It wasn’t the saddle — it’s Lyme

Tick on Freedom
The results are in: Freedom tested positive for Lyme.

About a month ago I had a bad ride on Freedom. It was right around the time he got hives, back at the end of August.

I took him over to the ring intending to hop over a few fences. He was unusually reticent and clumsy. Freedom hardly ever touches a fence and yet he brought two rails down almost immediately. Of course, I stopped jumping him and hacked him home. He felt fine on the flat and I figured that maybe the Benedryl was affecting him.

A few days later I tried hopping him over a few fences again. This time he felt fine. I hadn’t given him Benedryl for a few days and I’d also switched back to the saddle I knew he really liked (my Wintec — of course my horse prefers that over my more expensive Stackhouse saddle!)

Then, two weeks ago, I rode him in a hunter pace. Although he’d felt fine all week, he was jumping awkwardly. I couldn’t get a good distance and it felt like he was having trouble getting his front end over the fences. He even stopped at one fence, something Freedom just doesn’t do. It was even more surprising since he’s jumped it before with no problem.

I thought I was just riding badly or that his saddle was bothering him. But those two rides kept nagging at me.

Time to check my saddles

I am pretty religious about saddle fit so I was surprised that my saddles could be bothering Freedom that much (they were last fitted in the spring). So, I called my saddle fitter, Gary Severson, who came this week. I’d been away for several days and when I got Freedom ready to be fitted, I could tell he was tight and sore. Just putting my hand on his neck caused him to give a huge release. He yawned continuously for several minutes.

Gary checked all three of my saddles and reported that they all fit just fine but that Freedom was so sore that he didn’t want to be touched. Now, keep in mind that Freedom is a red head and he never likes to be touched much. It’s taken me a long time to get him to accept massage. But even on the Freedom scale he was acting unusually cranky. Gary said he suspected Lyme and recommended that I have blood drawn for testing.

One of the vets in the practice I use lives quite close to me and she was able to stop by the next morning to draw the blood. I could tell she was skeptical that Gary believed he had Lyme just from running his hands over his body. She checked his back and agreed that he was body sore. I described the symptoms and she agreed that it was a possibility. Of course every horse in New England has been exposed to Lyme and other tick borne diseases; the question is whether the titers are very high and whether the horse is showing symptoms.

Today I got the results of the snap test. It was positive. I am also having the new multiplex test done, the one developed by Cornell University. It’s supposed to give a lot of detail about the level of infection.

Lyme and horses: so many questions!

I’ll be honest: I’ve always been a bit skeptical about Lyme and horses. I’m still not 100% sure that he actually has Lyme (it could be one of the other tick borne diseases). I’ve started him on Doxycycline (peppermint flavor!) and probiotics but even that has some question marks. Vets disagree on how long you need to treat a horse and if oral Doxy is even effective. Some vets recommend two weeks of IV antibiotics which can be a nightmare in terms of expense and logistics.

Time to do some research this week and see what I can learn.  Hunting is out for the moment while I wait to see how he feels. The trouble is that what I felt was intermittent — and since Doxy has anti-inflammatory properties it’s often hard to tell if that’s what is making your horse feel better.

So, tell me about your experiences with Lyme. How did you treat it? How long did you treat it? And how soon did your horse start to feel better?

3 thoughts on “It wasn’t the saddle — it’s Lyme

  1. Willie was diagnosed with it two years ago. He hadn’t shown any symptoms, but I found a deer tick on him, and he reacted badly to the bite itself. The skin at the bite was bright red and irritated, and the entire leg swelled up from elbow to hoof. After a few consultations, I treated preemptively with doxy for a few weeks, then gave it about six weeks off the meds before testing. He was a very strong positive.

    We treated for another six weeks, then waited another six before retesting, when his numbers came back much lower, but since he wasn’t showing symptoms, we decided another course of antibiotics was more stress on his system than it was worth. I’ve heard that the standard effective treatment is closer to 30 days, but think my vets were just taking extra precautions.

    He felt the worst while actually starting the course of doxy. He was lethargic and NQR. He wasn’t markedly lame but I didn’t do much riding or evaluating because he was just so tired — he ended up living in a stall under the fans for the summer, instead of out in the pasture with his buddies. About halfway through the treatment, he was feeling more like himself.

    I think people tend to misunderstand and over-diagnose Lyme, which is why some vets are quick to dismiss it, but the treatment is pretty simple and effective from what I’ve seen.

    Hope Freedom feels better soon!

  2. I Liz I see that no one responded to your question about Lyme I just ran across your post and just found out my horse who has your horses symptoms very much so and has lyme disease. How well did you fare it is been 5 years for you. How is your horse? how long was the on the doxycycline? Any other medication that you had to use or modalities that you chose to use ? Anything you could tell me would be helpful thank you

    1. Hi Dena — I’m happy to report that after treating with Doxy my horse has been fine since then. Honestly, I can’t remember now long he was on it. He was tested last fall as part of his treatment for SI pain and his titre was normal.

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