From Endurance to Dressage
Newt is fixed and good to go. You might remember that Newt, my "new truck," went to the shop on Friday to fix an issue with the front end and steering. I dropped Newt off in the morning before Ford opened and braced myself for the call letting me know they couldn't find anything. To my surprise, I got a call that morning letting me know that the technicians were working on the steering issue. A full inspection had been performed, including a road test, and it had been determined that Newt's steering stabilizer was worn. The Steering Linkage Damper needed to be replaced.
A short time later, Ford called me back letting me know Newt was ready to be picked up. Frankly, I was dumfounded. I had done a Google search on the issue and was fully prepared for a month-long fight. Instead, Ford's service department admitted that it was a known problem and even though Newt is just outside of the original warranty at 38,000 miles, all of the work was performed at no charge.
As I ended the call, I let out a deep breath and felt the tension leave my shoulders. I had traded in my 19 year old Blue Truck because I was worried about surprise mechanical issues, and here I was dealing with the very thing I was hoping to avoid. Ford came through though and solved the problem in just a few short hours. My fingers are crossed that Newt got rid of its bug and will be road worthy for the next decade at least.
After a week on GastroElm, Izzy seems almost back to his usual self. He was on UlcerGard for ten days without a whole lot of improvement, but after just a handful of days on the GastroElm, he bounced back like nothing had happened. Again, I can't say whether it was just the GastroElm or a combination of the two things, but man, does he feel good.
Every day that I went out last week I noticed some additional way he was feeling better. The first thing that he started doing was trotting up to the fence for a treat, something he hadn't been doing over the past month. I also saw him playing around with Speedy, rearing up and "fighting" over the fence. On Wednesday he actually galloped around his field racing my dogs up and down the fence line.
He's no longer sensitive to grooming, and I tested him by using firm pressure. He never even flicked an ear my way. His appetite is also improved, and the shortness in his left hind is fading. The only sign that things aren't 100% is the slightly loose poop piles. He doesn't have diarrhea, but his piles aren't exactly well formed either. I'll continue to "activate" the GastroElm by mixing it with water before topdressing his feed for the rest of the week. Once his poop piles firm back up, I'll just top dress his feed without activating it. I also plan to keep feeding it as part of his daily routine. I think he needs it.
Only horse people get excited by a good pile of well formed poop balls.
Today marks day fourteen of Izzy's ulcer treatment. I should mention that I didn't have him scoped to confirm the diagnosis, but my vet agreed that it was likely given his symptoms: short-strided on the left hind, grouchy about grooming his left belly and flank, loose stool, and a mild colic. My vet recommended two weeks of UlcerGard.
When after five days, I didn't see any improvement with the UlcerGard, I started researching other over-the-counter supplements to see if there was something else that had, at the very least, some evidence of efficacy. Omeprazole has been extensively tested and is FDA approved, so I know if anything is going to help, it should be the UlcerGard. That doesn't mean some additional "support" won't help, but I don't want to waste my money on something that has no anecdotal evidence of success either.
Cost was also a factor. The UlcerGard runs close to ten dollars a day, so I am already forking over a pretty good chunk of change with that. Added to that is the list of supplements Izzy already gets: beet pulp, rice bran, milled flaxseed, and a multi-vitamin/mineral mix. Speedy also gets some beet pulp and rice bran as well a scoop of Cool Calories, and his daily Prascend. They both also get electrolytes any time they travel or when they work particularly hard. My per day feed bill is at least twenty dollars a day right now.
Enter GastroElm Plus. After a fair amount of research, what drew me to this product were the reviews and the price. I also liked the simplicity of the ingredients; there are only four: Slippery Elm, Milk Thistle, Marshmallow Root, and Dandelion Root. While I hate trying to solve a problem with multiple remedies, Izzy's tummy was hurting, and the UlcerGard wasn't giving him relief as quickly as I was hoping.
The day after I gave him a dose of GastroElm, he seemed better, a lot better. It could also be that he had received 10 doses of the UlcerGard. That's why I hate giving two things at once. It's hard to know whether it was the first thing, the second thing, or both things together that made the difference. After three days of the GastroElm, he looked even better. In fact, he looked really perky last night.
One of the things I most like about the GastroElm is the multitude of ways that it can be used. For maintenance, you can topdress feed with one tablespoon. It can be also be used twice a day which is what I am doing. For active upset tummies, you can "activate" the UlcerGard by mixing one tablespoon with a half cup of water. After stirring or shaking, a gel will form which is then syringed into the mouth or added to the feed. To make it a bit more palatable, I mixed it with a few drops of molasses. The directions also suggest using aloe vera juice.
On the GastroElm Facebook page, they also say that it can be used in conjunction with UlcerGard. What I've been doing is syringing the first dose and then topdressing Izzy's feed with a second dose. In between all of that, I am giving him a dose of UlcerGard. By Friday he'll have had four boxes of UlcerGard which is sixteen doses. On Saturday, he'll have had a week of twice-a-day doses of the GastroElm.
