Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tragedy in the Eventing Community

Last Friday, as I was packing for a trip to Atlanta to visit my son Andrew and his girlfriend, Jenna, and their new home, as I walked by my computer for the last time before shutting it down, I checked facebook. And there was the news, that tragedy had struck Michael Pollard and his eventing team. His groom was driving their rig when an impatient driver pulled out in front, causing the trailer to flip on its side. Inside the trailer, were 6 horses, including 3 of Michael's four top level eventers.
In today's day of modern technology of i-pads and cell phones, the news traveled at lightning bolt speed. Michael and his wife Nathalie were out of the country on a much deserved rest and on their way home.
We learned that Michael's newest ride, VDL Ulando, was killed immediately. The other horses were extracted from the rig and the news initially was encouraging, that they would survive.
When I was able to check in again on FB and Eventing Nation (the eventers Bible), I was informed that Icarus, or Fly as he is known, was being shipped to Riddle and Rood in Lexington, to treat his injuries. The 14 year old grey Thoroughbred had suffered the most serious lacerations, with his right hind fetlock requiring surgery. Eventually, I learned that Fly had been euthanized, as his injuries were much too severe. I had watched this lovely grey galloping around Ocala only weeks earlier and watched him on tv, competing at Rolex. It was hard to believe that he would not be making a bid for London this summer.
Unbelievably, later that same day, the news came that Jude's Law had also been euthanized. Initially, his injuries appeared to be only superficial, but by Sunday, he was exhibiting internal damage and was trailered to Rood and Riddle, where the Pollards learned that the 11 year old Irish Sport Horse had ruptured his cecum, as a result of Friday's trauma.
If I am heartbroken, and the eventing world is heart broken, I cannot even begin to imagine what the Pollards and the team at Pollard Eventing are going through.
As a horse owner, we must at some point or another, come face to face with the death of our animal. Those who have horses know, that the death of a horse is not the same as one's dog or cat dying. Our bond with these magnificent creatures is on a much different plane. And lets face it, when we are presented with that time, putting down our horse is not the same as taking our beloved Fido or Boots to the vet, laying them on a table and watching them slip into an eternal slumber. The sheer size of the horse makes the dynamics of their death much more profound. They do not just lay down. We do not pick up their body, lay it in a box with their favorite blanket or toy. We do not simply dig a hole.
Even the most peaceful death of a horse, where one passes in its sleep, is not simple. Disposing of a thousand pound animal is not easy. Calls must be made, special equipment must be brought in, and decisions to be made as to whether to bury the horse or remove the body. It is not an easy task, physically or mentally.
It is difficult for me to wrap my brain around the thought of losing 3 horses within 3 days, from a preventable accident ( I do not know the details of the accident, other than that the other driver pulled out in front of the trailer, so I will not address this at this time).
For the Pollards, their grief is magnified, because these were not just 3 horses whose world was centered around a handful of people. The Pollards and their horses are in the limelight. They must share their grief with the world, or at least the eventing world. Through facebook and Eventing Nation, they have done just that.
One year ago, Memorial weekend again, eventer Boyd Martin experienced the same kind of loss, when a barn fire claimed the lives of 6 of his horses. The eventing community grieved right along Boyd and Silva and their connections. Somehow, they moved on. And somehow, Michael and Nathalie will pull themselves up by their bootstraps and move on. Eventers are a very kind and generous community. That is why I was attracted to it in the first place. Somehow, the Pollards will persevere, as we all have at some time or other, because eventers are one tough cookie.
My deepest condolences to the Pollard Eventing Team. And now, I must go hug my Tucker.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

In Which We Must Still Keep Investigating....

