends
~Prevent her from ever being insured again
~Expose her to the risks inherent to surgery, potentially for NOTHING (vets have assured that her risk is very low, but still)
~Leaving myself the remaining decision of: Do I ask them to do a one-and-done and take the colon out like the one vet suggested, or do the biopsy with the potential of having to go back in again in the future, out of pocket?
I’ve lost fifteen pounds and what feels like the joy of life in this DEBACLE. The dream was to finally own my own horse after twelve years of taking phenomenal care of other people’s horses. It’s become hell on earth.
Am I sending her to surgery for selfish reasons of grasping for an answer or (in my heart of hearts) wanting three months of her under veterinary scrutiny?
Should I just let her exist with on-and-off abdominal pain and see what happens when I “just stop calling the vet and if she lives, she lives, if she doesn’t, she doesn’t” (actual suggestion by one of the barn ladies)?
I feel like I’ve been fighting in the dark, and I don’t know if I’m fighting a singular dragon or the hydra. I know that I’m overly anxious. I point-blank asked the hospital vet if there was sufficient documented evidence (basically, forget everything I’ve ever SAID I’ve seen, what has been medically observed…) to still recommend this exploratory surgery. They said yes, that no matter what, she has displaced at least twice. We also have to consider the other times she was stretching and didn’t go to the vet–it’s very possible she’s been popping her colon back into place herself at home with us nary the wiser.
But that feels unsustainable, and leaves me on edge, waiting for “the big one” that may or may not come.
And yes, a horse I got in December 2021 has made such a good impression that I have fought tooth and nail to get her issues resolved. I’d pay all of her bills all over again if it meant I got to keep her. I’m just so guilt-ridden each night she comes up to the fence, happy as a clam, thinking that I might somehow destroy her in trying to figure this out.
Thanks for reading, strangers.