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Equine Endeavor

The Broken Horse - Part 2

I moved Dante to a new barn in the fall of 2016. It was a really beautiful dressage barn that charged almost double the price of board I had paid previously. It was worth it because I worked there, but also because I felt Dante was being given top care. He was fed 4 meals a day, had a gorgeous stall, a eurocisor, and there was perfect footing everywhere.

About 2 weeks after Dante was moved there, I received a call that he was found having a seizure, and that the veterinarian was already en route.

When I got to the barn, Dante was covered in sweat. They had put him in a cooler, and he was standing outside of the barn. I remember thinking he looked 100 years old that day. I held him and waited for the vet to arrive. When they got to the barn, aside from being sweaty and having a slightly elevated pulse and respiration rate, his vitals seemed relatively 'normal'. However, he had fallen onto his right hind leg. The one with the glutteal tear and the 2-year old fracture. 1300lbs onto his bad leg. He had a huge amount of swelling, and was lame on it. I think I looked 100 years old that day, too. Or I gained at least 100 grey hairs.

Dante started a new prescription - gabapentin - and was started on oral Vitamin E. We also had him on Banamine for the swelling and pain in the right hind.

His lameness and swelling diminished in his right hind (thank goodness), and I found out that his "seizures" were not actually seizures at all. A few days later, I was called and told that Dante had another seizure and to come out immediately. He looked a fright when I arrived. I stood in the corner of his stall and watched him for hours. If he had another "seizure", I was determined I was going to be there to see it. About 3 hours in to watching him, I watched him go down and immediately started thrashing about. He began sweating, and his eyes were rolling around. I videotaped him so I had footage to send to his vet.

We both agreed it was not a seizure he was having, but he was actually sleep deprived. This truly broke my heart. Most likely, his legs were so uncomfortable/stiff and/or he did not think he would be able to get up quickly (horses are prey animals - they do not want to risk laying down if they do not feel safe!), that he was not sleeping.

While horses do sleep standing up, they also have to sleep laying down (~2-3 hours per day) in order to achieve REM sleep. If they do not, they will become sleep deprived. This happens over the course of months. Horses do not become sleep deprived after one or two days of not sleeping. That is the true heartbreak - I felt I had let him down - But how was I supposed to know?

When he fell down, he was falling from pure exhaustion, and going straight into REM sleep - which is why he was moving about and his eyes were rapidly moving. We still do not know why he would start sweating, but were able to determine he was not actually having seizures, and instead was suffering from sleep deprivation.

This is when I began questioning Dante's quality of life. He was on the best nutritional protocol while living at this barn, was being given Equioxx and Cosequin, had Adequan, regular farrier, veterinary, and body work done. He did bounce back for awhile with the gabapentin, though, and began sleeping. While it was originally started because we thought he was having seizures, I ended up keeping him on it (with my vet's blessing), because it helps to manage chronic pain and could be fed with his Equioxx.

Towards the end of summer 2017, I moved Dante back to live on campus at UC Davis. I was pretty sure this was going to be his last move. He had aged so much, although he had plateaued health-wise, and had been doing okay once the sleep deprivation was managed. (Hooray for extra deep bedding, bed sore boots, and extra supplements/drugs!) We moved because I was working at the Equestrian Center on campus, and knew with him there again, I could see him 2-3x per day, which I felt was necessary.

This worked perfectly for about 2 months. But then cellulitis reared it's ugly head.

Determining it was cellulitis took a couple of days. In early November 2017, I received a call from the barn supervisor that Dante was non-weight-bearing, this time, on his left hind leg - oof - his only "good" leg. I rushed out to the barn to find him terribly uncomfortable, standing in the middle of his stall, left hind propped up, and paw marks all the way around him. He had been pawing out of stress/pain, unable to move more than a pivot.

I called his vet, and she arrived a few minutes later. We were pretty positive he fractured his left hind leg this time, somehow. We jumped right into radiographs, but found no fractures. His leg was not overly swollen, so it did not seem indicative of cellulitis really either. His vet assured me that it could still be cellulitis, and started him on antibiotics and put a stack wrap on his leg, just in case.

The next day, it was incredibly clear that cellulitis was indeed the problem. His left hind leg was almost twice the size of his right hind.

The next two months Dante and I spent an immeasurable amount of time together. I ran myself ragged trying to make sure that Dante received all of his meds, had his legs continually wrapped for support and to help the swelling come down, but that he also had some time each day for his legs to air out, that he was handwalked to encourage the swelling to go down, that he didn't get fungi growing on his legs, that he had a clean stall with plenty of cushy bedding in it, that he got ice boots or cold hosed daily, and that his right hind leg - the one that was his weakest from his previous injuries - stayed wrapped with a boot on to prevent compensatory laminitis.

I began seriously questioning whether euthanasia was the correct choice for Dante in mid-December. I didn't know. I had to talk to many friends to gain insight on what their experiences were to elect for euthanasia of their personal horses. When was the right time? When was enough, enough? How do you justify how much money you pour into an animal when it's prolonging their life but not really making their life better? Will I feel guilty? Am I doing the right thing? Will I forgive myself? These are all questions I was asking myself.

The best advice I was given was this: You are his girl, and you will know when it is his time.

I did not think so. I actually did not think this was good advice when it was given, because I felt that Dante was not telling me it was his time. I thought he would make it clear, and he just, wasn't. To me, he seemed like he wanted to keep fighting. He had the most beautiful spirit in that way - the greatest will to live.

On Christmas Eve, I went to see Dante. When I walked into his stall, he didn't greet me. He was standing in the back corner of his stall, facing the wall. Dante always greeted me - with a screaming neigh, and ears pricked. Hell, he practically ran himself into the front of the stall when he heard my car. I looked at him and again, noticed how much he had aged. He was only 22, but his body was so much older than that.

I tried to look at him through objective eyes. It was hard. I looked at him through his girl's eyes - enamored by his beauty, as I had always been. But when I took a step back and looked at him with objective eyes, I saw so much more - telling me what the right thing to do was. I saw a horse, uncomfortable, with no more light in his eyes. He had been biting at his sides and had dried bite marks on his sides - an upset stomach from the high dose of medications he was on, or maybe gastric ulcers from stress? He was putting all of his weight on his leg with cellulitis, and resting his right-hind, and then swapping - he couldn't tell which hind leg was more uncomfortable. He was clenching his abdominal muscles, his nostrils were tense, and his eyes were sunken. I saw him try to lay down, and when he went to get up, he struggled. "Oh honey...You are telling me it's time" was all I could think. I kissed his face a million times, and snuggled him. Dante didn't much like that, but on this day, he just closed his eyes in my arms and let me kiss him.

I called the UC Davis VMTH with tears in my eyes. "Tomorrow is Christmas Day, what do I do?" Selfishly, I didn't want Christmas to forever be the day I lost my love. Christmas is my favorite holiday. They were beyond accommodating, and scheduled his euthanasia, with his favorite veterinarian, for December 26th.

There is much I did not include in this story. Like all of the GOOD things that happened in our time together. I promise, the good memories outweigh the bad ones. Or all of the miles Dante and I walked together, side by side. We had so many special moments - but I am blessed to have gone through the good and the bad with him, AND to have been able to learn from him how to be a proper horse owner. I could never thank him enough, and only hope that wherever he is, he knows how much I love him.

© 2019 Equine Endeavor