Sunday, 8 January 2012

Cushings warning

One of the most significant factors in getting me back in the saddle was indeed a warning from the vet. Google if you will: equine cushings syndrome.

Hills has always been a chunky character; a farrier once told me (only days after I'd got her) that if I carried on feeding her the way she was being fed, I wouldn't get a girth to fit her. I felt worried about this, although I didn't even legally own her at this point. I followed his advice about a feeding regime, but Hillary began to realise that outside in the field there was more food than in her stable; she began not to be caught. It is so frustrating to literally be run circles round by a horse, and I began to think at that point, I didn't want to buy her, but luckily things have changed.

So Hills has always been rather large; she even pulls faces when she doesn't have food available straight away after finishing her last lot. It was suggested by the farm owner that Hills could have hay instead of haylege. The  difference is in the way that it is packed. Both start out as hay. Haylege is packed in plastic wrapping in which it sweats, and hay isn't. The result is that hay (the more expensive of the two) is less calorific, and therefore better, for horses like Hills, than haylege. Hills switched straight away.

Then something rather peculiar happened. A friend of mine, with a lovely mare, found that her horse was laminitic. Laminitis is very painful, and is characterised by a 'leaning back' look, where a horse seems to be resting on it's heels. My friend had the vet out to her horse, and the reason it was laminitic was due to 'equine metabolic syndrome' which is apparently similar to type two diabetes in humans. It is extremely important to note that I am in no way experienced with equine conditions, and so my rather simplistic explanation of them comes from my simplistic view, rather than scientific understanding. If I'd understood science then maybe I'd have done better at A-level biology.

The rather peculiar thing is that, for some reason, this got into my head. I wasn't riding at that point, and my relationship with Hills was at an all time low (being nervous around a flight animal isn't helpful). Hills was putting on weight, and although I was aware of it, and wanted to change it, I found it hard. I work full time as a primary school teacher, and it was hard to come home and want to go through the stress of riding where my anxiety levels rocketed. For some reason (unbeknownst to even me,) I decided that Hills had to have this metabolic syndrome too. Despite being on hay, and being exercised at least twice a week by my excellent friend Halina who loans her three times a week so I can work, Hills wasn't losing weight. It couldn't purely be down to me not riding.

I admit that I felt a little stupid about having blood tests done for a horse that seemingly had nothing wrong with it. Hills was never lame (she wasn't even lame when she fell through a fence in the field and had seventeen  different cuts on her legs), and never seemed to be sick or sorry. I did feel that maybe I was looking for something to be wrong, and that people wouldn't take me seriously. But I did it anyway, and kept it to myself so that if there was nothing wrong, I wouldn't feel stupid.

Despite the obvious amount of money that it could cost, I rang the vet to do a blood test. I can't remember now how I put it to them, but it must have sounded odd. I suppose that I felt that if I didn't have the test done, I'd worry about it. It was just a gut feeling I had.

The bloods were taken, and I felt nervous waiting for the call back. Finally, it came earlier than expected. Hills  didn't have EMS luckily, but there was something not quite right. One of her blood levels was quite a bit higher than it should have been. This was due to Hillary's weight, and what it meant was that Hillary was borderline Cushings. If it continued to develop, with Hills not losing any weight, she would end up with the condition.

That was all the vet said, and I didn't know anything about cushings. He gave me some advice about what to do with her hay to further reduce calories, and then he went. Luckily, there happened to be a vet from a different practice up at the yard. I told my friend the news about the blood test, and she asked the vet. His reply was simple. "It's a swelling on the brain."

I felt as though my legs turned to jelly. My friend gave me a hug, and I admit that with that blow, I just had to get my jobs done and leave the yard as quickly as possible. At home, I slumped against the radiator (where I am sat now writing this) and looked up cushings on google. That was the worst thing I could have done. Its awful. I sobbed until I could sob no more, with an intensity that made me ache the next day. I knew that it was my fault. I knew that because my brain was messed up; because I was a failure who couldn't ride, I was going to do this to my horse. It was a really difficult time, and sadness turned very quickly to anger. But looking back, it was that pain and guilt that made me want to get back on. I couldn't let myself do this to Hillary.

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