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On Saturday, Tazzy had a wonderful day. He was up, alert, and enjoyed his little nibbles on grass. The breeze was a wonderful aid in keeping cool, and crossing the parking lot of his own accord was an easily accomplished feat. As they say, all good things must come to an end. So on Sunday, it all came crashing down.
He was down for approximately nine hours, and needed some convincing to get up. My wonderful barn family walked him around and even gave him a quick bath to help refresh him. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite bounce back as quickly as we had hoped. The stiffness was not the only problem. He was really starting to favor one leg over the other, and became pretty lame on his front left. I was hoping it was an abscess, and not a continuation of the damn sinking.
It was a sad sight to see. Tazzy would lay in his stall and bite at his hoof, clearing showing that it pained him. My wonderful farrier came back out as soon as he could on Wednesday, and pulled his shoes off. Not an abscess in sight. He rolled the toe back, and dropped his heel a little more. The Yellow’s broken feet were growing and he needed his shoes to be reset! The video that was text messaged to me, was a bit of a relief. He was walking out stiffly, but without any noticeable favoring of one leg over the other! His hooves are still broken, but he is no longer 3-legged lame. (All four feet are super sore, but “whatevs”. At least he is no longer acting like it’s broken!)
The bedsores are getting pretty bad. Since he’s been spending the last few days laying down, he’s losing all of the hair above his left hock, and his right side isn’t far behind. I worry about whether they are painful, and of course, at the risk of sounding vain, if they are going to heal normally with minimal scar tissue. It’s an ongoing battle, as long as he is spending a significant amount of time laying down, he will continue to have sores. Despite how ugly they are, they are actually pretty insignificant compared to the warzone that is his hooves.
The truth is, I’m growing tired of being optimistic. It’s been 5 weeks, and every time I feel like we’re “up” and making progress, it all comes crashing back down. I struggle everyday with knowing if I’m doing this for the right reasons. Am I putting my best friend through all of this pain and discomfort, only to have to end his life down the road? The idea that, “a day too soon, is better than a minute too late,” has been weighing heavily on me. I will never forgive myself for letting him suffer without just cause.
I watched him hobble around the farm today. I forced him to walk on, despite his painful feet, because I don’t want arthritis to get the best of him. I kissed his velvet muzzle, and frustratingly begged him to eat his medications. I told him we’d beat this.
Then I got in my car. And cried the whole way home. I know there are people fighting harder battles. But this is the hardest battle I’ve had to fight. This is not like my dog, who was too tired to fight, who was suffering with no end in sight. That decision was easy. I was not going to let my companion suffer. This is different. Taz isn’t ready for death. He will never be. The fire in his eye will always be there. He’s a natural born fighter. He’s knocked on death’s door before, and defeated the odds. Waiting for him to tell me when, is futile. Tazzy is the little league team, with false ambition. He knows no limits, there is no clock. I’m the referee. When do I call the Mercy Rule?
Stiffness. Super-de-dooper stiffness. Stall rest is doing exactly what it is supposed to – giving his feet time to heal with minimal concussion from moving on hard ground. Unfortunately, it’s causing him to struggle with being stiff. Although he gets time to graze and go for a short walk every day, the 23.5 hours a day that he spends in his stall is helping his hooves, but destroying his joints. He has spent his 18 years of life with ample turnout and kept in performance shape. For the last thirty-five days, he has not been able to ride, move, or graze. On cool, breezy days – he spends most of his time standing. Once the heat and humidity turns up, he spends an awful amount of time laying down. While this provides relief for his aching hooves, it decreases circulation and causes him to be very stiff. For the first time in two weeks, he needed help getting up and some convincing to get moving.
This. Kills. Me.
