Friday, January 29, 2016

A Long Saga

I've been meaning to write about Hawkeye for ages now.  Long time readers will remember that he is Riding Buddy's horse and he has had issues with his feet for many years.  He has a long history of white line disease, hoof-wall separation, thin soles, long toes and severely contracted heels.  He is also highly sensitive to sugar an we treat him as insulin resistant.

The first year that I worked on his feet, we saw huge improvement.  Although we never did get the really robust foot we hoped for, he did grow in a comparatively healthy foot with good wall connection and decent sole depth.  He was sound in the pasture, but still needed hoof boots for riding on stony ground, which is about the best you can hope given the soil conditions in the area..  He was in good shape given where he had started and the limitations we have to work with.

The environment that hawkeye lives in is incurably wet, stony and extremely acidic.  It is basically an old bog filled in with rocks and it is a very tough, hostile place for hooves despite the effort and care RB puts into it. There is only so much that can be done to improve the fundamental geology of the place so we work with what we have.  There is pea gravel outside the barn, copious drainage ditches and a beautiful, immaculate barn.  Despite the environmental issues, Hawkeye went form being chronically sore, aloof and unhappy to sound, outgoing and content.

Last year, all that fell apart.

It started as a very subtle thing.  The first I remember noticing, is saying to RB that Hawkeye seemed withdrawn and unhappy again.  He never showed any specific lameness, but I could always see pain and tension in his carriage and affect.  Sometimes it seemed like his knees, other times, I swore it was in his hip.  And, every day, his feet got a little worse.  No matter what I did, the toes got longer, the soles thinner and the white line disintegrated to the point that he could barely walk.

We scratched our heads, tweaked his already tightly controlled and balanced diet, studied his gait and added up his years -we came up with more than we had thought - Hawkeye is about 20 years old.  We figured arthritis was getting the best of him and started having very bleak discussions about quality of life.  Hawkeye retired and RB went out and bought a new horse (which is a whole other story).

Every time I saw Hawkeye though, something nagged at me about him.  It just didn't add up.  Twenty isn't all that old and I could just see that something wasn't right. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I could feel the wrongness.  Finally, last Fall, he was tested for Lyme disease and he was off-the-charts positive.  We finally had an answer to everything and all of his vague, shifting symptoms suddenly made a lot of sense.

I had long suspected that Lyme disease could have been a problem, but there is so much controversy and misinformation about it, that, up until the past couple of years, when it has reached epidemic stage in this area, it was difficult to get any kind of diagnosis.  Even with a diagnosis, most vets used to be reluctant to treat it.  Many horses test positive without showing signs (or the signs go unnoticed or are misinterpreted) so it used to be considered not worth treating.  Lyme tends to fall into a Catch 22 type of hole, many of the subtle symptoms of Lyme go unnoticed until the horse is treated and because the symptoms go unnoticed, they don't ever get treatment. 

Hawkeye was our first definitive encounter with Lyme Disease.  He is why I knew to take action when I saw the same subtle wrongness in my herd this past Spring.  In retrospect, I strongly suspect that Lakota probably suffered from chronic Lyme.  His vague, but devastating symptoms were similar.

Hawkeye was put on 4 days of I.V. Oxytetracycline followed by 30 days of Minocycline, which is now considered to be THE drug of choice for treating Lyme in horses.  We chose Minocycline because Doxycycline was not available at the time.  However, since then, it has proven to be much more effective than the doxy, with a 100% cure rate - so far.

According to several veterinary sources, Minocycline is the better choice because it passes through the blood-brain barrier. The hardest part of treating Lyme is that the spirochetes which cause the disease burrow into tissues where neither antibiotics nor the body's own immune system cannot reach.  It is this nasty little fact that makes Lyme so difficult to treat and also why it causes such diverse symptoms.  In an attempt rid itself of the disease, the victims own body turns against itself, often causing symptoms that mimic autoimmune diseases.  Some researchers believe that "chronic Lyme" is actually an autoimmune problem triggered by Lyme.  The most successful treatment options are to either use multiple, pulsed doses of antibiotic or use a drug that can reach more areas of the body, such as Minocycline.

Treatment helped Hawkeye immensely, but it wasn't the immediate cure for his feet that we would have liked because no amount of antibiotics can regrow a healthy hoof for him.  His feet had degraded to the point that he was stuck in another sort of Catch 22, negative feedback loop.

His feet hurt so he did not move well.  Exercise and normal movement are what is needed to stimulate healthy hoof growth, but his feet hurt so he didn't move.  Added to that, he does have some genuine osteoarthritis issues, aside from the lameness and muscle soreness caused by Lyme.  His sore feet made the arthritis worse, which made him reluctant to move, which made his feet worse, which made the arthritis worse.........  We needed a way to break the cycle, and that is where my experiments with Easyshoes that I did last year come in.

To be continued....


  1. I await with bated breath. Our soils in the desert are so alkaline. I wonder how the alkalinity affects hooves.

  2. Heh, as soon as you talked about moving pains, I thought lyme, but having it myself, I try not see it everywhere. I suspect, though, that it *is* in fact everywhere. :) Glad you guys are so on the ball!

  3. Ah! I'm on the edge of my seat ... and hawkeye is now .....? FINE (I sincerely hope!)