From Endurance to Dressage
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.
I actually like taking my horses to the vet. Not for emergencies of course, but for regular maintenance, the bill is almost worth the price of admission. I always learn something new, but that's because Speedy usually shows up with some new thing or another. Izzy, too for that matter. Saturday's visit was no exception.
Both boys loaded up without issue. As a side note, this was the very first time that I hauled my trailer on the freeway with my new truck, Newt. It was also the first time I've hauled both horses with Newt. I have to say that I was pretty happy. All of that aside, Dr. Tolley and his assistant were standing at the ready as I pulled in.
As I unloaded both horses, I started with a run down of what I needed.
Speedy: dental work, check the fit and suitability of his double bridle, vaccinations, fecal exam, check his weight, blood work to check his ACTH levels (the Cushing's Disease thing), examine the abscess, and examine the weird hole in his hind foot.
Izzy: dental, vaccinations, fecal exam, check his weight, and examine the slow-to-heal wound on his lip.
Since Speedy DOES NOT LIKE for Izzy to be out of sight, we always start with Speedy because he can stand in a more relaxed frame of mind while the drugs wear off. For the bit check and abscess exam, we worked on Speedy at the trailer with Izzy tied well within Speedy's sight. In an effort to make this marathon of a post shorter, I am grouping the visit's results by body part rather than in the order they were done. Here goes ...
Speedy's Mouth: I slipped Speedy's halter off and replaced it with the double bridle. First, it did my ego a bit of good to hear Dr. Tolley express obvious appreciation for the bits I had chosen. He thought they were really beautiful and well made. Better than that, he thought the fit was good and saw no issues. If I was happy with how Speedy was going, Dr. Tolley felt the bits were fine.
During Speedy's dental exam, Dr. Tolley gave the bits a second endorsement. He saw nothing in Speedy's mouth to suggest that the bits were harming him in any way. As he worked, Dr. Tolley also shared a "floating" technique that he felt could be related to the evaluation of bit discomfort.
As he worked the sharp edges from one side of Speedy's mouth, he asked if I had noticed that Speedy lifted his head. I had to admit that I had not. Dr. Tolley pointed out that while he works on one side of the mouth, he has to push the tongue to the other side. This often causes the horse some added discomfort because the tongue is being pushed onto the teeth that are still sharp.
To combat this issue, he works for a short while on one side of the mouth, smoothing out some of the rough points. He then switches sides so that he can send the tongue back over to the side that has had some work done. In this way, the horse isn't suffering the discomfort of having his tongue pressed into the sharp points of the teeth that haven't yet been smoothed off.
So how does this relate to bit fit and discomfort? Dr. Tolley explained that when a horse is resistant to the bit, it might well be due to tongue discomfort. I don't think that's a novel idea to this crowd, but it bears remembering. It's probably even more relevant for horses going in the double bridle as there is even less room in the mouth for the tongue to "escape" any sharp edges.
My boys see Dr. Tolley at least twice a year, so I don't worry about dental issues too much. Their teeth always need touching up in the spring, but if they need it in the fall, Dr. Tolley will point it out.
Speedy's Hooves: I pulled off Speedy's Betadine-soaked wrap so that Dr. Tolley could have a look at my handiwork with the hoof knife. He gave the abscess hole a look and seemed pleased with the job I had done. He asked a few follow up questions and told me to keep wrapping it for a total of seven days. Thursday should be the day the wrap can come off.
When I explained that I had received some criticism for draining the abscess myself, he gave me a quizzical look and asked why. After hearing my explanation, he reassured me that I am doing the work with his knowledge and guidance. That's all I needed to hear.
The second hoof thing I needed Dr. Tolley to examine was the weird hole that recently appeared in Speedy's left hind hoof. Right away he took out his Dremel. I hate that thing because it never bodes well for the preferred diagnosis of "nothing to worry about." The Dremel is actually synonymous for "start worrying as fast as you can." Then he dragged out his knee pads. When Dr. Tolley puts on his knee pads, I know we're in for a long assessment.
Weird story ... As Dr. Tolley was strapping on his knee pads, he chatted about having had to wash them recently because they were blood-soaked. From what? I asked incredulously. I was almost sorry I asked. Interestingly, he had to do an emergency C-Section on a ewe who ultimately delivered three lambs. They all survived. My next question was, Three?! How many teats does a ewe have, anyway? To which Dr. Tolley replied, "Two, and yes, that can be problematic." I told you; I always learn something new.
So here is where the whole I always learn something new because Speedy is always diagnosed with something new thing happens. The hole was a possible indicator of white line disease. When I pressed Dr. Tolley, he referred to it as wanting to be white line disease. Well is it or not? Well, without drilling even further, it looked to him like it was the beginning of white line disease. To be sure, he asked that my farrier look at the bottom of Speedy's freshly trimmed hooves the next time he was out. That happened yesterday. I'll share that conversation in Friday's post. But in the meantime ...
Dr. Tolley gave me a thorough explanation of what White Line Disease is. Here's an abbreviated description thanks to a quick Google search: "White Line Disease is a fungal infection of the white line (or lamina) on the bottom of the horse's hoof. ... This separation is then invaded by bacteria and fungi, leading to infection that progresses up towards the coronary band which produces a white or gray powdery material."
Dr. Tolley likes to treat White Line Disease by first providing oxygen to the anaerobic infection. That's why he drilled the hole. The second thing he likes to do is apply a daily swipe of Tea Tree Oil which is from the Melaleuca Tree. Tea Tree oil has anti-fungal properties and is also useful because oil is better at penetrating the hoof than are water soluble products. I now have two bottles of Tea Tree Oil in my ever expanding medical kit. Dr. Tolley also pointed out that the Tea Tree Oil will be an excellent topical to use on Speedy's abscess hole once it has epithelialized.
Once both feet had been examined, I asked the obvious question: is White Line Disease related to Speedy's Cushing's Disease? The answer is that it's not caused by Cushing's, but there is a correlation. After some discussion, we decided to put Speedy back on Platinum Performance's Hoof Support. It seemed to work quite well when Speedy was growing out new hoof when he damaged his coronary band a few years ago.
Blood Work: Which brings us to Speedy's Cushing's Disease. When we tested him last year for the first time, his ACTH levels were at 56, just barely outside of normal. A level of 50 is considered the outside of the normal range. Dr. Tolley drew blood and sent it to the lab yesterday. We should hear back in another day or two. In the meantime. Speedy will continue with the Prascend as usual.
Everything Else: I know it's hard to believe, but there's more! As always, Speedy's fecal count came back negative; he's worm free. Even so, he'll get a dewormer once he's feeling better. The vaccinations always make him feel puny. And his weight? I was very pleased to see him clock in at a solid 1,020. That's the most he's ever weighed at the end of winter. For a horse who is hard to keep round during the winter, this was great news.
Overall, Speedy is in good health. He obviously has a few issues, the Cushing's Disease being the main culprit. But for a dude quickly approaching 16, everything else is in fine shape. Dr. Tolley's litmus test for the hoof supplement is this: if there are no more abscesses, it's working. If he has two more abscesses in a year (after waiting a few months for the supplement to do its thing), it's not working. I guess I'd rather pay for something and not know if it's working than pay for something and know it's not working.
Izzy's vet visit tomorrow ...
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.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
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 …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
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