Our barn is effectively a co-op. All of the boarders have to do some volunteer work - ordering and unloading hay, feed and bedding, pasture maintenance, dragging the arena, driving the manure spreader, selecting and supervising contractors, maintaining books and records, etc. We all clean our own stalls and paddocks and owners turn out their own horses on Saturday and Sunday. We do have a wonderful lady who comes 6 days a week to bring in and feed the horses in the afternoon, and Jill and I split the morning feeding and turnout duties. On Saturday afternoons, we take turns bringing in and feeding the horses. There are currently 8 horses and 6 owners. With the rotation, each owner brings in and feeds about once every 6 weeks or so.
We've had some trouble with this in the past - if you don't do the p.m. feeding duty frequently, it's possible to forget something or make a mistake. But there are mistakes and then there are mistakes. One time several years ago, a boarder who is not longer at the barn make the mistake of feeding Dawn insufficiently soaked beet pulp. I know there are those who say this is OK, but Dawn choked. Veterinary emergency - she recovered just fine but had to be tubed to dislodge the blockage.
This past Saturday, the p.m. feeder made a serious mistake. Now, tell me, do these two horses look alike to you?
Maybe a little, but not a lot - they're both chestnuts/sorrels, with one white anklet on the same hind foot. But their face markings are completely different - Pie's star is differently shaped and he has the stripe and snip, and although they're about the same size, they carry themselves differently. Fritz also wears front shoes, which is noticeable when you're leading him down the barn aisle.
Anyway, on Saturday, the p.m. feeder, who has had a horse at the barn for years but spends little time there - she doesn't ride or work her horse any more - put Fritz into Pie's paddock and Pie into Fritz's stall. She's known Fritz for years too, although she's only met Pie recently. Her mistake wouldn't have been so bad, except that then she fed them the wrong dinners. Pie gets only 1/2 pound of our vitamin/mineral balancer pellets plus a little cocosoya oil. Fritz gets that but he also gets a pound of Ultimate Finish to help him maintain his weight.
Pie was delighted to get the extra food and polished his dish. When I got to the barn about an hour later, I saw a chestnut horse running frantically in Pie's paddock. Poor Fritz was soaking wet with sweat and was very upset. Fritz has had episodes of colic in the past, often brought on by stress. I brought him in and switched him with Pie. Fritz got a towel-down. I checked Pie's feet - all four were very hot - his feet are normally quite cool. Not good. I put him in his paddock. Then he ate his hay for a bit and lay down. Really not good. He wasn't agitated but was clearly not himself. He had good gut sounds on the right side, but not as good on the left, and he didn't want me touching his left side. He got up after a bit and continued eating his hay - better, but his feet were still hot. He was walking just fine, which was good, but sometimes foot soreness takes up to 36 to 48 hours to develop after the carb overload.
I called the vet, and talked to the on-call vet who happened to be our regular vet. She said that a single pound of Ultimate Finish wouldn't cause a problem in most horses - it's a relatively low-carb feed - but some horses are more sensitive to feed changes and excess carbohydrates. She said it was good that Pie was outside standing in the snow, and had me give him 2 grams of bute. He did leave several normal piles of manure while I was with him. We decided not to tube him with mineral oil as he was back up and eating and his colicy symptoms seemed to be going away. He did leave several normal piles of manure while I was with him. The risk continued to be the metabolic effects of the sugar overload, and the vet felt that anti-inflammatories were the way to go.
The good news is that Sunday morning at feeding time Fritz was fine and Pie's feet were back to normal - nice and cool. He'd eaten well and his manure was plentiful and normal. He got bute again Sunday and this morning to make sure the inflammation - a mild case of laminitis (here's a good reference on laminitis and safergrass.org is also a very good resource) - is completely gone. I'm to call the vet to come if the heat in his feet returns - she thinks he's over it and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. There's been some slight warmth in either the front feet or the backs from time to time over the past two days, but nothing that compares to how hot his feet felt on Saturday, but the vet says that's likely not an issue if he's moving around normally and the digital pulses aren't strong. He's shown no signs of discomfort in walking or moving around at any point, which is good news. As of this evening, all four feet were nice and cool.
The other good news is that Pie is perfect for taking medicine by mouth, even after repeated times of being dosed with nasty-tasting bute. He stands there on a loose lead and just lets me stick the tube in his mouth. I was even able to take some of the excess off the syringe that didn't make it into his mouth and put it on my finger and stick my finger in the corner of his mouth to put it in. (I should have checked this before it was a necessary situation in case some training was required, and was lucky.) Good Pie!
When we go on grass this spring, I'll have to keep a special eye on him to be sure the introduction is very gradual and that he's not getting more than he can handle, as he may be extra sensitive to carbs. This mishap is also a good reminder of how important it is to make feed changes gradually.
We all make mistakes from time to time, but a feeding error of this type can lead to permanent damage to the horse. I'm not feeling very friendly right now to the person who did this. I've made my share of mistakes with horses, even serious mistakes, so I expect I'll forgive her in time. I'm sincerely hoping she is no longer doing the Saturday rotation by the time Drifter arrives - he looks even more like Fritz - he has a smaller star and no other face markings, but he's more robustly built and has no white on his legs. The good news is that Pie seems to be doing OK and I hope that continues. He's supposed to have a few days off from riding to reduce the concussion to his feet, but we're getting a big snow storm shortly to be followed by that wonderful sub-arctic combination of high winds and cold so there'll be no riding for a bit anyway.
But that was much too close a call for my liking.
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And here are some pictures of sweet, pretty Maisie enjoying her retirement down at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee - thanks, Melissa!
Maisie herself has had two episodes of laminitis, which were much worse than Pie's - she could barely walk and ended up with event lines on her feet but fortunately had no rotation - both episodes were in the spring and we believe related to grass/carb sensitivity. This spring will be her first spring in Tennessee, and we're expecting her to do better down there as their grasses are mostly warm-season rather than cool-season grasses.