Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blackjack Update and a Neurological Storm?

Blackjack is doing well - no fever, eating better and happy to go out. He's still on a 500-lb. dose of Banamine each day (and he only weights 750 pounds or so), so it may be that he's just more comfortable. The vet has instructed us to continue that dosage until the end of this week and then drop it to a 250-lb. dose. As he's been eating more, however, his very loose manure has returned, so it's clear he still has an absorption problem. His owner will be talking to the vet today and passing on these updates to see what she says.

My husband, who is definitely not a horse person, but who is intelligent and observant (not to mention long-suffering when it comes to all matters barn and horse), made an interesting observation about the series of photos I posted about Miranda a few days ago. He said the three photos in a row of her eye as it changes looked somewhat like someone having an epileptic seizure, and that the eye is actually rolling back - what I had previously described as the horse going away or the eyes looking dead. It may be that pressure, of touch or presence, causes a sensory overload and triggers some sort of neurological storm - perhaps not true epilepsy but something analogous. This would go a long way to explain the odd combination of a horse that clearly wants to be friendly to people, and has never been abused, but is unable to abide their touch or presence and then becomes enraged by the whole thing - and why shouldn't she? Here she is attempting to engage with people - whom I think she actually likes - and when she does she experiences a loss of neurological control and perhaps even something that is like physical pain. No wonder she's confused, angry and even sad. It would also explain the odd and immediate return to normal horse behavior once the storm has passed.

This would also explain the odd combination of rage and being completely shut down in other circumstances - those are the only two ways she can deal with her experience. In a herd situation, since she is basically a submissive horse, she can't rage if pressured but can "go away" by shutting down. Similarly, when ridden or handled on the ground, she generally is very dull and even unresponsive to pressure, although recently under my daughter's care she had been waking up a bit and responding more like a normal horse.

It's clear that whatever this neurological problem is, the behavior problems, and associated neurological pathways - I almost think of it as a computer program running - are long-standing. Although we will never know for sure what is wrong, perhaps these thoughts will give my daughter some comfort. The horse's issues aren't training issues, really, they're built in somehow. The fact that my daughter was able to gradually desensitize her to touch and presence and actually work with her and achieve what she did is amazing to me, and a true testament to my daughter's sensitive and effective way of working with horses. That said, no amount of training would be guaranteed to prevent the neurologically-driven behavior from suddenly reappearing, which is very sad I think.

I'm probably over-thinking this because we're struggling with this so much, but it makes more sense to me now.


  1. Don't we all over-think the problems? We can't help it! What you're saying could very well be true, but your daughter's presence has become so well-known for her it doesn't send the storm into motion anymore. Makes sense.

  2. I'm glad to hear Blackjack is doing well.

    Miranda is still a mystery but maybe you're on to something. I wonder if they do some sort of neurological scanning for horses. Just to rule out tumors either in her brain,eyes, sinus cavities etc.. I don't know if that would give you a definitive answer and something tangible to work with or not. I know how upsetting it is to have a horse you don't really know what is wrong with who exhibits strange behavior. We only found out what was wrong with Donnie after years of 'every test known to man' had been performed on him. He's doing much better now but he still has his moments. Good luck with this problem.

  3. It doesn't sound like you're overthinking; that is a very good insight! I think it's great that you and your daughter have given Miranda such great care and gentle handling. Kudos to you for raising children who are sensitive to horses' needs and train in an understanding way. I have gotten a lot of encouragement from reading people's sympathetic comments and knowing that there ARE people in the horse community who truly care about the animal's well-being and who don't just jump to blaming the animal.

  4. Put my vote towards a neurological issue like a tumor etc... her behavior is just too weird to be a learned behavior especially with all of the time your daughter has put in. Glad to hear Blackjack is on the upswing!

  5. I t does seem to fit. Over thinking? or trying to find out what is causing these issues ,I know we all are almost willing to move heaven and earht for are horses ,why would this case be different?
    word verf was ironically ...angst

  6. Interesting observation. Those pictures are worth something. Is there any place you could send them for a vet specialist to look at? One of the Universities, perhaps? They might be intrigued. I know Penn occasionally takes horses for donations to the vet school. It might be an option for Miranda if all else fails. She could be good case study.

