Thursday, July 7, 2011


Eventing Rally

Amanda and Pilgrim, the day before he died. Note the flooding in the run off his stall. TS Fay, August 2008.

Cross Country schooling at Rocking Horse

Like all of the horses that I have lost, writing about them is painful, because they have all been sent over the rainbow bridge too soon. It is much easier to write a loving tribute about them while they are still grazing contentedly in the pasture and nickering for another carrot.
Pilgrim was one of those who passed too soon. Like the others, I miss him tremendously.
Pilgrim was a freebie on the Chronicle. He was in the Corner Lakes area, just south of Disney, so he was close enough to look at. I had initially recommended him to a pony club family, who was looking to move up to a new horse. They liked him, but his age discouraged them. He was 18 at the time.
I love the older horses! I love that they have so much to offer. And you just can't predict when a horse's time is up...a 4 year old can just as easily have a fatal accident or colic and die. There are no guarantees.
Amanda, who was 12 at the time, was getting ready to require a move up horse. Her Dolly was getting too small and was at her limit for what she could do. We had already introduced eventing to the 20 plus year old, and she took to it fabulously, but we weren't going to push her beyond beginner novice.
The horse advertised, was a former preliminary eventer. His jockey club name was Amarillo Albert...because the man who bred him was named Albert and was from Amarillo. Ick! His current owner called him Rillo.
When we looked at him, he was a tad underweight and his feet hadn't been done in months. He was out of shape. Amanda rode him briefly, but I was so concerned about his condition that I kept the ride short and proclaimed to his owner that we would take him.
When we brought him home, my farrier, Kevin, was at the barn. He couldn't understand why I was taking pictures of his hooves. When he saw them for the first time, he politely asked me to return the horse. I replied that I had faith in him!
Without realizing it, Kevin gave Rillo his new name, when he asked him to "move over Pilgrim." We liked the name. It fit. We kept it. Pilgrim was also given a show name of Storm Chaser.
He was a plain bay, about 16.1 hands. He had a kind eye. Some people fall in love with the color of a horse. For others, it is the height, the sex, the breed. Me? It is the eye I look at first. I am a sucker for a soft and kind eye. Pilgrim had such an eye.
After Pilgrim got his hooves done, it took about a month to get the weight on and to become sound. When Kevin returned five weeks later, he was impressed with how much better his hooves already looked.
Amanda started riding him. He was kind and a wonderful teacher. As all good horses do, he taught Amanda alot. And with Amanda, Pilgrim learned a few new things. As a pony club horse, he went to games rally! And they went to dressage, show jumping and eventing rallies. He was a star. He didn't know anything but GO! He loved to jump and he was a star on the cross country course. They were a good team together.
Two years after we got Pilgrim, just before Halloween in 2007, Pilgrim came in scrapped up from the field one day. We thought he had been in a tussle with the other geldings. I dressed his wounds and didn't give them another thought. A few days later, we loaded him up for a ride to a Halloween costume party for pony club. Amanda wore pajamas. We put curlers in Pilgrim's mane and tail, and pinned small stuffed animals to the saddle pad. Hey, I didn't say I was creative! They were cute though!
Pilgrim was fine walking around, but when Amanda began to trot him, he was clearly lame. I attributed it to his getting beat up. We brought him home and gave him some time off.
He seemed to be getting better. Then, he started having intermittent lameness. And by intermittent, I mean sound one minute, then lame, then sound again. And so it went. I was perplexed and ready to call my vet.
Then, one morning, he came in fine for breakfast. My morning routine was to bring them in for breakfast, and because it was fall, they went back outside. I would lead Tucker and open Pilgrim's door and let him follow us out. This morning, he stumbled out of his stall, suddenly lame again. And I noticed as I led him out, he pressed his nose to Tucker's side. He kept his nose there the whole way out to the field. Out in the field, he continued to keep his nose on Tucker's side. With horror, I realized he was acting like a blind horse.
As I watched Pilgrim, I realized I was watching a dying horse. He wasn't colicing. He wasn't thrashing about or acting like a seriously ill horse. I can't explain it, but I was watching the life of him being sucked out of him. It was as if an invisible demeantor was hovering above him, sucking the life out of him. I couldn't see the demeantor, but I could just as surely see the life seeping from him.
I was paniced. I walked out to the field. I felt that somehow, if I put my hands on him, the reason would reveal itself.
I started with his legs, and moved up. I moved my hands over his belly and body. I moved to his head. And suddenly, there under his jaw, the answer revealed itself. Embedded in his winter coat, was a tick.
I pulled the tick off. I continued watching Pilgrim. Miraculously, he started moving around, grazing and acting like a horse. With each ticking minute, he seemed to grow stronger. The demementor had been stopped, at least for the time being.
Watching the life return to him, I started thinking of tick diseases. I had been a Vet Tech, and knew that dogs could suffer tick paralysis. Dogs are literally crippled, only to have their use of limbs restores once the tick is removed. I wondered if horses could suffer the same fate. Once barn chores were done and Pilgrim seemed better, I headed home to do some research. I called my vet and left a message, letting him know what was going on and setting up an appointment for him to come out for an exam.
Once home, I learned that while horses cannot contact tick paralysis, they can contact Lyme disease. Knowing that, when my vet called back, I told him what I had learned and asked for a Lyme test, which is a simple ELISA blood test.
Upon exam, my vet also wanted to rule out EPM, and so we tested for both. The results came back negative for EPM but positive for Lyme.
The pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. It was making sense. Horses suffering from Lyme suffer intermittent lameness, characterized by an ill defined shifting lameness. Laminitis, personality changes and poor performance are also typical. So is anterior uveitis.