I am hoping that by the beginning of next week, I can eliminate the syringed dose and simply topdress his feed with the gel instead. After a week of that, I'll try just topdressing without activating the gel. Of course, if I start to see a return of symptoms, I'll go back to syringing the activated gel and see how that works.
I can't say with any certainty that the GastroElm is working, but it purports to coat and sooth the ulcerated tissues, allowing it to heal. I don't know if it really does that or not, but if it does, it sounds like it would make Izzy feel better. It can also be used on dogs and cats. Our dogs go through times of tummy distress, so I am keeping this in mind for them as well. For now, it seems to be helping. Izzy doesn't mind the syringing, and in fact, I can dose him without the need of a halter. He just stands patiently for all three squirts of goop. In fact, I think he almost likes it.
Fingers crossed that he continues to improve.
It started November 7. That was the first day of that crazy, hot mess of a show that Izzy and I did in Santa Barbara. The one where my propane tank broke free of its anchor, wedged itself beneath my horse trailer, and was then dragged at 60 miles an hour for the next hundred miles. That's when Izzy's tummy troubles began.
This is what I wrote about about his tummy when I recapped the whole weekend: Early the next morning, I went out to feed him, but he didn't look very good. Even though it was quite cold and windy, his flanks were sweaty, and he had virtually no gut sounds on his left side. He looked as though he were beginning to colic. I hastily called my friend Jen who was driving up to the show to serve as groom. She works at a vet hospital. I ran his symptoms by her and she thought he might just have an ulcer-y tummy. She agreed to bring some UlcerGard and Banamine. In the meantime, I started walking him.
By the time Jen arrived, a little after 9:00 a.m., it was clear he wasn't colicky, but his tummy was upset. We gave him some UlcerGard, and then we headed up to the show office to complete a Medical Report Form.
I gave Izzy the UlcerGard on Saturday and Sunday. By the time we got home, all seemed well. Over the next few weeks though he started to get sensitive to both touch and grooming around his left flank. He would threaten to kick at his own belly like horses do when the flies are bad, or at me.
The weekend after the show, I wondered if he hadn't developed a bit of "scratches" on that part of his belly. It happened to our endurance horses in the winter which is why we frequently kept their bellies clipped. When dense winter hair gets heavily sweated without time to dry out, the skin gets really irritated. A cheap and easy solution is to clip the long belly/flank hair and douse the skin and coat with vinegar.
When Izzy's belly was still sensitive a few days after the show, I did the vinegar wash, and he seemed to improve a little. And then he didn't. He continued to be off and on sensitive to grooming, but only on the left side. On Thanksgiving morning, his tummy was really upset, and it was clear that he was in the very early stages of colic. I called my vet, and together, we created a treatment plan. I gave Izzy a dose of Banamine and then because it made my vet feel better, I gave him SandRid psyllium pellets for the next two weeks. Izzy recovered quickly, but the sensitivity when grooming continued.
During a recent lesson, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, noticed that Izzy was short on his left hind. I explained the intermittent left side tummy trouble that Izzy has had over the past six weeks. We did some stretching exercises, and the shortness of stride disappeared. With no heat, swelling, or obvious reason for the short stride, I decided to treat the skin on his flank one more time, and if that didn't help, I planned to call the chiropractor first, vet afterwards. That afternoon, I clipped Izzy's belly and scrubbed the area clean with Betadine and then doused him with vinegar.
The next morning, Izzy was better, but some sensitivity was still there. I called the chiropractor. I explained that I didn't know if this was a body work thing, a skin thing, or a vet thing. CC is a true horseman with decades of experience. He has never been wrong when diagnosing one of my horses, and he ALWAYS tells me when I need to call the vet. I trust his advice implicitly. He asked a few questions, and then he suggested ulcers. Doh! Why didn't I think of that? That diagnosis fits the progression of symptoms perfectly.
I promptly ordered 4 tubes, but since they won't be here until the end of the month - shipping is crazy right now, I ran out to Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital last week and picked up two tubes to get Izzy started. While I was there I had the chance to talk to Dr. Tolley who agreed with the diagnosis - Izzy is likely suffering from an ulcer.
Dr. Tolley thought a two week course of UlcerGard was an appropriate treatment, and if I want to maximize the UlcerGard's effect, it would be best to give on an empty stomach. I gave Izzy the fourth dose yesterday after riding. If I can't be out there before feeding time, dosing him after a late morning ride at least gives his stomach a chance to rid itself of some hay. Since we try to keep hay in front of him twenty-four hours a day, there really isn't a time that his tummy is actually empty.
While I've treated Izzy for ulcers in the past, this is the first time that I've actually seen symptoms that support the treatment. Hopefully this round will eliminate the touchiness and get him feeling better.
We're on day 16 of UlcerGard, but I can't say definitively if it's working or not. The changes that I've seen in Izzy's attitude could just be a maturation of our relationship, but I don't think so. I think he feels better.
A month or so ago, I did a 4-day treatment of UlcerGard. He's always had a strong friendly streak, but on the Ulcergard, he let his friendly flag fly. The dude was all over me. A few days after the last dose of UlcerGard, we had a ride that could only be described as a hot mess. He forgot that I was even there. I consulted my vet, and he recommended a few weeks of UlcerGard.
