Seven Secret Herbs and Spices

It’s been a very long haul for Rosa since July with recurring and persistent bouts of laminitis. For those who aren’t familiar with the disease, laminitis (also called founder) is inflammation of the laminae of the foot – the soft tissue structures that attach the coffin or pedal bone of the foot to the hoof wall. This inflammation can be caused by a number of things but, in Rosa’s case, it’s all about the sugars in her feed. And she does love her some sugar … aka green grass.

In this case, the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.

T’s known about her metabolic issues for years, and the amount of grass Rosa gets is managed as a result and she’s kept on a supplement that helps her process carbohydrates. But, this year, the usual methods just didn’t work, and Rosa had to be pulled from the pasture and dry-penned in July. It’s a sad thing for all of us when one of the herd is separated. Luckily, she’s an easygoing gal, and didn’t raise much of a fuss after the first day or so. She had hay and soft bedding and very sore feet so I think she saw the benefit of her confined situation.

Rosa’s summer dry pen.

Normally, a week in a dry pen would have her sorted out, but that just didn’t happen this year. She stayed in her pen, getting out only for walking on a lead all through August and into September. By late September, after some frost and the assistance of the rest of us in clearing out anything edible, they expanded Rosa’s world to a larger paddock to get her moving around more. There was just the smallest amount of barely-green grass in her new space but even that had her tender-footed again.

First day in the big pen. Feeling good.

By mid-October she was looking much better, and then her condition deteriorated suddenly. She became reluctant to put weight on her front feet and developed some heat in even her hind feet. The only culprit T could come up with was the hay being fed in small piles around her pen to encourage her to move. So, that was it, everything stripped away but hay fed in slow feeder nets with 1” holes, minerals, salt, and water. No loose hay, no supplements (because they need to be fed in some kind of grain), and the time out with the herd we were hoping for by mid-October, cancelled.

Rosa’s new “buffet”.

In early November, things had improved from the very lame horse she’d been a few weeks earlier, but still there was heat in her hooves. Horse hooves are generally quite cool to the touch, almost like they’re not attached to something living, but Rosa’s were melting snow. That was when T decided it was time to do some more research, find out what might accomplish more than the herbal blends she’d tried that were supposed to assist with her metabolism and inflammation.

Regular trimming is part of her rehabilitation program.

Thanks to a few knowledgeable vets and practitioners on the internet, a program was put together. I call it Rosa’s “seven secret herbs and spices”, the SSHS program. Other than the apple cider vinegar, everything came from T’s favourite source for all things equine healing, Herbs for Horses. I won’t bore you with the list of vitamins and minerals, but I will tell you that Rosa didn’t like it much at first. She’s had to acquire a taste, helped along by the apple cider vinegar and flax oil which taste pretty good and mask a lot of the other things.

One of the earlier herbal concoctions in her ultra-low-sugar feed from Hoffmans.

After three weeks on her SSHS program, Rosa was turned out with us for a morning. Although most of it is dead and brown, we still have a lot of grass out in the pasture, and T wasn’t sure how she’d respond. Two days later Rosa was turned out again for the morning, and again the two days following. On Monday, December 7, she was turned out in the morning and this time she stayed out. She’d officially rejoined the herd. It was a joyous day!

First morning of turnout.

She’s still not completely out of the woods. The inflammation has caused some physical changes in her feet that have left her unsound, at least for the time being. If she stands too long, she gets sore. If she walks on hard ground, she’s sore. But Nollind trims her feet every few weeks, according to what’s recommended for a horse in her condition, and T keeps up the SSHS program. I do my part by chasing her away from food that I want… or, that she probably shouldn’t have was what I meant to say. The hope is that she’ll be back to her old self by spring, with a little help from all of us.

Good to have our girl back.

So, as we wrap up this year of more injuries and illness than we’ve ever dealt with before, all is well in the herd. Even the weather has been outdoor horse friendly.

Out where she belongs.

Until the new year, this is Storm, Fur-iday Files correspondent, signing off, from the field.

Last Horse Standing

Well, not really. We’re all still standing. But I’m the only one in our herd of four to not suffer some kind of injury or lameness this summer. Although, come to think of it, I did have that choking episode last month. More about that later.

First on the injured list was Nevada with his previously-written-about, skewered-by-a-stump wound in June. That was a doozy, and definitely the most impressive effort at equine self-injury we’ve had on the farm since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here from the beginning, less one year.

