It’s been an long time since I’ve posted, due mostly to a chaotic few months on the job front for me. However, I’ve been settled in great new job for a while, and I’ve owed you an update on the progress Derby and I made.
However, this is not the update I thought I’d write.
After our last ride. He was such a good boy.
On June 17, we had a really nice ride, one that got me thinking about getting back into the show ring. On June 18, Derby’s legs stopped working.
I received a call from my friend Liz, who was at the barn and could see that something was seriously wrong. She left me a voicemail, and in the next minute called my vet. She called me back, and this time I was able to pick up. After listening to her brief explanation, I dropped everything and ran.
Arriving at the barn, I found Derby on his feet, but very very unsteady. His balance was tenuous and he didn’t have control over his legs. Still, he was calm and determined to graze, so we waited for the vet there.
Upon arrival, Dr. Nicky clearly did not like what she saw, and with help from her assistant, they got Derby safely into his stall. She took blood to test for EPM, East/West Nile and Rhino, and then started to treat the symptoms with IV banamine, a load of dex and a huge infusion of DMSO. Once he was hooked up to the drip, Dr. Nicky and I were able to step away and talk. That this was a dire situation was clear, and our immediate goal was to keep Derby from going down. He was so unsteady on his feet, it was sickening to watch – with every move, I feared that he was going to fall and break a shoulder or hip.
I also agreed to start treating immediately for EPM, because if he did have an active EPM infection, time was of the essence. So a loading dose of Marquis went down the hatch as well.
I was up before the crack of dawn the next day, and hot-footed it to the barn with my heart in my throat. When I looked into Derby’s stall and found him quietly snoozing, I was weak with relief. I texted Dr. Nicky with the news. We had made it past an important hurdle.
That afternoon, Derby looked better. He got more DMSO and more banamine, and appeared much improved the following day. We continued to treat for EPM while awaiting the results of the blood tests. Derby’s condition was variable – some days he looked pretty good, and some days he didn’t. My goal for him was a safe retirement. He was a great patient, hanging out quietly in his stall, dozing during the day and not working himself up when the other horses were out. I would pick grass for him and hang out in the evening, grooming him, picking his stall, feeding cookies and just puttering around. Derby’s demeanor was bright and content.
Admiring his get well card
After about a week of Marquis treatment, I noticed some changes in Derby’s neurological symptoms. He was having considerable trouble moving his front legs, and was starting to drag his front right around from the shoulder. I called Dr. Nicky and she put him on her schedule for that day, and then a new wrinkle emerged. She received the results of the EPM test that morning, and Derby had zero exposure to the evil little protozoa that cause that debilitating disease.
I wasn’t there for that exam, but Dr. Nicky went over Derby with a fine toothed comb, and found a very tender spot in his neck. In fact, during the exam, Derby actually bit Lainey, who was assisting Nicky. The two were stunned – they have known Derby longer than I have, he’s a favorite around the practice, and he’s not a biter. Dr. Nicky hauled out her equipment and x-rayed his neck, and there it was – the culprit.
There was clearly an injury to the C4 vertebra. The bone quality was spongy and it appeared cracked, and the x-ray suggested that there was either significant calcification or a mass there too. The whole mess was impinging upon Derby’s spinal column, causing the problems. I recalled that his racing owner had mentioned that he “hurt his neck” as a two year old, and mentioned that to Nicky. She suggested we go after the inflammation, in the event it was a flare up we could knock down, while I sought more info from the former owner.
Such a stellar patient.
An email garnered a fast and detailed reply. Derby had injured himself when turning to bite at his rider’s boot, he got his tack hung up and went over. They rested him for few days and he seemed OK, but he showed neurological symptoms later in his 2 year old year when he went to the track and the trainer put a tie-down on him. They feared he was a wobbler at the time, but with rest, chiro and not using the tie-down, the symptoms abated.
At this point, I could start to see the writing on the wall. Derby had lived with that injury for 13 years, but obviously re-aggravated it somehow out in turnout. At this point, damage to the spinal column seemed likely. And even if it wasn’t, I now knew that he had this failure point in his neck. Even if we could get him to the point where he regained enough control over his feet to be safely turned out, a future neurological event seemed to be a near certainty. When we took another set of x-rays about a week later, we could see signs of healing, but we could also see that the damaged bone was healing into the spinal cord.
The night before.
We can’t micromanage or bubble wrap our horses. But in this case, I did feel like I could at the very least prevent a catastrophic end for Derby. After a discussion with my vet, I made the decision to let him go. He was euthanized last Friday, with the sun on his back, after being allowed to graze for a few minutes. It’s what my grandmother would have called a good death, and that was the best I could do for him.
I miss Derby terribly and am still very sad. He was a difficult horse to ride – getting him connected over his back was a bear, but he was a wonderful teacher, and I learned so much from him. I’ll be forever grateful for the privilege of being his person.