The Perfect storm

So, I wish I did not have to start this process again…but unfortunately, I do. Once again I have a senior horse with a variety of acute and chronic conditions that all hit at the same time. Right now I am trying to make her comfortable while also trying to figure out what is what and how to best respond.

Three months ago Tilly was tested for EPM due to muscle wasting and weight loss.The first time she was in the lower end of an active infection. We started a compounded medicine for 1 month and her numbers decreased. We decided to do another round as she responded well to the first round. However, the numbers remained the same. We also tested her for Lyme which showed a chronic and an active infection but the numbers were in the high normal range and the vet felt that it was not treatment worthy at the time.

Last month Tilly began “crab walking” out of the blue. Called the vet. They came out. Her ataxia was bilateral- both her left and right hind- whereas EPM tends to be unilateral. Further, her presentation was not suggestive of Lyme.

We started steroids (dexamethasone oral power) for 5 days with Banamine, tapering as we went, and she seemed to recover. The consensus was it was an acute attack that may have occurred given she is a senior with a history of being an Amish workhorse and perhaps, she pulled something in her neck.

Treatment was complete and another week went by and again, she showed some ataxia. This time less severe. The vet felt that since she responded well to the first round of steroids that it was not EPM-related as you would not see improvement. Further, if it were Lyme related the presentation would be more consistent. Again, a round of Dex and improved quickly. The next week we had her neck x-rayed and there were some arthritic changes. However, she was running around and moving well so the vet felt injections in her neck would not be necessary at that time.

Seventy two hours later, she had some trouble getting up but eventually succeeded. The next morning my sweet girl was spinning, crab walking, and falling over. It was absolutely terrible to see. I immediately gave her 10cc IV Banamine and she calmed down and stopped spinning. The vet came out and administered Dex IV and thought that due to her inflammatory bowel disease we should try Dex IM to ensure absorption. We also decided to pull blood to test for Cushings as she seemed to lose weight overnight and was not shedding out well. The next day she was lame on her right front. Panicked I called the vet fearing that if she did have Cushings, she was trying to founder due to the steroid use. Thankfully, the vet came out, did a nerve block on her right front (this helps to see if the horse has laminitis as they will improve once blocked) and checked for pulses (if a horse has laminitis typically they will have pulses in their hooves) and Tilly did not have any. So, the vet did not feel we were dealing with founder. However, the lameness presented a major challenge due to her still being ataxic on the hind end. The vet did cortisone injections into her neck hoping to help with inflammation due to arthritis. Tilly did great and suddenly, began freaking out. Spinning, knocking into the doors, etc. The vet explained that the injections likely added more pressure on her spinal cord causing her to react. Again, once the vet was able to safely administer Banamine and some Dorm, she calmed and laid down for the first time in over a week for a good 45 minutes. We decided to make sure she was able to get back up. Although she had some trouble, after a couple tries, she was able to do so. Her breathing was heavy, wheezy, almost like she was having a panic attack and hyperventilating. A few minutes later, her breathing returned to normal.

Tilly’s Cushing’s text level was about 100 pg/mL (it should be about 30 pg/mL during mid-November to mid-July) meaning, she does have Cushings. The vet decided to wean her off of the steroid as to not increase the risk of Laminitis even more but also to give neck injections time to work (5-7 days). We also immediately began Prescend (2 tabs) a day to treat her Cushings.

We are on day 5 since the 3rd ataxic episode and day 3 post neck injection and she is still lame on her right front along with ataxic on her hind end. However, she is still eating, engaging, and is bright and alert. She does not seemed distressed or in pain thankfully. Due to Tilly not showing much improvement (even though it can take 5-7 days to see improvements from the neck injections) I decided to start her on a non-compounded EPM medication, Protazil. According to the vet, Protazil should not cause any harm whether her symptoms are EMP related or not. I also began 10cc of Vitamin E oil. Tilly was previously on pelleted Vitamin E but due to her inflammatory bowel disorder, she may struggle to absorb the pelleted form of the supplement. Further, there are a number of studies showing the benefits of Vitamin E and the connection between Vitamin E and ataxia.

