Freedom’s pasture-mate, Willow, was recently diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrom (EMS) or Insulin Resistance (IR).
What does that mean?
According to the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut,
Glucose (sugar) normally functions to fuel many metabolic processes in the body and is the primary energy currency of the body. Insulin is normally produced in response to elevated blood glucose and is key to the regulation of blood glucose concentrations and glucose utilization. Insulin promotes glucose uptake by cells and promotes formation of glycogen or fat. Insulin resistance is defined as a reduced sensitivity of the body’s cells to insulin’s facilitation of glucose uptake.
Basically what happens in insulin resistance is that the cells become resistant to the glucose uptake action of insulin. Initially, this just means that more insulin is needed (hyperinsulinemia) to keep blood glucose concentrations within normal limits after a starchy or high sugar meal. If it is severe enough even super high insulin concentrations are ineffective and blood glucose may also be abnormally high. The problem is that not only does this limit energy availability to the cells but insulin also has other effects on the body that may be detrimental when it is higher than normal for prolonged periods of time. Unlike humans, horses rarely go into the second stage, where the pancreas becomes “exhausted” and no longer can secrete adequate insulin.
In practical terms, this means that Willow, who only gets enough concentrate to mask her vitamin/mineral supplement, must wear a grazing muzzle because too much sugar could cause an episode of laminitis. In fact, it was because her owner felt digital pulses that she ran a blood panel and got the diagnosis.
It didn’t take Willow very long to figure out that this is NOT FUN. She is getting less tolerant about putting it on, although putting a tiny bit of grain in the muzzle is still enough of a temptation to overcome her reluctance. Unfortunately for Willow the new barn has a lot of grass and she’s mighty peeved that her access is now restricted.
I tried using a muzzle on Freedom when I first got him – not because I need to restrict his eating, but as a way to stop him cribbing. That lasted about 5 minutes. He destroyed two or three grazing muzzles in short order and then refused to let me near him him with a halter.
Have you had to use a grazing muzzle on your horse or pony?
Here’s another amazing example of a rider (jockey Nate Hubbard), who refused to let gravity and bad luck bring him down. In fact, Hubbard held on for dear life after the filly, Sweetwater Oak, stumbled in the home stretch. He was still dangling from her neck as they crossed the finish line in second place. The track stewards ruled it an official finish because Hubbard’s feet never touched the ground and Sweetwater Oak carried her assigned weight throughout the race.
Next time you go to the barn, make sure you give your horse a hug.
Last week a friend of mine lost her fabulous mare after a pasture accident — Living Life in the Middle — reminding us that these fabulous creatures that we love and treasure are as fragile as they are powerful, and that their time with us is sadly limited.
Horses give us an amazing sense of elation and freedom. They allow us to sprout wings and fly. They are our partners in often unimaginable thrills. After a day of hunting, I look around and see riders who are grinning from ear to ear, humbled by the willingness of their horses to gallop, jump and share the excitement of following the hounds.
And yet horses can break our hearts. A bad step, a stomach ache, a moment of panic — any one of these can be career ending, or even worse, life ending. Horses find innumerable ways to hurt themselves even when bubble wrapped. We care for them the best way we can and yet some still find ways to thwart our efforts.
I remember all too well when I lost my Trakehner gelding, Kronefurst, back in October of 2008 (hard to believe it was so long ago), it was sudden and mysterious. He showed a variety of unrelated symptoms, stumping my team of vets. He died at Tufts less than 24 hours after arriving and I was stunned. I had been preparing for a long rehabilitation, not for grieving. Three months later, after a necropsy was performed, I learned he had a blood clot near his poll. There was nothing that anyone could have done for him; it was just bad luck.
I suppose that the best thing we can do is enjoy our horses every day we ride, even the bad days — the ones where you doubt your sanity and want to throw in the towel. Then remember to give them a hug and thank them for giving you so much joy.
Horse owners sometimes say that we have “heart horses”, horses that are so special they own a piece of your heart. Suzanne’s mare, Sugar, was certainly one of those. She was beautiful, powerful and extremely fun to ride. I was privileged enough to hunt her a few times and she was magnificent. I know that she gave a lot of joy (even while inciting a few unprintable words). She was well loved and will be long missed.
Okay, I am seriously looking for fun things to do in the snow with horses. This video is adorable. These young minis look like the sled should be for them!
If I were to try sledding among our herd, Freedom would be in Connecticut by now, Zelda would gallop along next to me, Curly would watch with amusement and Willow would try to get on the sled!