I know that this is going to be a long road. And I know that we will have set backs. But I’ve always prided myself in knowing that I’ve taken great care in keeping arthritis at bay. At 18 years old, he was riding the best he ever had, without needing any supplements or joint maintenance. For the first time ever, I’m afraid he will begin to know his own age. He doesn’t know he’s “older.” As far as he’s concerned, he can keep up with the youngest of them. And maybe this love of life, his inability to make anything easy, has been what has kept him afloat through this ordeal. I worry that he’s going to take notice; that he’s going to grow tired, and that he’ll want to quit. I’m not ready for that. I’ll never be ready for that.
So I did what I always do: consulted the experts in loving a yellow horse. Although stall rest is the typical “protocol,” it’s as damaging to his joints as it is beneficial to his hooves. I discussed with my trainer, the owner of the barn, and our vet, and we all agreed that restricted turnout in a small sand paddock, for just an hour or two a day, will not be harmful to his healing hooves, and will certainly ease the stiffness. The mental reprieve of getting out of his stall will be a welcomed distraction.
To end this on a positive note, he has been a very patient patient (See what i did there?) He’s always disappointed to end his walk, but keeps his protest to a simple longing look at the grass. He welcomes everyone into his stall for treats and cuddles, and even eats all of his medications. He’s a spoiled yellow horse who has enjoyed visits from his now grown-up little girls, an unwavering supply of treats, and a fancy turbo stall fan for his cooling pleasure. In short, he is being the wonderful soul he’s always been.
Today marks the one month anniversary of the day in which life as I had known it, disappeared. One month, four weeks, thirty days – say it anyway you’d like and it still feels like it’s been forever. Gone are the days of pulling up to the barn 10 minutes before a lesson, brushing the dust off, and trotting up to the ring. No longer are we going to meander around the farm exploring as we cool down from a hard gymnastics lesson. Running to the barn in tears so Tazzy could take care of me and mend my worn down heart, is no longer in the cards. Instead, I’ve spent the last four weeks running to take care of him. I tend to his sores, fret over even the mere thought of any heat in his hooves, and make sure he gets his daily dose of vitamin D. Today, I get excited to hear that his pain medication has been reduced. I’m thrilled when I know he spent more time standing, than laying down. Seeing an almost-empty water bucket is a celebrated accomplishment.
My timehop is a constant reminder of the ten years worth of memories we have created together. I’m reminded of the countless girls he has taught to ride and showed with. That blue ribbon he won all by himself because his beginner rider was too nervous to actually steer. The fox. The f*$&@%$ fox that jumped out and caused us to dive through a corner during the most important class of the week. Often times, these reminders are bittersweet. What I wouldn’t give for another gallop, another go at the “boob” jump, and even just one more chance to hear my trainer yell about at least attempting to bend through the corners, and using my outside rein. But when I get too down about all the fun we’re missing, I’m reminded that we’re just happy he’s here. I still have my best friend. We may no longer be “whoa-ing” down the lines, but maybe one day, soon, I’ll have to yell “Whoa” because he feels well enough to make a run for it.
We are not yet out of the woods. Actually, I’m not even sure that we can see light. He’s had his shoes on for 2 full weeks and has 3 more to go before we reset them. One month of ups and downs has felt like a never ending emotional roller coaster. But as long as he’s willing to fight, so will I. We will do more radiography when we re-shod and hopefully see that the sinking has stopped. We are praying that we don’t run into any additional implications – abscesses are not uncommon with foundered horses and can cause excruciating pain to the already sore hooves. He still spends quite a few hours a day laying down to rest. Although nerve-racking, I know it’s good for him to rest his piglets and take some of the pressure off his strained laminae. His bedsores are a constant battle. His left hock is nearly bald, and although they are superficial sores on the surface of the skin, they still make me worry. I don’t know if in another thirty days I’ll be writing a “2-month” post-founder post, or if I’ll be writing his eulogy. I’m trying my best to simply live in the now.