Who doesn't love a good mystery? I know that I do, except when it comes to my horses! I posted a bit earlier about how being a horse owner does require us to investigate mysteries from time time, whether it be to discover the source of an illness or unsoundness or behavior problem.
Problems arose with Tucker a few months ago, which were quite out of the norm for him, and as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I had a full blown mystery on my hands as I tried to uncover the source. To anyone else, nothing would have seemed amiss, but because I have been riding him for his entire life, I was unsettled that something wasn't quite right. Nothing that warranted a call to the vet, but nonetheless, something wasn't right. He wasn't lame, he wasn't sick. He wasn't being unruly or bad. Just...not quite himself.
So I started with the usual suspects....teeth were floated, the chiropractor came out and the saddle was reflocked. Initially, there was some improvement, and I thought we were good to go after the saddle came back from being reflocked, but then things started to slip again.
I debated calling the vet out, but what was he going to say? I could insist on xrays of his joints, but my gut was saying that wasn't it. So, what did my gut say?
Tucker is a draft cross, so I have always tried to feed an EPSM diet. Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy is a muscle disease which is common with heavy draft breeds, as well as Quarter Horses (where it is called Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy or PSSM). Tucker is Percheron/Quarter Horse, so he is definitely at risk.
However, Tucker has allergies, and the feeds I should be feeding for EPSM usually contained either beet pulp or flax, which he is allergic to. EPSM diets should contain no more than 15% total daily calories from starch and sugar, and at least 25% of daily calories from fat. Horses with EPSM will also benefit from added Vitamin E and Selenium.
EPSM can be triggered at any time, with no reasonable explanation. Symptoms can include muscle wasting, especially in the rear quarters, muscle weakness, work intolerence, poor performance, lameness or gait abnormality, tying up, stringhalt, shivers, irritability at being touched and sore back.
There are 3 ways to diagnose EPSM. The least invasive method is to add fat to the diet for 4-6 months, and if the horse improves, then EPSM is more than likely the culprit.
For immediate results, there is a muscle biopsy, which is dependable, or an endocrine test from a blood sample after excercise, which is not reliable.
I was torn between wanting to know immediately and going the least invasive route. One of the complications of Tuckers allergies is his inability to heal from open wounds in a swift manner. With the summer heat fast approaching, I was leary about opening him up, even for a small incission.
So I added the fat to his diet. He is currently on Cavalor Endurix, which has a high sugar and starch content at 33%..this is the limit that you want to have for starch. The fat is low...8%. According to Dr. Beth Valentine, the leading expert on EPSM, horses with EPSM need at least 1 pound of fat per 1,000 pounds per day. Her approach is that horses gain no nutrition from grains, other than calories, so the approach is to replace starch and sugar calories with fat-based calories. The "added fats diet" is based upon:
  • 1.2%-2.1% bodyweight in good hay
  • 2 cups vegetable oil per 1,000 pounds
  • 1-2 IU Vitamin E per pound
  • Selenium supplement
  • Plenty of fresh water
  • Exercise to the horses comfort level
  • Salt and minerals
I started Tucker on 1 1/2 pounds of Seminole Ultra Bloom twice a day. It contains 20% fat and is low in starch.
Amazingly, within about 2 weeks, I noticed a difference in Tuckers attitude! No longer was he pinning his ears as I tacked him up or asked for a change in pace. He felt stronger and well, he just seemed like his old self.
I was lucky, as most horses can take 4-6 months before improving on the fat diet.
There is so much more information that Dr. Valentine has put out there regarding EPSM diets, so I am not even going to attempt to cover it. Google her name or EPSM and you will get more than enough...and if you still aren't satisfied, there is even a yahoo support group which will totally overwhelm you!
I have debated adding selenium or Vitamin E to his diet. Most supplements contain a combination. Too much selenium is bad for horses, and you really should have your soil tested before adding it to the diet.
I am going to just continue to see how Tucker does and consider adding it if I feel it is warranted.
In the meantime, I am so happy to have my old Tucker back! We missed this winter and spring eventing season, but we have the summer to get ready for the fall!
Hopefully, this mystery is finally solved!