I have to say, there were many days that dawned with me thinking I would NEVER make it through this past year. It has been a year of trials, with not nearly as many tribulations. It always seems easier to take the bumps in the road when they are fairly balanced with the high points. When you seem to be continually hitting bumps, it can get overwhelming pretty quickly.
New Years Eve brought mixed emotions for me. The past week held another trip to Raleigh for follow up testing for Samson. He had some concerning bloodwork over the last few weeks, and coupled with a less-than-stellar personality change, I felt it was best to listen to my gut a little earlier this time. It was a mixed-blessing trip. His ultrasound showed a massive improvement in his lungs, which was a big relief after the physical exam had revealed some continuing noise on the right side and trachea. There were minimal signs of scarring in the pleural tissue on the right, which could simply be a result of the trauma from his bout of pneumonia. Then they whisked him off to x-ray, and took multiple thorax views. Those were better, but still revealed a slight amount of inflammation in the bronchials - the tiny airways that the lungs push oxygen out of. It made sense when added to the clinical signs, (the noise heard on examination) that this residual inflammation is the cause. Thankfully, all signs of fluid from the pneumonia have dissapated, and this last bit of inflammation could either be still resolving from the initial insult, or it could be a continued sign of some sort of inflammatory airway condition. It is hard to say, so for the moment, we have started a program of controlling it environmentally. The normal therapy would involve a course of steroids, but that would be the worst type of treatment to subject an EPM horse to.
Speaking of EPM. It appears that all the signs we have been seeing over the past month are mainly being chalked up to that evil disease. We were about to start treatment a few weeks ago, when the bloodwork indicated something else could be going on. Whatever was going on has completely resolved, so we are chalking it up to the stress of the move to the new farm, and his lower immune function; as his bloodwork was completely normal at State. The bouts of lethargy, depressed, and decreased appetite seem to be correlated to the progression of the EPM, and Dr Edwards noticed a visable difference in his neurologic status immediately - an increased gait abnormality, paired with a bit of swaying, as well as the slight toe dragging he had developed over the last week with his right hind. It is amazing that out of all three of those signs, the only one I had honed in on was the toe dragging. It can be so hard to monitor the minute changes when you see them on a daily basis - even when you are watching like a hawk.
With all that in mind, we discussed the various options for treatment, and decided we needed to start aggressively, and immediately. I had some lingering concerns about the clinical trial drug, so I ended up deciding to go the usual route and start with a round of Marquis. They sent me home with a 28 day supply, as well as warnings that the first week could possibly bring an onslaught of symptom increases, as the protozoa die-off can be overwhelming to their systems.
The three hour trailer ride home was filled with phone conversations with a newer aquaintance in the horse world who has been through massive experience with EPM and ulcers in her gelding. We talked back and forth about the various treatments, supplements, and personal experiences with treatment, and she ended up calling multiple people to get additional advice to throw in the mix. I remember hanging up the phone and being completely overwhelmed with gratitude at the new relationships I have formed in the horse world over the last year. It is funny that a prospective boarder, who never even moved to the farm, is a relationship that I maintained which ended up being such an incredible resource and source of support. Yet another reminder that everything happens for a reason!!!
With that in mind, Samson is now on Day 5 of his EPM treatment. With the combined warnings of how rough the first week can be, I decided to sock everything at him to make it as bearable as I could. He is on an extremely high dose of natural vitamin E to help with inflammation, a daily dose of omeprazole (as we still have lingering suspicions of ulcers, and Marquis can be known to aggravate that condition), aloe vera juice, and a daily dose of STP, a natural pain relief supplement with devils claw for pain relief, and yucca for more anti-inflammatory support. I have to say, the combined result has been amazing. He is (knock on wood!) flying through the first week with ZERO adverse affects, and I am already seeing positive results. Whether it is the massive support against inflammation that is giving him the boost, or the protozoa dying, I am still uncertain, but I am getting my boy back a little bit every day. Last night he was nosing me again while I set up his hay and water buckets, and he has been chowing down every bite of his hay with vigor again. I feel hopeful, and it has definitely been the postive start to the New Year - especially after the past year for him. When I think about how close we came to losing him, it still amazes me that we made it through all the rough spots to where things are now. All in all, things are looking up for my big red boy, and it gives me tremendous hope and excitement for his future.
Of course, I mentioned that New Years Eve was a bit of a mixed bag, so the downside is my darling mare. The week of New Years brought a bad dressage school, which was overwhelming disappointing when considering how well things have been going. I have warred with myself for years on my comprehension for the most basic dressage skills, but the past month has brought a lot of revelation and improvement. I was able to get in one lesson in December, but the most significant thing I took home was that I have been letting the redhead get away with too much. Imagine that! :-) I was told that it was time to insist MUCH earlier that she use herself, rather than letting her stroll around evading me until she felt it was time to comply. So we took that lesson to heart, and I added that to our daily routine, along with the increased awareness I have been trying to use regarding stiffness and locking down in my elbows. The result was a tiny progression day by day in our flatwork, which included KNOWING I was getting it right each time, and actually feeling her start to use her back. After a series of incredible rides, I started to realize exactly how often she has been faking me out, because I am finally started to understand the feel of correctness when the back is engaged. I think for years I have focused on the front end, rather than the whole picture, and it can lead me to thinking I am correct when I am really NOT. So when one bad ride cropped up after several incredible ones, I chalked it up to us being due for a less-than-stellar ride. After all, horses aren't robots - that's a lesson I continually have to remind myself of, and an important one at that. But the little red flag went up in my head, and I resigned myself to really LISTEN the next time, just in case. So two days later, when flatwork was again not coming together, I really focused on feeling every movement, each limb and joint beneath me, to see if there was a problem. Sure enough, I picked up my canter, and knew instantly that something was off. She did not want to engage the hind end, and it was more defined on the right. When daylight hit the following day, a jog out revealed a minor shortness in stride with the right hind. **Sigh** It is definitely hock, and seems to be the front side. Minor swelling, but no heat, so I am hoping for the best, and meanwhile following a regiment of anti-inflammatories, cold hosing, and DMSO poultices. Since it happened in 2012, I am chalking that one up to last year, and hoping we will be back in action in the upcoming week. :-)
So that's a not-so-brief picture of where we are at the moment. I haven't ever been much of a person for New Years' Resolutions, or black and white goals, because I always find that life seems to interrupt the best of intentions. In general though, I would like to have my Samson back - in complete health, with no residual damage, and maybe even up to the occasional hack around the farm. I would like to get out to my first full event with April, and start taking advantage of the fact that I have an AMAZING horse, with so many things to teach me. Mostly, I would like to continue to be mentored and challenged to grow as a true horsewoman - who understands and always recognizes that these amazing creatures are SO much more than what they can do for us. Riding is the main reason that we do what we do, but it isn't everything. It is only a slice of the big picture, and I hope to never lose sight of that. I hope to continue developing the ability to listen to what a horse is telling me, and to keep improving on discovering what may be at the root. To me, THAT is the ultimate goal, and I hope to never lose sight of it.