Treating Your Horse for Lyme: 4 Things You Should Know

Doxy and probiotics
The main treatment for Lyme is Doxycycline. Freedom is on an 8 week course. That’s longer than used to be prescribed. To protect his gut bacteria, he also gets a probiotic.

So, it’s official. Freedom has Lyme disease. The second round of blood tests were positive both for the SNAP test and the Cornell Multiplex. He’s symptoms indicated Lyme but it’s always nice to know you are treating something.  As we embark on his treatment, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned about treating Lyme.

  1. The treatment protocol is now 6-8 weeks of Doxycycline. Freedom was treated for Lyme once before, back in 2011. At that time the recommendation was 4-6 weeks. And I can remember when the treatment protocol was just 30 days. The good news is that he completely recovered last time.
  2. Positive is positive. The magnitude of the titer does not correlate with how your horse feels. So, even though your horse may have a relatively low titer, he may feel terrible.
  3. Keep your horse moving. My vet told me to keep him active (he is on 24/7 turnout which helps).
  4. Treatment goes beyond antibiotics. Whenever you treat your horse with Doxy, you should supplement with a probiotic because antibiotics kill the beneficial gut bacteria. In addition to that, many vets recommend supportive care that includes:
    1. Omega 3 supplements, which have anti-inflammatory properties and support the immune system (Freedom gets flax seed),
    2. Vitamin E  to protect against muscle damage and the improve immune response. Natural vitamin E is has greater bioavailability, so look for products with d-alpha-tocopherol, not dl-alpha-tocopherol. Freedom tested deficient for Vitamin E awhile back, so he always gets it, but I’ve upped his supplementation while he’s being treated.
    3. Lots of forage to help avoid gastrointestinal problems. I’m a big proponent of lots of hay. I also mix his Doxy into soaked alfalfa cubes and grain to make sure he eats it all.
    4. A joint supplement: Since Lyme often manifests itself as joint soreness, feeding a joint supplement can help. Freedom gets Corta-Flx liquid.

Would love to hear of other treatments that people have used successfully!


Zelda’s April Fools Day Colic

Zelda post colic
Last night Zelda was colicky. There’s nothing sadder than a 1400 pound horse that wants to crawl into your lap because their stomach hurts. Luckily she felt much better today.

Yesterday we had an April Fools Day snow storm. The kind of  “gotchya” that New England throws at its residents every few years just to test our dedication to living here. It snowed all day. Wet, heavy snow. Temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. April Fool’s Day!

But my not-so-funny April Fool’s Day wasn’t over.

When I went to feed the horses dinner, I knew something was wrong because Zelda wasn’t at the gate waiting for her food. And she didn’t come galloping up from the bottom of the field when I whistled. You have to know Zelda to understand that meals are very, very important to her.

I could see her standing down by the run in shed. Just by the way she was standing — all stretched out — I knew she hurt. I sloshed through ankle deep mud and snow and led her into the barn.  Her head was low, her eyes were dull and she was shivering under her very wet blanket. She wasn’t wet under the blanket, but she was cold. She passed right by the open door to the hay storage and didn’t try to snatch a bite. Not good.

First thing I did was put a warm, dry blanket on her. The second, was to call the vet. I was able to take her temperature — 101.4 — but unable to find a pulse to check her heart rate. I decided that either my hands were frozen or she was already dead. It shouldn’t be that hard to find the pulse on an animal that size, but I now have a stethoscope on order.

Thank goodness for Banamine. It’s one of those drugs that is so important to have on hand. After a dose of Banamine and Milk of Magnesia, I walked for for awhile, hoping that she’d pass manure. Of course, I hadn’t dressed warmly enough when I went to the barn. I’d intended to feed and then have dinner with my husband in town. Instead we spent 2 hours at the barn and ate take out pizza in the aisle, waiting for Zelda to perk up.

And she did. By the time I left she was looking better and getting hungry. She had good gut sounds, but no manure. Why is that horses poop all the time when you don’t want them to but never when you really, really want them to?

Finally the vet said she could have a very soupy mixture of soaked alfalfa cubes. Zelda wasn’t thrilled. It’s not her favorite food. But she was hungry and she slurped them down. At least it got some warm water into her.

A midnight trip back to the barn showed a much improved Zelda. She came trotting up from the bottom of the field when she heard me coming, and nickered for food. Almost back to normal.