    Blackjack's owner is a sweetie. I love people who take good care of their older horses like that. There is true love and dedication there. Here's hoping he continues to do better and you find the source of his problem.

  7. Your husband could be on to something.
    I don't know what can be done. I was speaking to someone the other day whose horse had seizures.

  8. The pictures really do tell a story all by itself. My heart aches for her for being so at odds inside. And for you because it sounds so stressful.
    But as usual, you have real thoughtful insight, and I appreciate long suffering husband.
    But what to do? I will keep reading to learn more.

  9. Your husband could be onto something!

    I know what migraine headaches did to me when I had them years ago. So if something like that is going on in her head, I feel very sorry for her.

    As others have said is it possible to have a vet school look at her? But could anything be done to help her?

    How troubling for you and your daughter to watch her going through that.

    Hoping for the best possible outcome for all involved.

    Glad that Blackjack is doing better. (Love that name, we had a black dog named Blackjack. Named after a famous horse.)

  10. Glad Blackjack is doing better, I hope his upswing continues.

    I mentioned I knew someone whose horse actually did have a brain tumor, maybe it is a possibility with Miranda? Regardless she's clearly not all that happy in her own skin a good part of the time which is a miserable way to live.

  11. Didn't you mention she was rubbing and shaking her head in one of your earlier posts? Certainly a dramatic change. I hope you're able to pin down a cause and determine a solution. Don't you wish they could talk at times like this?

  12. I thought the same thing as SunnySD -- you said sometimes when she has these little fits she will rub her head on her legs as though it itches. Could be a severe headache. Several vets have told me that in various situations, horses can get migraines. Might be something worth looking into. It could be treatable.

  13. Miranda is a lucky girl to have a thoughtful, caring mom and grandma. And your husband's observation is certainly worth investigating. I know you will all figure it out. Like everyone else, I'm pulling for Miranda and Blackjack.

  14. Kate,
    My old Arab, Corky, started having seizures shortly after we moved to this property (we think he possibly found something toxic that unbalanced his system). I hadn't put that together with Miranda''s behavior til this post, but his seizures seemed to be "stress-induced" and the stressor was usually ME. I could be grooming him and things were fine, then I would move too quickly, or at the wrong angle, or whatever, and Corky's eyes would widen in panic, his head would go up and his whole body stiffen. The first couple of times he went down, scraping legs and biting his lips or tongue. But I learned that IF I backed off immediately, the episode would subside fairly quickly.
    But the trust of 26 years together was broken. He was, of course, retired from any riding, but earned his keep by baby sitting my weanlings each year, until he coliced badly last winter, and we euthanized him.
    Vet suspected brain tumor, though over the six years that Corky had the seizures before he passed, there was no increase in activity, so we couldn't be sure.
    It certainly seems something to investigate with poor Miranda.

  15. If that is the case, is there a medication that can alleviate the stress? I go back to the idea of a head injury - not that it's that, but that neurological damage results in dramatic personality changes in people.

    Your daughter sounds like someone with a profound gift...

  16. I'm glad that Blackjack is feeling better. Miranda does seem very unhappy doesn't she.

    A friend of mine had a beautiful, very well bred Oldenburg mare who she owned since birth (had the dam) she was always a little "off" and always angry, even as a baby. She was imprinted at birth and had a very safe, proper upbringing. She was unpredictable, and would just "snap" and attack people. No good reason, and her whole history was known. It was very weird, but her mare was VERY unsafe. She was let go from this world earlier this year.

    I only own one horse, my first, and I am overanxious all the time about her. I applaud you for what you've done with Miranda and you and your daughter will make the best decision for everyone. Thoughts to you!

  17. This is such a thoughfully written post. No matter what you and your daughter decide you can be sure you will have spent much time in deliberation, research, and heart moments before hand.
    Miranda is very lucky to have such caring owners.


  18. wow, interesting insight on Miranda. i'm glad you chose to keep writing about her.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  19. Your care and love of your horse shine through your posts. Miranda is lucky to have such good humans in her life!


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