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Horse Care and Comfort


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Hello. I have a 27 year old horse that suddenly seemed to go lame. He alsways had  a strange gait we never could quite figure it out. About a week ago he looked like he had gone Lame. His back legs look really stiff and he wouldn’t even pick up the one that looked super stuiff. I noticed he really drags his toes too. Vet said could be arthritis or spinal stenosis. Tried him on bute and it did nothing so it seems to be a spinal problem. When I turned him in tight circles he steps on his own legs and almost falls. If you pull his tail you can literally pull him over. And if you put his foot down crossed over his other hind leg he just leaves it there. He gets picked on by t the three young horses he is with all drafts. He is a quarter horse. Wondering if anyone has dealt something similar and I know Iwi most likely have to put him down before winter I worry the other horses are going to hurt him when they chase him he almost falls alot but I wanted to give him the summer. Any advice is welcome. It seems like this just came on quite suddenly. And I’m worried he will deteriorate quickly
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Hi Markie. I'm sorry your old horse is having problems. Having dealt with older horses before ( Apollo was 38 when we finally parted company) I have a few suggestions. You say you tried Bute without effect. Can I ask what dosage you gave? Your vet is probably taking the view that at his age he is no longer a useful member or the herd/a viable individual & hard as it may sound that maybe a practical view. Nevertheless, he is your friend & you clearly aren't yet accepting the situation at face value. Is it possible to put your old boy, along with a couple of his good & quiet friends, away from the main herd even temporarily? Putting him in isolation may cause distress although that is also an option if he can be close enough to interact with the others without being at risk of bumping & barging. Perhaps an electric fence or a next door paddock or enclosure. My first instinct is rest, love & spending time together, relaxing. Taking away the pressure of needing to deal with the hurly burly of herd life may, in itself, be enough to show some improvement. Giving bespoke care to older horses can be difficult where the horse lives in a livery yard - the yard owners are not always understanding or sympathetic - for those reasons I ran my own yard for the last 13 years of Apollo's life. I was able to ensure Apollo had appropriate turnout & company. That's not a viable option for most people. Please bear in mind that your lad is a good age & seemingly has had the good fortune to enjoy reasonable health until now. Depending on where you are in the world you maybe in the summer season, in which case I would encourage & support your endeavours to explore routes to improvement. Feeling stiff & sore is miserable in cold, damp, blustery weather ( take it from an arthritis sufferer of nearly 40 years! ). The main thing is to look in his eye - does the spark still shine there? Does he still welcome your arrival & does he show greater interest when feed or treats are on offer? You know your guy. If there is no joy of life then the last kind thing you can do for him is a dignified goodbye before the weather really deteriorates & the days are more dark than light. I wish you both the best of luck. Cheers, Jo.
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Thank you so much for your response. I don’t have the option to move him we only have one paddock and one leanto if I isolated him he would be upset and I feel it would be worse for him. The dose was 20ml. He wanted to rule out arthritis. He also loses a ton of weight in the winter about 300 pounds and has only put 30/40 back on. He shed out completely bald this spring. And he’s blind in one eye which makes him more skittish. He’s a big teddy bear but I think he’s getting to the point where he’s getting tired. It’s nice and hot right now with a big pasture but come winter he will just loose more weight and it will be a very very cold Canadian winter for him even with a blanket and trying to feed him everyday through the blizzards. He def does not get excited he just kind of is there. 
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Hi. Old horses teeth and guts are not as efficient as a youngsters and they can have huge issues with grazing and processing enough hay or haylege. I use alfalfa chop, unmolassed. Very dry and light so lots for your money. I guess you know not to change diet too quickly and to feed seperated from the other horses Here are my suggestions. I don't have unlimited funds so these are effective but not expensive. Unmolassed alfalfa chop, quick soaking sugar beet and a little boiled whole barley. Be wary, boiled barley gives loads of energy so introduce sparingly or you may end up with a fireball on your hands. Feed warm food. My four live out all the time so I take very hot water to the field in a flask and mix their food by naked hand to ensure no hot spots. In our Scottish winters if it gets really bad, not a patch on Canadian weather I know, I increase the chop lots and feed more than once a day. Cooking your own barley is easy. You need a pressure cooker, follow instructions or a medium pot with well fitting lid. One measure of barley to at least six measures of water, depends on the barley so experiment. Simmer for an hour then place in a box of straw, wood shavings, news paper or any insulating material. Cover pot with more of the insulation, close box lid. Barley soft and expanded in eight hours. The insulated box is a twist on a World War One field cooker. Next thought is probably too simple, have his teeth checked. Toothache is miserable as you'll know. If he has loose or rotten teeth no wonder he has weight issues. Hope my ideas are helpful. Even if the long term outcome is the one you fear at least his last while he will feel like he's been treated like a prince. Cheers, Jo.
Kicki -- Sweden
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Hi Markie! I'm going to focus on the wobbler issue since Jo has already given great advice on teeth and nutrition - and I have first hand experience with this problem.

All the signs you relate are consistent with Wobbler's syndrome, which is a name for conditions where the nerve signals don't reach their destination, usually because of trauma or excess growth of cartilage/bone.

The nerve damage could be anywhere really, but when the hind legs are affected it is usually connected to an injury or bone growth in the neck or in the Sacro-Illiac-area

The cable of nerves run through the spinal cord, sending out "strands" to the different part of the body through the gaps between the vertebrae joints. If a joint is damaged or has excess cartilage growing around it, this might cut off the nerve or nerves. Also, the spinal cord itself can become tight and "squeeze" the entire cable, or a trauma can cause a swelling that presses on the nerves. (That is best case scenario, because the symptoms might go away with the swelling!)
The nerves to the hind legs are situated at the outside layer of the cable, that's why they are affected before the nerves to the front legs.

When this happens the brain still send signals to the legs to move, but if the signal is cut off it won't reach the leg BUT the brain doesn't know that! So next move is in sequence with the one before but the leg won't be in the expected position which can cause the horse to stumble, or even fall over. In worst case scenario, they can't get back up or break a leg in the fall.

There is no treatment for this condition!

Well, there is an operation that can improve things at least partially, but it costs an arm and a leg and is probably only making sense if you have a very valuable (young) stallion.
All you can do really, is give it time and hope for the damaged nerves to find new paths, but bear in mind that takes at least a year - if it happens at all.

I've been reassured by vets that the condition in itself isn't painful, but my boy was definitely hurting from the odd hopping that caused his muscles in the lumbar region to become hard and tense as a plank of wood. The confusion of his legs not cooperating took some toll on him too.
And on me! I doubt I would do it all over again even if I was very lucky, because my boy was only three years old and his nerves did find other ways, but we are still - seven years later - suffering from the effects left in his body and mind.

If you decide to keep him over summer, he needs a calm environment with a flat surface and preferably no running at all. If he stumbles over his own legs he might injure himself very badly. 
I will also caution you to be utterly careful when handling him!!! 
IF - it's a big "if", but not improbable - he looses his balance he could fall hard and/or knock you over. And that could happen as unexpectedly as a bolt from a clear blue sky so you need to caution other people handling him as well. Esp any one handling his his hooves because he might not keep his balance if you lift a foot.

I know this isn't what you wanted to hear - and I really hope it isn't all that bad - but do take care around him!