Today, she was chasing Curly away from her hay and acting fine. It was 53 degrees and sunny. It felt like a different season. Luckily, a better season.

Colic weather — the vast shifting of temperatures — makes horses more prone to colic because they may drink less, move less and eat less. Zelda had been fine at noon when she had some lunch, but some time during the six hours before dinner, something went wrong. I make it a practice when I feed in the winter to always add warm water and soaked cubes to their meals, but I guess that wasn’t enough. I’m just very glad that she responded so well to treatment.


Treating Freedom: A New Diagnosis

Tick on Freedom
Freedom is being treated for Lyme. In New England the ticks are already out. I’ve pulled several off Freedom in the past two weeks. I’m so glad that I clipped him because they are easier to find.

Readers of my blog will remember that last fall Freedom was diagnosed with arthritis in his Sacro Iliac joints. He had his SI joints injected and I hoped that he would feel better soon. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Massage helped a bit but he still refused to hold his left lead canter. I put him in light work designed to strengthen his hind end. Lots of hill work, pole work and transitions. It hasn’t made a difference, but I marked it down to the fact that the weather and footing have made it difficult to keep him in regular work.

The one thing that’s been obvious to me that he’s uncomfortable. He’s never liked to be touched or groomed that much, but recently he’s been downright cranky. I give my massage therapist a lot of credit for her perseverance because he can be quite intimidating!

Last week, since we had several days of good weather, he had another lameness exam. This time with a vet who has known Freedom for a long time. The first thing he mentioned was how much Freedom’s behavior had changed. Freedom has always been twitchy but on Thursday, he could barely stand to be touched. It was obvious that his back was sore but he was so reactive that it was difficult for the vet to make a diagnosis.

Part of the lameness exam involved evaluating him on the lunge line and under saddle. The good news was that he’s not lame — there is no mechanical issue. at the walk and trot he feels quite sound in both directions.

But here’s the most interesting part:  the vet gave him some light sedation (we were having gusts of wind up to 35 mph) and as a result of its muscle relaxing and anti-anxiety properties, he willingly picked up his left lead canter and held it! He is more uncomfortable to the left, but physically, he is capable of cantering and cantering sound.

Based on the examination, the vet thinks he might have Lyme. Last year, before the injections, he was tested. The SNAP test, which shows exposure, came back positive — hardly surprising in New England where ticks are everywhere. The Cornell Multiplex test was negative. The Cornell test is supposed to be more accurate for distinguishing between the early and chronic stages of Lyme infection. It may be that the disease had not progressed enough at the time when we pulled blood for Freedom to have produced significant antibodies. It may be that he has a low titer but is still suffering from Lyme. It appears that the magnitude of the titer does not correspond to the disease. There are also reports that some horses are symptomatic without testing positive.

Freedom most definitely has symptoms that could be attributed to Lyme: intermittent stiffness/lameness, a sore back, behavioral changes, resentment of touch or pressure and muscle tenderness. It’s hard to know but my vet said that his behavioral changes might be the biggest tip off.

While waiting for the new tests results to come back, we have started treating him with Doxycycline. I’m supposed to keep him in light work, but right after the diagnosis we had record-breaking cold and the promise of a foot of snow on Tuesday, so I can’t really say whether there has been an real improvement yet. And of course, since doxy is an anti-inflammatory, it may make him feel better even if it isn’t Lyme.

Fingers crossed that he starts feeling better soon.


Bribery is everything

Looking hopeful
Zelda looked hopeful when I arrived at the barn. It was close enough to dinner time that she assumed that was why I was there.
catch me if you can
Once she figured out I was there to — gasp — ride, she decided to play hard to get.
The snow was too deep for me to chase her. I resorted to bribery. The bait? A single, small hay cube. At first, she looked skeptical.
Miraculously, it worked. Zelda cannot resist a snack. Even a small one.

A Time of Healing

Winter conditioning
Freedom’s rehab is to stabilize and strengthen his stifles and SI joints. Luckily today it was warm enough to hack up and down some hills. Think lots of walk/trot transitions. The weather hasn’t been that good lately so if I want to keep him in regular work, it will mean renting some indoor time.