On a positive note, since starting Prescend for her Cushings, I have noticed that she is drinking less water. Increased water intake is a symptom of unmanaged Cushings. I am hopeful that means the medication has started to work at regulating her hormones. We are now at a wait and see point. I continue to try to make her comfortable. Tons of bedding in her huge foaling stall, hay everywhere, fans on, doors open. She has been a trooper. My hope is that she recovers from this and enjoy whatever time she has left and fights this as she has so many other things- the reason she was given the name, Ottilie.


Understanding Equine Cushings

Laminitis and Founder in Horses on Steroids


The most common esophageal conditions in horses is choking and it is always an emergency.

Typically, there is a cause to this condition like eating too quickly, food being too dry or suck together, or even a lack of water. Some horses may choke due to their dental health as well. Further, abnormal esophagus anatomy can also contribute a predisposition to choking, Food may form a firm bolus that becomes lodged in their esophagus. However, other items can also cause an obstruction like hay or straw, hard treats, carrots, and even, nonfood objects.

How to tell if your horse is choking?

  • The most common symptoms are hyper salivation, food or foam coming out of their nose and mouth
  • Some horses may become anxious and thrash around
  • Retching
  • Not eating
  • Acting colicky
  • Coughing

What to do when you suspect your horse is choking?

  • Immediately remove access to any food or hay.
  • Call your veterinarian
  • If you are knowledgable with medication administration, and your horse is extremely agitated, you can administer a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) like Banamine. Make sure to check the horse’s temperature before administering as NSAIDs will mask a fever.
  • Once the vet arrives they will preform a physical exam. Typically, they will insert a tube down the horse’s throat to flush out any compaction. This may have to be done multiple times.
  • Your horse maybe required to begin antibiotics depending on the veterinarian’s advise to help treat any aspiration or potential pneumonia.
  • You may need to keep your horse confined for a few horses (or days) depending on the severity of the choke.
  • You will need to check their temperature for a few days after choke to ensure that the horse has not developed an upper respiratory infection.
  • Depending on the cause, the veterinarian may schedule a dental float procedure, or have you wet the horse’s feed and/or hay or switch the feed entirely.

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How Long Will A Riding Helmet Last?

How Horses Stay Warm

Are Donkeys Part Woodchuck?

So, the other day, I walked into our beautiful run-in and saw all of the two by fours with chunks missing and some down to almost nothing. I stood there with my jaw dropped. Are you kidding me?!

These donkeys live in luxury. They have premium hay, mineral blocks, shelter, toys, each other, and even blankets. They have their vaccines, teeth floated, and feet done. What could possibly possess them to eat wood? They have messed with the trees before but that stopped. Frustrated, I solicited some advice from a friend of mine and also did some research. Here is what I found.

Apparently, donkeys will chew on wood for one of three reasons.

  • Boredom
  • Mineral Deficiency
  • Copying their Mates

The top reason is boredom. According to, this is the most common reason for donkeys to chew on wood. That being said, this boredom is often the result of not having their friends or being locked up in a stall for long periods. These two items are not applicable to my situations. They are always with each other and are outside the entire time with the option to go into a shelter; they are rarely confined. They also have a large area to run around and play.

The second reason, vitamin deficiency…good ole Pica…the craving for non-food items such as wood. This can be solved by running blood work to look at the minerals and by purchasing a mineral block.

The third reason, when there is a new horse or donkey in the pact and they possess the wood eating habit. Donkey see, donkey do!

How do you address and stop this destructive habit?

  • Spray wood surfaces with an anti-chew substance. You can purchase these sprays at a tack or local feed store. Or, you can make your own with Cayenne Pepper and water.
  • Get blood work done and provide a mineral block.
  • Provide the donkeys with things to play with- a ball, milk jug, etc.
  • Allow them time outside with their friends.

Hopefully these suggestions work!

4 Low-Tech Ways to Fight Frozen Water Troughs

By Kelly Munro

Frozen stock tanks and water troughs in our paddocks and pastures not only pose a dehydration risk to horses, they create a lot of extra work for us. In order to keep fresh water available to our horses at all times, we are constantly breaking and removing ice, hauling hot water from the barn, or installing costly electric systems.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy and inexpensive, low-tech way to eliminate or at least reduce this burden? Well, good news! Here are some simple #barnlifehack tricks that do a surprisingly good job of keeping the water ready to drink, even in the single digits, without constant management.