Since I blogged about Nevada’s wound in “A Hole in One”, he’s continued to heal nicely with no further complications. All that’s left is what you see below, a fingernail-sized scab surrounded by a rather cool looking scar. Trust old Spot to add another interesting feature to his collection of spots, brands, and scars.

All that’s left of the “hole in one”.

The next to run into trouble was Gidget with a sore, swollen knee. T and Judy thought it was the result of some kind of impact at first, possibly even a kick. But I swear it wasn’t me. I’m just not the kicking type. Gidge and Rosa sometimes get into what I like to call “mare matches”, where they back up to one another and go to town with the hind hooves, but that wouldn’t impact a joint on the front leg.

Turns out the most likely culprit is old age and the arthritis that often comes with it. She’s been on a supplement called OsteoAid for the past couple of months and that really seems to be helping. She’s still a little stiff on that front left but still able to keep up with the herd just fine.

Gidget’s lumpy left knee still works quite well.

Our most recent invalid is the lovely Rosa. Back in May when I wrote about Rosa in my “Shesa Lil Ichi” post, I said “we’ve all got hooves crossed that she won’t have to be locked up in a dirt pen and fed hay for the spring and summer.” Well, she made it through the spring okay, but in late July she came up lame and has been in her grass-free, private accommodations since the 25th.

It’s not terrible. She has free-choice hay in the net feeders, a third of the shelter, and an area where she can roll. But she misses being out with the rest of us and, most of all, she misses grass. She loves her grass … which is a big part of the problem. After two weeks in the pen she was looking so much better and when they started exercising her she held up just fine.

Rosa enjoying her private buffet.

Tuesday we went on a trail ride and she trucked along in her Renegade hoof boots for the two-hour ride without issue. With everything looking so positive, she went out on grass early Wednesday morning for a short while. Whether it was the trail or the grass, or a combination of the two we’re not sure, but she sure is sore again. Poor Rosa. Just when we all thought her life was going to return to normal. For now, it’s back to a hay diet, some pain meds and supplements, and a few days rest to see if it will settle down again.

Dipping our toes (and nose) in Bragg Creek.

If you’re not familiar with this problem that afflicts some horses, it’s called laminitis, and is an inflammation in the feet often caused by too much rich food, like green grass. Having a sensitivity to what would seem like your most natural food source is a cruel trick of nature. I admit to having an enthusiastic attitude toward food and an easy time putting on pounds, especially during the grass season, but never has it made my feet hurt.

My own little health incident resulted from my aforementioned enthusiasm for food. With everyone else in the herd getting one supplement or another for one issue or another added to their feed—probiotics for Nevada’s digestive system, SimmirDown for Rosa’s metabolism, OsteoAid for Gidget’s arthritis—lucky me gets a little something too. I’d like to think it’s because I’m such a great guy and deserve it, but the truth is that it keeps me away from Rosa’s and Gidget’s food without T having to manage everyone.

Nevada’s is the deep, pink bin with more than the rest of us combined. Age has its benefits.

So, anyway, T bought this new kibble from K&K Livestock that’s extra low in sugar for Rosa and decided it was the best thing for me too. In my excitement over this new feed, I more inhaled than chewed and suddenly had a great wad of the stuff in my throat. I lay down. I stood up. I lay down again. I stood up. I coughed. I coughed some more. That was when T started to get worried. Although choking isn’t as immediately serious in horses as in humans since it doesn’t block our airway, it can result in serious complications if it doesn’t resolve quickly.

I’m learning to be patient and settled or T makes me wait longer.

The best thing, according to Google, is to keep the horse quiet and give the obstruction time to pass. I didn’t need Google. While T was browsing the internet, I went to the shelter and stood quietly in the shade until all was well. She’s put me back on my old feed now, which has bigger chunks and isn’t quite as dry.

Back to my original, less-inhalable feed.

Perhaps I should have called the blog “We’re Still Standing” since that’s closer to the truth. In a summer filled with bumps and hitches, we’re all hanging in there, looking forward to a long fall season filled with warm weather but no bugs (thanks to an early frost). I guy can dream, right?

Shesa Lil Ichi

The title of this blog probably seems a bit weird. What’s even weirder is that it’s Rosa’s real name. Unlike the rest of the horses on the farm, Rosa has registration papers, and her registered name with the American Quarter Horse Association is Shesa Lil Ichi.