This winter both Freedom and I are rehabbing. He’s still off with his SI injury — massage is helping but with no indoor, it’s hard to keep him in regular work. With less incentive (or ability to ride) I’ve decided that it’s finally time to fix the aches and pains that have been bothering me. Like many horse people, I’ve ignored the things that hurt, ridden through some pain, and spent my money on the things that matter: kids and horses.

It’s my turn to get the physical therapy, chiropractic appointments and massages that my horses and kids have been getting. I’d like to come into spring a little stronger, a little more flexible and pain free.

Piriformis Syndrome
Like Freedom, I need to stabilize my SI joint. My therapy is more boring — lots of exercises at the gym.

Like Freedom, I’m working to stabilize and strengthen my SI joint. I’ve had chronic piriformis syndrome for several years, brought on by many miles of driving. I’ve made more progress than Freedom has, but of course I can do my exercises at the gym. For him, I’m thinking of renting time in a local indoor as I know that regular work is a necessary part of his recovery.

Next, I’m moving onto my rotator cuff. A few years back, I had rotator cuff and biceps tendonitis. I went through PT and had knocked back the pain, but once it didn’t keep me awake at night,  I admit that I

Rotator cuff
This injury is trickier. And in many respects, more painful to treat. I’m sure that hitting the ground a few times (like when I was knocked over by Freedom) didn’t help.

ignored it. Now, although it doesn’t hurt often (except during therapy, which hurts like the dickens), I’ve realized that I’ve lost (according to my chiropractor) 30% of my range of motion. I’d like that back, please.

The good news is that I’m a better patient than Freedom. I do my exercises regularly and I don’t try to bite or kick my therapist. He’s still not so sure about the massage. Although he greeted the therapist like an old friend, when she moved into some of the more tender, painful areas, he objected rather strenuously — who knew that a horse could reach so far to the side with his front leg? I don’t even think that it hurts him all that much; it’s more that he has to make the decision that he’ll accept the touch, because once he agrees to the therapy, she’s able to get deep into the tissue.

Still, I think about him when my therapist hits a particularly tender spot and holds it long and hard, occasionally asking how I’m holding up. It is at those moments that I think about kicking.




It looks so peaceful

Evening at the barn
It looks so peaceful as the sun is setting at the barn and the horses have had their dinner.

It looks very peaceful on this late afternoon at the barn (I hate it when it’s dark at 4:45!). But looks can be deceiving.

Just a few minutes before, there was pandemonium. I broke one of my rules. Instead of bringing Freedom into the barn to put on his blanket, I threw a halter and lead rope on him in the field. I was just about to fasten the final buckle when Willow, who was very interested in what I was doing, squeezed between Freedom and the fencing. Somehow she got her tail caught in the electric tape. It must have shocked her because I didn’t know she could move so fast.

Suddenly, she was running full tilt down the hill, about a fifty feet of electric tape and few step in poles chasing after her.

Freedom, who had been standing there half asleep, sprung into action and ran after her. He sent me flying (luckily the ground was pretty soft) and then the two of them stood, snorting, at the bottom of the hill.

I’m okay, other than some bruises. Freedom and Willow are okay. The only casualties were the blanket (which can be repaired) and the fencing, which I put back up in the dark.

The bottom line? Never break your safety rules. Never forget that horses are prey animals. And never assume that you’re safer on the ground!

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you around horses when you weren’t riding?

Needle-phobics look away!

SI Injection
Freedom received his SI injections yesterday. That needle was 8″ long!

On Monday Freedom had his SI joints injected. If you have a phobia of needles this is not a procedure that you want to watch. The needle the vet used was 8″ long! The vets used ultrasound to guide the placement of the needle. He had both sides injected (the right was much more sensitive than the left, hence his reluctance to pick up/hold the left lead canter).

After the injection, he received mesotherapy to relax the sore muscles in his back.

The second part of his treatment was mesotherapy. This involves injecting the vet’s “secret sauce” using small needles that penetrate shallowly into the interdermal layer of the skin that stimulates the mesoderm (the middle layer of the skin). Mesotherapy is a more recent addition to treatments here in the US but has been used extensively in France for more than 30 years. Mesotherapy helps stop the pain spasm cycle, so for a horse like Freedom, who had pain from the SI joint, it can help relax the muscles in conjunction with the joint injection.

Did it work? I’ll find out in a few days. He needs to have five days off before I can start him back with a light hack. Stay tuned!