From Endurance to Dressage
It's been a while since I said anything about Speedy's latest abscess. In this case, no news was good news. Basically, I rode him on a Wednesday, saw him racing up and down the fence with Izzy on a Friday, and then got a text that he was lame on a Saturday.
By the time I got to the ranch that afternoon, this was the day we had gone to Kernville, he looked sound at the walk. Usually, when Speedy has an abscess, you can see it at the walk. He never presents with I've-broken-something-and-I-may-never-walk-again lameness; he just looks really sore. The ranch owner has a pretty good eye though, so if she saw something, there was something to be seen. I jogged him out, and yep, there was a slight head bob.
Unlike any of his other abscesses, I couldn't really pinpoint where it was. With the hoof testers, he was testing positive all around his toe. I used the hoof knife to scrape away some of the loosened sole, and found what looked like an abscess track traveling from one side of his hoof to the other. Without knowing exactly where the abscess was, I opted to simply poultice and see what happened.
Once his hoof was wrapped, I put in a call to my vet to see what he thought. His number one concern was that this might be the early signs of laminitis, so he had me check the other front foot. I got no reaction on that hoof. Speedy was also standing squarely on all four feet without the classic toe point or leaning back to get off his front feet. There was no digital pulse, and his pain level looked to be a zero.
Dr. Tolley said that abscesses in the toe aren't as common as in the bars, although he had just dug out a pretty deep one that week. He felt that poulticing was the right course of action. While I had him on the phone, I asked him about using Ichthammol as a drawing agent instead of the Numotizine that I've been using. It had been recommended by several people. He was pretty quick to tell me that he hated using Ichthammol because it doesn't wash off. That was all I needed to hear.
I poulticed for three days and two nights. When I took the poultice off, Speedy jogged out sound. The next day, he was sore again, so I repeated the poultice. When I took it off several days later, he was sound and has remained so. So was it an abscess? I am not sure. Dr. Tolley thought it could also have been a small bruise. Either way, poulticing was an appropriate treatment.
Of course, while I was poulticing one foot, I was also keeping my eye on the little hole in Speedy's hoof. For those that don't remember, my vet thought it might have been caused by white line disease, but my farrier found no signs of that. He felt it was more likely the remnants of an old bruise. For the first week or two, I scrubbed it clean with a stiff brush and coated it with Tea Tree Oil. Now, it's nearly grown out and hasn't caused any trouble.
But because nothing in life is simple, Izzy came up lame last week too. As I was walking him to the feed room, my spidey-sense noted something was amiss. Izzy didn't sound right. You know what I mean. I've lead this horse about a billion times, so I know what his footfalls sound like. I didn't see anything thought, so I tacked him up. As we walked up to the arena my intuition again said that something was NQR. As soon as I mounted and asked Izzy to talk off, I knew I was right. I couldn't see it, but I could feel it. I kept him walking, trying to pin point which leg it was.
It felt like he was hitting the ground harder with his left front which suggested he was off on the right front, but that didn't check out. I asked for a quick jog and felt a slight head bob, but for the life of me, I just couldn't figure out which leg it was. I started to suspect it was the left hind.
I walked him back and untacked him and called the ranch owner. I needed a second pair of eyes. There was definitely a head bob, and we both felt like it was in the hind. It was actually kind of funny. We both kept trying to reason it out. If his head goes down on the left, it has to be the right. But if his hip comes up on the right, it has to be his ...
Ultimately, we finally dragged out a lunge line. On the circle it was clearly the left hind. Why it took us so long to think of trotting him in a circle is beyond me. I couldn't find anything with the hoof testers, so I poulticed Izzy's foot too - on the same day that I had already poulticed Speedy's!
I wasn't surprised by Izzy's abscess. We've had a really dry month followed by heavy rain. He's abscessed once each winter over the past several years, so this one fit that pattern. And only once have I actually seen the abscess erupt, and that one came out just above his heels. He's typically sore for a few days and then it fades away.
The next day, the ranch owner saw Izzy rearing up on his hind legs as he played with Speedy. He was clearly feeling pretty good. On the third day, I pulled the poultice. I used that day to give everyone a soundness check. Each horse got lunged in the arena at all three gaits, and both horses came up sound. Everybody has been ridden several times since then, and they're both sound.
Now if it would just stop raining for a day or two, we might be able to get back to work.
Speedy didn't look so good on Saturday. While I felt bad, I at least knew why he looked Not Quite Right (NQR). The poor guy has been through a lot the past three weeks. He's had an abscess. He got vaccinated. His teeth got the rough edges taken off. I gave him a dewormer on Thursday. And to add insult to injury, his dose of Prascend got doubled starting on Friday.
When I pulled into the ranch on Saturday morning. I could see Speedy standing in the farthest corner of his field. His head was hanging rather dejectedly, and he didn't even bother coming over to say hi like he normally does. My heart started to beat faster, and I had to restrain myself from hopping both fence lines get to him more quickly. Instead, I fed Izzy his cookies as I walked around to Speedy's gate, all the while watching him for signs of illness.
My mind was whirling with next steps; take his temperature. Check his pulse and respiration. Call the vet. I walked out to him and immediately felt marginally better when he looked at me expectantly. He wasn't willing to walk over to get a cookie, but he was willing to check my hands and pockets for one. I breathed a sigh of relief when he contentedly chewed up his cookie and asked for more.
