I bought Babe as a 4yo unraced thoroughbred from a local vet with an established racehorse breeding program. She had broken her splint bone in training, and missed her window to race. He guaranteed her sound, although he failed to mention the gnarly scar on her knee. Her medical history included a plethora of vaccines, surgeries, and conventional treatments, and for the last year or so she had been turned out with free choice alfalfa so she was extremely overweight.
As I began riding Babe for short rides and cattle work, it was very obvious that she had a whole host of issues, with her anxiety being the most obvious. Trying to ride her away from another horse, she would get herself into a full lather, whinnying and utterly panicked. She could become very dangerous and difficult to ride because of this. I began working with her homeopathically, to help ease her anxiety. But it also became obvious that she had a lot of body issues, likely as a result of the accident, and so often the body issues and the emotional issues go hand-in-hand. As a result of anxiety and body dysfunction, she would be incredibly back sore after our rides. (I was able to rule out saddle fit.) Her whole back would quiver and shrink away trying her brush her, and she would desperately try avoid being brushed. Later on, my mentor and I also determined that, in addition to her apparent issues, she likely has underlying PSSM 2. While I haven’t tested for it, nor do the feel the need to, she demonstrates a lot of the classic signs, including lack of topline, tight muscles, and stiffness.
Knowing all of this, I set to work. In combination of homeopathy and regular bodywork, she made huge strides. I also made adjustments in her training and was very careful about how I rode her. She could now ride off on her own, was no longer sore after our rides, moved more athletically, and overall was a much more confident, well-rounded horse. So much so, that I was able to teach her to rope, only a couple weeks prior to our branding. And she was as calm and engaged I could ask for when I roped off of her for that branding. I would have never dreamed of that a year earlier. It’s also worth noting that through all of the work I had been doing, I had also been gaining her trust. She could understand that I was trying to help her. I think so often we overlook this and forget how important trust is in our relationship with our horses.
She was coming along beautifully, becoming a really solid, healthy, happy horse when we experienced a major setback. While I had her up at our camp in the mountains, she somehow sustained a puncture wound laterally across her fetlock. She struggled to recover from the incident, even after multiple doses of antibiotics, signaling to me that her overall constitution is still compromised. I rested her all summer as it never quite healed up as I would have liked, and still today is not fully back to normal.
In October, I had noticed Babe was struggling to eat her grain, but assumed it was a dental-related issue and scheduled an appointment with an equine dentist. However, a couple days later, Babe couldn’t get any food down whatsoever. I rushed her to the vet, during a snowstorm no less, and the vet determined she had a blockage and was choking. However, it seemed the choke occurred because she had contracted “woody tongue,” causing her tongue to harden and swell, making it difficult for her to swallow properly. I had seen “woody tongue” in cattle, but according to my vet, it’s very rare in horses. I quickly realized that this was likely a consequence of the antibiotics from earlier in the summer. Her immune system was compromised, making her susceptible to this bacteria, actinobacillus, that otherwise was naturally occurring in her mouth. She was still struggling, and with now another dose of antibiotics, she was really going downhill. She looked poor and had lost weight, and inevitably developed ulcers through the whole process. It was a viscous cycle.
Unfortunately so many horses, like Babe, are set up for failure from the get-go. As a product of a breeding program designed for speed, not health, and with generations of vaccines, drugs, emotional traumas, and overbreeding, she subsequently suffered illness and injuries again treated with conventional, suppressive medications, so that now her overall constitution is so poor, every little infliction is subject to infection and requires nursing. She has years of suppression (both physical and emotional) that will have to be released and healed before she can truly thrive.
I have confidence that we can get through this. I know can get her back to health, and adapted to her natural environment, with a robust immune system, and minimal interventions, but it will take every tool in my toolbox.