Founder, an abscess, and bedsores, oh my.

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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?

Fix one thing, break another.

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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.

Waiting, and waiting, and…

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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.