Hope for a poorly newborn foal

Beth Ault at XL vets reveals all about her quiet Easter weekend and helping a newborn foal to find her way in the world...

I’ve just enjoyed a surprisingly quiet Easter weekend on call, to the extent that I rang the paging company twice to make sure the phones were working! As usual I had calls from a couple of forgetful clients on Saturday morning who had run out of crucial medication over the long weekend, luckily I was already at the clinic so was able to quickly put up some medication for them whilst I was there.

Other than that the only client I saw was at a small stud farm near the practice, unfortunately, for them though, I did see them twice! This is becoming a theme for them at the moment as they are in their first year of breeding and it seems their mares and foals are determined to demonstrate to them the A to Z of common foal ailments in one year.

It was a worrying start for this little foal

It was a worrying start for this little foal

Two weeks ago, having had a very busy evening on call with an inpatient with a temperature, a colic and a horse with a very nasty pelvic fracture, I finally collapsed into bed at 2.30am. When the phone rang at 4am to say they had a maiden mare who wouldn’t let her new born foal suckle I was starting to question the sanity of my current career path! I dragged myself out of bed and arrived to a beautiful filly foal who we spend the next couple of hours encouraging to suckle. Unfortunately a combination of the mare’s resentment and the foal’s stupidity meant we weren’t confident that she’d had as much colostrum (the early especially nutritious mare’s milk) as we’d have liked. Having asked the nurse on call to join us for an extra pair of hands we managed to milk the mare and give the foal colostrum via a tube into her stomach. By this time it was 8am so I rushed home for a much needed shower and then started my day of routine calls.

An update at lunchtime and the foal was suckling well and I breathed a sigh of relief. But there was more to come…

Now well, the foal is happy and full of beans!

Now well, the foal is happy and full of beans!

By mid afternoon she had stopped suckling again so I headed back to the yard to check her over. She was bright and well but was swishing her tail excessively. In foals this is called tail flagging and is often associated with a build up of meconium (the initial faeces that foals pass) in the foal’s rectum. Having questioned the owner further it transpired that she hadn’t passed as much meconium as she should have done by this point. A rectal examination confirmed a meconium impaction and so we treated her with an enema to help her pass it. At this point I was glad that the product we use was already in the foal box as it’s a human product and trying to buy it from the chemist can get a little awkward!!! Thankfully, she quickly passed a large volume of meconium and has been suckling well ever since.

One of my colleagues was back out to see them about a week later to take a blood sample from a gorgeous little colt foal. We routinely take a blood sample at approximately 24 hours of age to check if they’ve received adequate colostrum. Foals are born without an immune system and it takes several months to develop. All of their protection against infection comes from proteins called antibodies which are acquired from their mother primarily through the colostrum. They are only able to absorb these antibodies through their gut walls for the first 24 hours of life. After this the blood sample is taken to measure the number of antibodies in their blood.

On Saturday lunchtime I had a phone call from one of the senior vets at the practice who run the blood tests for us. She rang to let me know that the colt foal’s antibody levels were alarmingly low. Once again I was heading back to the stud to treat another common foal complaint. Luckily the foal was still bright and well and so far unaffected by his poor immune system. However, whilst I was there we did notice another problem, the mare had a reddish brown discharge from her vulva! Further examination revealed that the mare still had a ‘dirty’ uterus post foaling. I flushed her out with a large volume of fresh water and started her on antibiotics.

A happy mum with her healthy foal!

A happy mum with her healthy foal!

Once the mare was sorted we were able to get started on treating the foal. Low antibody levels are treated with a plasma transfusion, we store the plasma frozen and carefully defrost it when required. We then place a catheter in the foal’s vein and slowly administer the plasma, monitoring the foal carefully for a reaction. Happily, the procedure went smoothly and when I went back the next day to flush the mare again and repeat the foal’s blood sample he was the picture of health, bucking and bouncing around the stable! Fingers crossed for a better blood result this time!

Rider confidence: A little help from your friends

Ruby's been put through her paces in the last couple of weeks

Ruby's been put through her paces in the last couple of weeks

Well that was another busy couple of weeks for the Rubester and I. We’ve carried on with our schooling and have also managed to get out on a couple of mini hacks between showers.

In fact, we’ve just returned from a lovely plod with Ruby’s BFF Lola, who was being walked in hand after having minor surgery at the beginning of the week.