A few weeks ago, I thought I’d soon be mourning the loss of my best friend. Today, I’m able to kiss his velvet muzzle and split a package of Twizzlers. None of this would be possible without the people that have come together to support us. Getting constant updates and pictures of a happy, or sleepy, or usually grumpy yellow horse, literally makes my day. My barn owner, vet, farrier, trainer, and barn family have shown the true meaning of being “horsemen.” They’ve all gone out of their way to ensure that we are always dealing with a comfortable Yellow. His well-being has been at the forefront of every conversation and every decision. There is no better support system. I could not have asked for a better team. #TeamTazzy
(Don’t forget to hit HD in settings.)
It’s been one week since we made and unmade the decision to euthanize my best friend. It’s also been a week since Tazzy was shod with his new fancy footwear, and we’ve seen nothing but dramatic improvements. He is still on stall rest, and will most likely continue to be for quite a while, but he is allowed a short walk a day to help with circulation and muscle stiffness. The first few days after getting shod, he walked carefully and very flatfooted. He was unsure of whether or not his feet were going to hurt, and he had to grow accustomed to the new type of shoe. Today, He marched out of his stall needing only the encouragement of a Twizzler to get him moving. He walked comfortably to the indoor arena, where he was able to walk on soft footing, and escape the rain. This was the farthest he’s been in three weeks, and he genuinely looked happy to be out! As soon as dinner time arrived and the grain could be heard banging around in the buckets, he no longer had any interest in reducing stiffness, or improving circulation. He wanted to eat!
We made it back to his barn, just as the grain buckets were arriving. While he impatiently waited for his food, I was able to clean and treat his bed sores, and fluff his bedding. As dinner got closer, he began to pace and whinny for it – something I haven’t seen in over three weeks! He is spending less time lying down now, and is becoming much more active in his stall. He will easily walk from his window to the stall door and back, several times in his feeble attempts to get attention. I’m beginning to see an improvement in his bedsores, and the swelling and heat in his legs are starting to diminish. His new schedule for shoes is every five weeks, which is when we will most likely complete another set of xray and reevaluate his progress.
The silver lining to this ordeal is that this was not metabolic laminitis, and he does not have cushings or insulin resistance. We are certainly being careful with his diet, but he is still allowed his favorite sweet treats. I’m not sure how he would live without his twizzlers.
Today was the day that we were anxiously awaiting – xray day. My vet was unable to make it to the barn during the day while I was there, so she completed them at night and called me the next day with the update. It was exactly what we feared; he was continuing to sink. Our last ditch effort would be to shod him. After lengthy discussions with both my trainer and barn owner, we came to the unfortunate decision of giving him a humane end – He was too weak to shod, and we weren’t sure that he would be able to handle having shoes nailed into his already sensitive toes.
After a very teary drive to the barn, my barn owner was able to speak at length with our farrier and we made the decision to give the shoes a try. He was confidant that it would make a difference, and that Tazzy would become more comfortable. This was going to be Tazzy’s last shot. We were given an estimate of having the shoes on by Monday the 18th, but by the following evening, he was sporting a shiny new front pair of supportive steel shoes. The farrier took his time and allowed the yellow horse plenty of rest breaks. Finally, Tazzy was able to walk off somewhat comfortably.
(Make sure you set the quality to HD in settings.)
Taz spent a majority of the week lying down resting. The groaning was our cue to give him more pain medication, and he was given food and water while he was down. Every few hours, we encouraged him to stand so that he could defecate and urinate. The last thing we wanted to do was deal with colic! We used Desitin on his bedsores and kept his stall very deeply bedded.
In order to make him more comfortable, I ordered him a pair of “soft-ride” boots for his front feet. The orthotic inserts gave him support in addition to providing a soft surface for his sore toes. We slowly started to see his personality creeping back. His appetite returned, and he was back to his old antics, convincing all who walked by to give him a treat. He still had plenty of heat in his hooves and shuffled to where he needed to be, but we were able to see glimpses of his old personality. We were becoming optimistic; he could beat this!