In an effort to build on his friendliness, I decided to make a game of giving him his daily dose. I started with two peppermint candies in my hand along with a tube of UlcerGard. I kept it in plain site so that he wouldn't be surprised by it. With no halter, I loudly crinkled the first piece of candy as I unwrapped it, and then I let him nose my hand a moment before letting him nibble it from my fingers.
While he was chewing, I uncapped the UlcerGard and popped it in his mouth. The first time, he wrinkled up his nose and let me know that it wasn't as tasty as the first treat. I quickly crinkled the wrapper of the second piece of candy, and he immediately forgot about the UlcerGard. He now lets me slip it in his mouth without hesitation, and he has gotten friendlier with each empty tube.
One morning, I got to the barn particularly early as I had to be to work by 8:00. I found him curled up, still very sleepy. I walked up to him slowly and squatted alongside him, stroking his neck and face. I slipped him his candy, much to his delight, and followed it up with the UlcerGard and a second piece of candy. He sleepily blinked at me, but stayed right where he was even as I drove off. he was completely unconcerned by the early morning interruption.
The change that I am most noticing is the relaxation all over his body. He's not holding tension in his back like I usually see. He looks droopy most of the time, almost like he's about to melt down into a big brown puddle. He also can't get enough of me. He's constantly licking me or gently chewing on my jacket or belt loops. All he wants to do is play with me.
I am definitely liking this friendlier, more relaxed horse. I hope it is the UlcerGard doing its thing. If so, it will be money well spent.
Izzy's weeklong bootcamp is over, and while I didn't find out definitively whether or not he has ulcers, the experiment with UlcerGard gave me enough information to run it all by my vet. Quite a few of you chimed in with your own experiences and preferred tummy products; for that I thank you.
Here's what I found out:
1) By the third or fourth day on UlcerGard, Izzy was a much happier camper.
2) Izzy is more tense and anxious when the weather is less than perfect.
3) In less than perfect weather, Izzy does better with some lunging before he's ridden.
4) Five days after completing the first tube of UlcerGard, Izzy was a complete jackass.
5) Based on the return of the jackassery, I am changing Izzy's supplements to include something to aid his digestive health.
Rather than continue to guess on a treatment for Izzy, I gave my vet a call and gave him a run down. In a quick summary, I explained how unpredictable Izzy can be, what my feeding program looks like (Izzy rarely runs out of hay), what happened when I experimented with four days of UlcerGard, and how Izzy has been more anxious with the arrival of cooler weather.
Dr. Tolley listened carefully, and when I was finished, he agreed that ulcers were likely. He then launched into a thorough exploration of what we could try. I love that about him; he doesn't just offer one solution. He always gives me a list of possible fixes that range from the least invasive to the most expensive and elaborate. Those choices included lots of different drugs, GastroGard, UlcerGard, and over the counter supplements.
In his experience, ulcers are expensive to treat, I agreed, so finding the least expensive, but still effective, treatment was our goal. We also discussed a variety of studies, one of which showed that gastric ulcers in horses responded well to a lower dose (1 mg/day) of omeprazole as compared to what is prescribed in GastroGard (4 mg/day).
Dr. Tolley cautioned me against using other versions of omeprazole not manufactured by Merial. As one website explained, "UlcerGard and GastroGard are different than the omeprazole medication used to treat human ulcers (Prilosec) because they are not microencapsulated. Prilosec is microencapsulated so that it does not dissolve inside the human stomach. Because the equine and human stomachs are significantly different, the drugs used to treat their ulcers must be formulated differently."
Dr. Tolley laid out a possible plan of attack with room for variations included, but he left it to me to make the final call. He suggested 21 days of UlcerGard combined with an over-the-counter preventative to be given until further notice. He recommended SmartGut Pellets.
After reviewing SmartPak's list of ulcer preventatives, I decided to upgrade to the SmartGI Pellets. While the ingredients are nearly identical to those in the SmartGut Pellets, the SmartGI Pellets offer just a bit more to support the stomach and the hindgut. For a difference of twenty cents a day, I figured it was worth it.
UlcerGard comes in a four-dose tube for around $35, or you can get it in a six-tube pack for $202.50 which contains twenty-four doses of 1 mg/day. I have three doses left from my second tube, so if I combine those with the twenty-four doses, I'll get four weeks of treatment instead of the three that Dr. Tolley proposed.
SmartPak's shipping is not nearly as quick as some of my preferred online retailers, so I can't get to work on rehabilitating Izzy's gut quite yet. The UlcerGard should be here by Wednesday, so today I can get him started on the three dose I already have. The SmartGI won't be here until next week (if I am lucky). That might be for the good anyway as it will give me a chance to evaluate how effective the UlcerGard seems after a week.
So. Does my horse have ulcers? I don't know, but I am treating him as though he does. Wish us luck!
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 …
3/6-7 El Sueño (***)
4/17-18 El Sueño (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
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