It is estimated that 75% of horses will test positive for antibodies to the organism. Not all show symptoms. Until recently, many vets did not believe horses could contact Lyme. Especially in Florida.
There are two methods of treatment. Intravenous Tetracycline or oral Doxycycline. I opted for the Doxy.
We treated Pilgrim for several months and he seemed to make progress. In March, I began to ride him, gradually building up his strength. Amanda began to ride him as well.
In May, we trailered him to a pony club function. The girls had been invited to perform at a fundraiser for a local horse park. As Amanda started to mount Pilgrim, he suddenly pulled back with all his strength. I somehow managed to hold the reins, preventing him from pulling free. Surprised at this spook, I readjusted his tack and Amanda started to mount again. And he again pulled back and tried to get away from us. Again, I held on with all my might. Once more, I readjusted his tack and Amanda prepared to mount. This time, he pulled back so hard, he fell backwards. At this, I quickly untacked him and put him in the trailer and drove him home. Something was clearly not right.
Back at home, Pilgrim was back to his normal self. There were no issues mounting or riding him. And so, confident that what had happened was a fluke, we loaded Pilgrim back in the trailer and headed off to another pony club function. We put Pilgrim in the crossties in the barn and I headed back out to the trailer to assist Jen and Imp, who were working out of the trailer.
I heard a commotion in the barn and ran to find out what was happening. Pilgrim had reared in the cross ties for no reason, falling back onto his hocks, which were scraped from the concrete aisle.
He appeared ok by the time I arrived, so we finished tacking him with no further incident. Amanda led him outside, and I held my breath as she mounted. She was able to mount him without any problems.
Just as I was letting my breath out, Pilgrim exploded! He jumped in the air, then just as quickly, he sat down. Thankfully, Amanda took the opportunity to make a quick dismount. Pilgrim quickly stood up and as I went to grab his reins, he reared back. He fell over backwards into a horse trailer, and everything suddenly became slow motion. I thought to myself that I was about to watch my horse break his neck and die. He fell into the trailer and slid down. It was almost comical as he sat there on his haunches, front hooves splayed out in front of him. He was dazed, but alive. After a few seconds, which felt more like eternity, he stood up. I don't remember why, but the first thing I did was to open his mouth and look at his gums. They were dark purple. I yelled at everyone to move away, certain that he was going to drop dead. I grabbed for the girth and quickly undid it, pulling the saddle off of him. He was still standing and when I checked his gums again, this time they were returning to a pink color.
I led Pilgrim out to a paddock and turned him out. By the time we loaded for the ride home, he was by all accounts was back to normal.
I stopped by my vets office the next day and told him what had happened. We both concluded that Pilgrim could never be ridden again, it was too dangerous. He gave me the number of the U of F mobile vet clinic, and I made an appointment for them to come to the barn and take xrays. I did not want to risk trailering him the 3 hours for a neurological workup. I needed to know what was happening to Pilgrim.
The U of F team..a vet and 3 handsome residents arrived to much fanfare...many neighbors and pony clubbers wanted to check out this mobile contained everything needed for a thorough exam. Xray machine, diagnostic equipment and more. Xray images are beamed back to U of F via satellite and reports are almost instantaneous.
After 3 hours, of which the vet and his students were able to get Pilgrim to recreate an episode of pulling back, which resulted in his breaking free, the vet was unable to reach a definite diagnosis. The xrays revealed a calcified bump on the back of the poll. It was apparent that pressure applied to the poll was the trigger...but why, I wanted to know, did it only happen away? He had not had any type of episode at home. Was the bumpiness of the trailer ride causing pressure and pain on his poll? It wasn't adding up. Unfortunately, this was a vet who did not believe in Lyme Disease in horses. We had no answers.
We did conclude that Pilgrim was most definitely retired.
Over the course of that summer, Pilgrim would suffer what I termed "mini-strokes." I would come into the barn to find him dazed and in a state of confusion. He appeared to not be aware of his surroundings. Next, he would have days that he would not leave his stall. Four or 5 times I had my vet on the phone, making plans to euthanize him, only to arrive at the barn to find him back to normal, forcing me to cancel the euthanasia.
Christmas was coming and I made the decision to put off euthanizing him until after the holidays. Incredibly, he had no more episodes of either the mini strokes or the refusing to leave the stall. We were elated and thought he may not need to be put down.
In January, we learned that Imp had to be retired from eventing, due to the bone chips in her knee. She was to have surgery in February and would be on stall rest for 6 weeks. I wondered how to best handle her stall rest, while keeping her calm. Dolly, her best friend, would stay in for 12 hours, but I couldn't expect to keep her in a stall 24 hours a day. Pilgrim solved the problem and would keep her company the other 12 hours. Then, the question was who would be her companion in rehab, once she was allowed to be turned out. I didn't want her out with Dolly, who could have a temper and kick out at Imp. No, again, I turned to Pilgrim, who's docile personality made him the perfect rehab partner.
For six months, Pilgrim was Imp's constant companion. He had no more episodes. I thanked God for not putting him down. It was almost as if he knew he had an important purpose to serve and was letting me know that he wasn't ready.
Then, in August, we had a storm named Faye came through, flooding the farm. The horses couldn't be turned out for over a week, due to the flooding and the floating ant colonies. The stress was too much for Pilgrim. He foundered and was in a great deal of pain. I made the difficult decision to end his suffering, and we put him down under a tree, in a dry part of the farm.
If we had to fill out a death certificate for horses, I would list his cause of death as Lyme disease. There is no doubt that Lyme disease robbed Pilgrim of his golden years.
I miss Pilgrim. Alot. I miss his soft, kind eye. I wish I could have given him the same type of retirement that Imp is would have been nice to have them living together in retirement, grazing peacefully side by side.