Tazzy spent the entire weekend standing in a tub of ice water. His fever never returned, and he even began to nibble on some hay, and drink of his own accord. Finally, Monday May 4th arrived – the day we had scheduled to do his radiography. After spending four days in a tub of ice water and under constant supervision, we allowed Taz to hang out in his stall for a few hours to rest, while wearing ice boots.
He went down, and stayed down for 6 hours. Clearly, he was exhausted.
After several frantic phone calls to the vet, she assured us this was normal for a foundered horse, and encouraged us to allow him to rest. Unfortunately, He began moaning and groaning and clearly looked uncomfortable. We considered what the xrays could say, and the quality of life he may have due to it. Euthanasia was beginning to look like the solution and we were heartbroken.
Unfortunately, along with exhaustion, came moaning and groaning. He. would. not. get. up. We decided that we would wait for the Xrays, but it was unfair and selfish to keep him around in this much pain. As he laid there, we all walked in one by one and sat with him, crying and saying our goodbyes. This was the end to his legacy. Once we all left his stall, drying our eyes and putting on a brave face, Tazzy did, as tazzy usually does, and made us all stop in our tracks. He stood up, walked to the end of the barn with minimal coaxing, made it back to his stall where he pooped, peed, pooped again, drank some water and than proceeded to spend some time enjoying his grain. To quote one of Tazzy’s biggest supporters, “Well, we can’t kill him while he’s enjoying his dinner..”
When the vet arrived, we pulled blood and we’re finally able to get a decent fecal done. Hopefully this was shed some light on what caused the sudden onset of diarrhea and fever. This time, Tazzy proved to be much easier to xray than originally. He was willing to lift his foot with a bit of coaxing and stood perfectly still. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario came to light – Taz was definitely foundering. To add insult to injury, he was not rotating, but rather he was a “sinker.” In layman’s term, his entire bone was losing the support it needed and was dropping into his hoof. This would be the most difficult founder to treat.
The vet fitted him with foam pads which were duct-taped to his feet after removing his regular old steel shoes.These would provide some comfort as he rested in his stall. We were to once again have xrays done in a week or so, to check on progress. If he continued to sink, I was going to have to make a very difficult decision (again..)
We continued to administer all of his medication through his catheter. Our goal was to keep him as comfortable as possible, as we waited on his body to recover and fight.
The events of April 30 blur together, but there are vivid images from that day that will forever be seared into my memory. I received a call at about 10:00am from my wonderful barn owner, telling me Tazzy was running a high fever and she thought he was foundering. I immediately asked her to call the vet as I left work early to drive the 30 minutes to the barn.
When I got to the barn, Tazzy was in bad shape. His temperature was at 103, he had white diarrhea dribbled down his legs and tail, he was displaying the typical founder stance, and looked miserable. His eyes were distant and far, his head hung low. Ten years together, and I had never seen my buddy this ill. The vet arrived, checked all of his symptoms and gave a preliminary diagnosis of ehrlichia, which is spread by ticks and can cause founder-like symptoms. We pulled blood to be sure, but some fluids, antibiotics, and icing of the feet would do the trick.
Six hours later, he was as miserable as ever, standing in a tub of ice water. His fever was still running at 103, he was not eating or drinking, and could barely hold himself up. The vet was called back out, and after further discussion and diagnosis, we considered Potomac Horse Fever. Our battle was now two-fold: fighting whatever caused his illness, and stopping the laminitis.
Base-line X-rays were done so we could correctly assess what damage, if any was occurring in his hooves. He was placed on pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication, fluids to fight dehydration, antibiotics to fight infection, and a vasodilator to help with circulation. To make administration of medications easier, he had a catheter placed in his neck. He was to stand in ice water to decrease inflammation for as long as possible.
Twelve hours after the first phone call, we finally were able to lower his temperature using acupuncture. He would spend the next 4 days standing in a tub full of sand and ice water, and under 24 hour surveillance. Despite finally having the fever break, our battle had just begun.