Instead of checking for soundness like I had planned, I brought Speedy up to the feed room and gave him a thorough grooming. Lunging could wait for another day. I worked the dirt out of his coat and pulled layer after layer of shedding hair. He stood with a leg cocked, and basked in the attention. He wasn't feeling great, but he appreciated the gentle strokes of my grooming glove. He rubbed his forehead against my hands and seemed to groan in pleasure.
I turned him loose in the yard to graze for more than an hour as I rode Izzy. Grazing on the spring grass while visiting with each horse in turn seemed to lift his spirits. By the time I put him away, he looked almost like his old self.
The next morning, he was markedly perkier even whinnying at me when I pulled in. We walked up to the arena for that postponed soundness check. I put him on the lunge line and was delighted to see that he was sound both directions at all three gaits. I didn't ask for too much, just enough to encourage a big stretch down and a longer stride. He seemed happy to finally be back to some semblance of work.
Things may be changing for Speedy and me, but at least he's feeling better and looking like he's ready to get back to work.
"In a world where you can be anything, choose to be KIND."
- Jennifer Dukes Lee
I think the thing that surprised me most about the comments from yesterday's post was how quick some of you were to think the absolute worst of me. In contrast, I was overwhelmed with gratitude at those of you who chose to think the best of me. Thank you.
I have stipulated many, many times that while I write, I am not a professional. I don't get paid to put my thoughts down on paper. I do it because it is therapeutic for me. It helps me set goals, prioritize, celebrate, scream, shout, sing, and sometimes, to cry.
Some of you understood my feelings; I have a horse that will probably die long before I am ready for him to pass, and I won't be able to do a thing about it.
Except. The one thing I can do for him is choose his ending before he suffers. I can choose to let him go before he stands in excruciating pain as his coffin bone rotates into his sole. Laminitis. It's my worst nightmare. Speedy's version of Cushing's Disease seems determined to make this about his feet. How many laminitic episodes do I let him have? What's the magic number? One, three, eight? My heart answers for me; none. One is too many.
When Dr. Tolley and I evaluated Speedy more than a week ago, I asked him to help me make the right decision when the time comes. He could barely look me in the eye. He quipped, "oh, I'll be long gone before that happens." I knew what he was trying to say. He meant that Speedy has a long life in front of him and that he'll be retired before that fateful day arrives. That's what he tried to say, but I knew better.
I pleaded with him to listen, really listen. The last thing that I want is for Speedy to suffer. Dr. Tolley looked at me and nodded. In a voice that resonated with regret, he admitted that he has let horses live too long. Suffer too long. Even for him, a doctor of veterinarian medicine for more than 30 years, letting them go is still hard to do.
I told Dr. Tolley that I will do what seems right for Speedy. I will care for him as long as there is a good chance that he can lead a comfortable and happy life. I will not go to the ends of the Earth to keep him with me though. That's selfish.
If that makes me an asshole, then it does. I won't apologize for it.
Speedy and I just can't catch a break. On Thursday, Dr. Tolley called with the results of Speedy's most recent ACTH results. For those who are new here, Speedy has Cushing's Disease. Retesting the ACTH levels can indicate whether the disease is being controlled by medication or not. I wrote a Cushing's Tutorial here. I am not a vet, so take the information with a grain of salt. In short, Speedy's ACTH levels didn't fall as we had hoped; neither did they remain where they were. Oh, no. Instead, his have risen 239%.
In January of 2019, multiple abscesses in quick succession screamed red flag to my vet, especially since Speedy had never before abscessed and he was also quickly approaching his 15th birthday. Dr. Tolley ordered Speedy's first ACTH test. The results came back at only slightly elevated with a score of 56. While low, it was still too high for mid-winter, so Speedy was started on 1 mg of pergolide daily.
Throughout the rest of the winter and spring, things went well. In early August, he developed another abscess, and in November another one. And of course, we had yet a third one in mid-February. Speedy's still recovering from that one. It would seem that the Prascend was working through the first half of the year but not so much in the second.
I guess the good news is we now have an explanation for why the abscesses continued. The only thing we can do is increase Speedy's daily dose of pergolide from 1mg to 2. Prascend, the brand name for pergolide, isn't cheap though. I pay $2.13 per pill, and before you tell me I can get it slightly cheaper, I am aware of that.
I choose to order it through my veterinarian's online pharmacy because I don't have to do anything except change the AutoShip date when needed. Well, that and provide my credit card. My vet takes care of everything else. It's convenient, and for the $8.00 a box I might save by ordering through Allivet, I'll stick with my vet's pharmacy.
Let's be honest here; $4.23 per day is a lot of money. That's $29.61 a week or $131.13 a month. Even scarier, it's a whopping $1,543.95 a year. I can't afford more. Maybe it's more honest to say I WON'T afford more. It breaks my heart to say it, but at some point, the price of a treatment is more than I am willing to spend. In June, we'll test his ACTH levels again. This test will tell us if his Cushing's Disease is under control or not.
While it kills me to say this, if his numbers have risen even more, I can't justify spending $200 a month on three pills a day. I am willing to do a lot for my horses, but at some point, I'm just going to have to take a step back and let nature run its course. Will that be easy to do? Oh my gosh, no! It will break my heart.
For now, we're taking it one day at a time.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read