T and Nollind could have called her Shesa or Ichi or some other derivation of her full name, but they thought she looked like a Spanish lady with her long, dark hair and big, brown eyes and called her Rosa. Even when she first came here to the farm, at just eighteen months old, Rosa had a longer mane than I’ve ever had.

Baby Rosa.

Like me, and many other horses, even the purebreds, Rosa ended up at a livestock auction. Auctions in and of themselves are not a bad thing, but some of them are places to get rid of unwanted animals, and too many of those animals end up at a slaughterhouse. Rosa and I both went through the same auction yard about four years apart. I was purchased by a meat buyer, and quickly rebought by T and Nollind (whew!), and Rosa had the good fortune of being picked up by Bear Valley Rescue, along with her half-sister.

She gave up her sister but got this guy.

T and Nollind bought Rosa from Bear Valley as a project horse, with the intention of finding her a good home when she was four years old, trained to ride, and had seen some miles on the trail. On June 5, Rosa will be fourteen. She’s trained to ride, and she’s seen those trail miles, lots of them, but she was just too sweet to part with.

Demonstrating her sweet nature as a 3-year-old.

I wasn’t exactly well-handled when I came here either, but Rosa was a complete untouchable, not much different than a wild horse. Funny story about that. After being kept in a neighbouring paddock for a couple of weeks, T decided it was time to turn Rosa out with the rest of us. We’re not an unfriendly lot, but we are pretty curious about newcomers, and when our curiosity pursued her to the corner of the pasture, she up and jumped the fence, stood there looking back at us from the neighbouring farmer’s field.

From running from the herd to leading it out to fall pasture.

And how do you catch a horse you can’t get close to or put a halter on? Well, you use another horse, or two. T and Nollind led Nevada and Alta, the herd boss and his second in command, out into the farmer’s field near Rosa and when they turned back toward the home gate, she followed.  

Typical Rosa, quietly waiting her turn at feeding time.

T and Nollind looked after all of her initial ground training, but Rosa was sent to some trainers when she was three or four to have those first rides put on her. Not sure what those folks did, but by the time she came home, she would just stand like a statue whenever T or Nollind got on and asked her to do anything. It’s common practice to desensitize young horses during their training so that we’re not flighty about every little thing, but it was like they took every ounce of sensitivity out of her. After a few sessions with no success, T and Nollind decided they’d just ride her in the fields over the winter, see about putting some life back in her limbs, with me along to show her the ropes.

Starting her ground training.

Once she was outside the fenced areas of the round pen or riding ring, she was fine, walked out like a champ, wasn’t afraid of much, and didn’t mind leaving home. Between you and me, I think that’s when she became a permanent resident rather than a resale project, when she showed her solid mind and easy attitude. The following year on the trails, it was like she’d been doing it for years, rarely spooky about anything and always keen to see what was around the next bend.

Water crossings were no big deal for Rosa.

Her timing was perfect because, by this time, Nevada was twenty and starting to experience some difficulty with the steep trails we ride in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was a natural transition. Rosa became Nollind’s mountain horse and Nevada was semi-retired. Good thing he was reaching retirement age or it might have been me left behind at the farm. I love to go, but I can’t say I have the same relaxed attitude toward strange things along the trail that Rosa does.

Trail horse extraordinaire.

She’s Nevada’s girl for the most part, but the three of us are pretty tight. T often refers to us as the three amigos since we’re rarely farther than a few feet apart. She’s my trail partner and also my diet companion, cursed with the same slow metabolism as I have. Nollind refers to her as rubenesque, which I think is part of the reason she loves him so much. 🙂

She might be Nevada’s girl but she’s my scratching post at the trailhead.

Her ability to put on weight easily is coupled with a tendency toward a condition called laminitis, an inflammation in the feet often caused by too much rich food, like spring grass. And she does love her grass. This year, T is trying some new supplements, Nollind’s got her on a different trim program, and we’ve all got hooves crossed that she won’t have to be locked up in a dirt pen and fed hay for the spring and summer. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Rosa heaven.

To sum Rosa up … you know that girl you went to school with that didn’t draw attention to herself or show off even though she was pretty, and she wasn’t the star or head or president of anything but just a really nice person that everyone liked? Well, that’s our Rosa.