1: The Floating Object

Just as a river rarely freezes compared to a lake, moving water stays liquid longer. How can we use that to our advantage without leaving a hose running all night long? The answer is as simple as placing some large floating objects in our stock tanks.

A basketball, tennis ball, or other non-sinking object bobs and floats around in the water, agitating the surface and making it difficult for an ice skin to form over the top of the tank. Plus there’s an added benefit in really cold weather! If an ice skin does manage to form, the floating object creates a weak spot in the ice that your horse can more easily break by pushing down on the ball to create a drinking hole.

Be careful that the object you use isn’t imparting a funny flavor to the water or scaring your horse away from drinking deeply. If you don’t see horses comfortably approaching the trough, stay with them and use treats and kind words to show them that the new floating objects are safe to drink next to.

2: The Salt Water Bottle

An old cowboy trick is to fill milk jugs, or other sealed plastic containers, with salt water and place a few in the stock tank. Saltwater has a lower freezing point than freshwater and tends to stay liquid even in the coldest weather.

In fact a water to salt mixture of about 3:1 won’t freeze until around -5 Fahrenheit. That’s the cold! So a saltwater bottle can easily last all night in the single digits without freezing.

But what good does this really do? While this scientific property of saltwater is fascinating, it’s not actually particularly useful to us since horses can’t drink saltwater, and freshwater freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what.

Does this bottle of unfrozen saltwater make it warmer in the tank water? No! The temperature of the liquid saltwater is just as cold as the freezing freshwater. The idea that the proximity to the saltwater somehow keeps the freshwater from freezing is a myth. However, the floating bottle does agitate the surface which helps prevent and ice skin from forming and horses can push the bottle down with their nose to break a hole in the iced over tank.

Myth busted? Well, sort of… the saltwater bottle does work well to prevent stock tanks from icing over, but not necessarily because of the salt. It works in the same way as any floating object would, by agitating the surface of the water. A partially filled saltwater bottle does float especially nicely in the tank and is more difficult for horses to remove than a lighter bottle.

3: The Insulated Side Walls

Insulating the sides of our water tanks can keep them warmer which delays or prevents freezing. How does this work? Heat is lost from your horses’ water to the surrounding atmosphere primarily via the principle of conduction. Heat energy is transferred from the warmer substance to an adjacent cooler one where they are touching. In our case, the air is cooler than the water as temperatures drop outside – at night, for example.

On the side walls of the stock tank, the air first touches the material of the stock tank and heat transfer occurs between those two media. Then the heat transfers between the water and the walls of the tank. Some materials are more conductive than others. For this reason, a plastic stock tank freezes more slowly than a metal one.

To prevent this type of heat loss through the sides of your water vessel, you can insulate it to create an even slower transfer of heat to the surrounding air. There are insulated buckets available to purchase. You can wrap the tank in foam, partially bury it in dirt, manure, or bedding, or use large tires filled with spray foam to surround a round bucket or tank. The tire and foam materials are not very conductive and the black tires warm easily in the sun creating more heat to hold in.

In your efforts to insulate, be careful that there is nothing a horse could get trapped in or easily ingest and that no sharp edges were created. Drink responsibly!

4: The Floating Lid

This is the same principle as putting on a hat to keep from losing heat from the top of your head. You can do this with your horse’s water by using a floating piece of foam the size and shape of your vessel to insulate the surface of the water from direct contact with the air, which prevents heat loss much like a pool cover.

When the horse pushes his curious nose on the floating foam, it sinks a bit and water flows over the top for him to drink. Some commercially available foam water covers even have a bowl shape in the top that water pools in for easy drinking. If you are making your own, be sure to use a stronger structural foam that is difficult to damage by biting. You don’t want your horse ingesting little bits of styrofoam or other material as he plays with the water.

Alright, technically this is just two low-tech methods for keeping your horse’s water available to him in freezing conditions: agitation and insulation. To recap, you can try to prevent the ice from skinning over by agitating the surface with a floating object, or you can insulate your water to prevent conductive heat loss. Within these two principles are many ways to accomplish your goals, so be creative and have fun designing your own #barnlifehack that will keep your horse watered and your chore list short!

How to Check Your Horse’s Gut Sounds