Saturday, November 13, 1999

Appreciate Every Day With Your Horse - Laura Curtis

TRUE TALES, by Laura Curtis

I was glad I had my sunglasses on; I didn`t want my vet to see me crying. The vet had just finished a rectal exam on my horse and was giving me the bad news. Dakota is my fiery bay Arabian gelding. We have been together ten years now. When I got Dakota, he was four years old, recently gelded, and well on his way to an unpleasant end. He had gotten aggressive and quite explosive to any provocation imagined or real due to mistreatment. Together, after lots of patience and time and love, he and I became the best of friends; he would do anything I asked of him. I had even had people walk up to me and ask to buy him for their children--quite a metamorphosis from his previous self. My life has revolved around this horse since I bought him--I love him dearly.

Last year while out trail riding he began to wring his tail. I thought perhaps he had dry skin although he showed no indication of it. Dakota is an extremely sensitive horse. For instance, he cannot tolerate square saddle blankets because he can`t stand the occasional touch of the corner of the blanket. He tends to react rather explosively in relation to the irritant--the touch of the corner of a square saddle blanket would launch him into a fit of bucking. So, I began to feed him corn oil. His aggravation and tail wringing only worsened while out riding. He also began to buck--not his usual `I`m happy to be alive` buck, but an unhappy, `something is bothering me` buck. I talked to my vet, and he suggested a fungal shampoo every day for 14 days. Maybe Dakota had seborrea, although again he showed no sign of it. We tried that to no avail--back to the vet who then suggested an anti-bacterial shampoo for 14 more days. This didn`t help either. Dakota had progressed to the point of being unridable. He would refuse to move at all after about 20 minutes of riding--even when I dismounted and tried to lead him home. He seemed to show no discomfort, however, when free in his paddock. The trigger for the behavior was either weight on his back or possibly the cinch. When I unsaddled Dakota, he would bite viciously at his sides, especially his right side. When I groomed his back over the loin area, he`d stretch his head up and roll his eyes, like I was scratching a terrible itch, and it felt so good. Something was definitely wrong--we just had to figure out what it was. I called my vet again who vaguely suggested that perhaps it was something to do with my tack or perhaps my saddle blanket was irritating Dakota. I tried not to get upset about this suggestion. I know my horse, and it was definitely not my tack. It had now been close to a year since the onset of Dakota`s vague but troubling symptoms. Nevertheless, I purchased a new saddle blanket that was a different material than what my previous blanket was made of. It did not help. Again I called my vet and persisted that we look further. Our next step was to take a skin biopsy to check for allergies. He did show some indication of allergies, so we did a blood test. Dakota showed up as being mildly allergic to barley, which I was feeding him, and grass hay, which I had also been trying to feed him, but which he wasn`t eating very well. My vet said that even though Dakota was not reacting strongly to these two items, they might be bothering him enough to cause Dakota to display that behavior that he was. We changed his diet to eliminate everything he was allergic to.

Several months later he was still no better. My vet came out to examine him once again. After pausing for several seconds in thought, he noticed that Dakota`s sheath was slightly enlarged, which I had noticed, too. I had also noticed that Dakota`s stream when he urinated was not as strong as it used to be. Both of these symptoms came on quickly--within two weeks. My vet decided to do a rectal exam. Sure enough, he could feel a large mass above Dakota`s bladder, and the bladder which normally is paper thin membrane felt thickened to my vet.. We then decided to take him in for an ultrasound and biopsy. The tumor turned out to be a lipoma which is a fatty tumor. Unfortunately, it`s location precluded it`s removal as it was sitting right on top of a large nerve bundle. Dakota has now developed these fatty tumors in his girth area in addition to the internal one we now knew about and the ones on his sheath. We did a urinalysis which turned out normal. Dakota bites at himself like he`s itchy. He rolls frequently. He does not run madly around his paddock with his tail flagged as often as he used to. He yawns often which my vet told me can be a sign of discomfort in horses. But my vet said that he could live a long life--I just can`t ride him anymore. I was devastated. I had always thought that if we just kept looking we would find and fix the problem. I never dreamed it would be something we couldn`t fix. We have to watch Dakota now and when the time comes that he`s no longer comfortable, I`ll have to call my vet again to put him to sleep. I have since found out that a significant number of colics that progress to surgery turn out to be these tumors.

I had ridden Dakota constantly since I had gotten him. We had the best times together. He was my escape, my salvation, my friend. Appreciate every day with your horse; we can`t take those moments for granted.

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