Ruby quite enjoyed the gentle pace and was a very well behaved, chilled out pony. Lola’s mum Sophie, enjoyed the walk slightly less as she’s now hobbling around after walking two miles in wellies!

In this post, I’m going to be focussing on the importance of having good friends to help you when those nerves kick in.

A friendly yard

We’re very fortunate at our yard in that we all get on well (most of the time!) and are very supportive of each other.

Livery yards are notoriously gossipy environments where cliques can form and enemies can be made and we’re so lucky that this isn’t the case at our yard.

We celebrate each other’s successes, whether this is a win at PSG (which actually happens) or finally getting your horse to canter four strides (ahem, Ruby).

When I ride, I find that I relax a lot more if I’m chatting to other people around me. I’m aware that most of the time I’m talking utter rubbish, which my friends are kind enough to put up with.

They’ve all been there when my irrational brain has kicked in and I’ve had a complete meltdown because Ruby has jogged about two steps or shown a little bit too much interest in the very lovely (and very out of her league) 18.2hh Connor.

They’re also there to shout ‘kick on’ when they can tell that I’m backing off and would have a much better time if I actually rode!

Coping with peer pressure

Riding with others does have one scary element for me though: pressure.

I feel that I should be doing what the others are doing and I know that my horse is more than capable of doing these things and that it’s me holding her back.

It's easier to relax if you've got someone to chat to

It's easier to relax if you've got someone to chat to

As a result, I panic and means that we don’t achieve anything, which then makes me panic more!

I discussed this with our yard owner, worrying that I was ruining the fluffy coblet.

She was able to put it into perspective for me by saying that Ruby doesn’t know, or care about what she can do and would be just as happy as a field ornament (well, as long as it isn’t raining, or too hot, and there’s lots of grass to munch on and all of her friends are there)!

I think this is important for nervous riders to remember. The horse is yours. You pay the bills, you can do as much or as little as you want to do with them.

As Ruby’s old owner, Tina, often says to me, she doesn’t care what I do with her as long as I’m smiling!

Dealing with negative people

There will always be the odd couple of comments that get to you more than they were probably meant to.

A "does Ruby actually trot then?” from the mother of a livery was less than welcome when we were working in a contact, in a rather lovely forward-going walk, on a nervous day.

Also a well-intended offer to ride Ruby so I didn’t have to made me feel like a bit of a failure as I want to be able to do it myself. I’m guessing over-sensitivity is a characteristic of nervous riders!

Ruby would be more than happy to stay in the field all day with her friends!

Ruby would be more than happy to stay in the field all day with her friends!

You may be reading this as a confident rider who wants to know how to help an anxious friend. I think the best tips I can give you are to listen to their worries and encourage them to take tiny steps out of their comfort zone.

Pushing too hard will only lead to a surge of nerves and further dent their confidence. Also, an offer to be on the ground when they’re riding may help, as in their head that means that there’s someone there to catch the horse and phone the ambulance (in other words, you’re unlikely to actually be needed and are just there for moral support)!

If you’re that nervous rider, please confide in someone and share how you feel. You’ll find that on the whole people want to help and don’t take negative comments to heart.

At some yards there’ll be that one person who wants to knock you down. They can’t if you don’t let them. Ignore it and carry on. This is about you and your horse, not about making them feel better about their own insecurities by belittling you.

Just smile, focus on what you want to do and enjoy spending time with your real horsey friends, who let’s face it, are the best type of friends to have.

They don’t mind that you smell, they understand that you never have any money, and they can get into your car without moaning about the massive pile of rugs, water bottles and numnahs that take up 90% of the space! What more could you ask for?

Nat's blog: Life with a Hooligan

So we find ourselves in March, with the days noticeably drawing out and Spring pretty much upon us. I’m going to be honest, I have no idea when spring officially begins, but in my world it’s usually around the time that the Diva’s waistline starts expanding at an alarming rate. 

We're blessed with fantastic grazing here, so the summer diet has begun and the workload has started to increase, much to the Diva’s horror.  We've enjoyed a relatively quiet winter.  Florence managed to better her dressage scores every time out last year (after our debut, see last month’s blog for that bit of comedy…) so she was promised a winter of hacking and not a lot else. 

We've made it into the school about once a fortnight, largely to remind both of us that I do still have the ability to produce a well-schooled animal, having spent the rest of my time being tanked off at various opportunities around the farm tracks. 

We have a busy season planned and our first competition of 2017 looming just around the corner, but as there isn’t much to report in the way of the hairy opinionated one this month, I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce you all to the other equine member of the team, Tobi, a horse who's the reason that I'm 32 going on 80.

Meet Tobi (the hooligan)

My relationship with Tobi began in 2011 when I was searching for something to get me back out jumping, after losing my native pony to colic. 

He was a 16hh, 7-year old registered Irish Sports Horse and I was drawn to his advert almost instantly.  What's quite amusing is that I largely purchased Tobi because I, and I quote, had “never felt so safe on a horse before”. 

Tobi being a hooligan in his field

Tobi being a hooligan in his field

In all fairness to him, he really was the perfect horse when he arrived home and our first year together was pretty exciting in many respects. He didn’t ever really put a foot wrong, and everything I asked of him he did with no issues. 

He hacked out alone and in company, schooled in a busy manege daily, behaved impeccably on farm rides and loaded like a dream. It did become apparent, quite early on, that he had a pretty decent spook in him, but if I kept him in a consistent level of work, that inherent sharpness stayed mostly under control. 

There, however, lay the problem. I couldn’t keep him in work. We would generally manage a week, two at best. The rest of the time was spent with him self-harming in a variety of ingenious ways. 

Before sitting down to write this blog, I pulled out his veterinary records from the last six years, largely to remind myself of some of his escapades, as I appear to have blotted a lot of them out by way of some sort of unconscious self-preservation. 

As I thumbed through the invoices and reached £10k (which only took me as far as 2014), I promptly stuffed the remainder back in the drawer and poured myself a large stiff drink…

The hooligan's escapades 

Within a month of him arriving, he tried to die spectacularly during a major bout of colic. He then went on to repeat this tradition every September for the next three years, baffling everybody, until it was discovered that he has an allergy to a particular sugar in grass, which also causes him to be so covered in hives for about nine months of the year that he resembles an equine version of the elephant man. 

He managed to stand on a nail during our first year together, which caused an abscess so deep that he had to have a huge hole gauged out of his foot and needed four months in his box.  

His hooligan-like behaviour in the field (and where his nickname originated from) was also the source of much merriment. 

Pretty much every week he would come in with an injury significant enough to require veterinary treatment and I became extremely well acquainted with the structures of his underlying muscle fibres. 

Tobi sporting one of his many injuries

Tobi sporting one of his many injuries

He has a piece of bone floating in his front leg somewhere from one particularly impressive episode, which I am positive will re-emerge some day and cause some sort of huge drama, and yet another bill.

There was also the time that his rug blew up over his head in a storm and he ran in a blind panic through some trees and shredded himself to such an extent that he looked like he’d been in an altercation with Edward Scissorhands. This required three months off work while the wounds healed. 

When every horse on our old yard caught ringworm, Tobi had to go one better. He caught the fungal infection, as predicted, then had a massive allergic reaction to the Imaverol prescribed to treat it, which blistered and burnt the lower skin on his face off. 

After six weeks of hellish box rest, he followed this up with another death-defying colic bout, just in case my nerves weren’t shot enough.

The big disaster 

The big disaster, however, came in 2014 when he tore a significant hole in his DDFT after another of his famous field episodes. 

It was during the investigations for this that we discovered he also had advanced navicular in both front feet, which came as a shock to all of us as he had never been unsound for any reason other than through one of his many injuries, but did explain a few unusual traits that I had noticed when he was being warmed up for work. 

It was during his recovery that he had another colic bout and while at the hospital, we decided to scope him for ulcers. Unfortunately, Tobi had other ideas about this and elected to rear up, while under sedation, and land on a vet’s head, who then had to be blue-lighted to hospital. 

Picking Tobi up a few days later was mortifying, as I did the walk of shame to the wagon, him breezing along beside me smiling sweetly at all and sundry. 

I felt like the bad parent with the out-of-control child. I won’t lie, there’s been times during my six years with Tobi that I’ve genuinely thought I'm being punished for committing some horrific crime in a past life.

He has become the bane of my long-suffering farrier’s life, because he's able to remove his own shoes with remarkable ease, and then, in typical Tobi style, realises that he can’t walk without them and ends up with badly bruised soles.

Towards the end of last year, I was able to get him up and running again… and I even had a dressage test planned. 

Somehow he got wind of this, and the week before Christmas, he stood on his own overreach boot in the field, fell over and in his scramble to get up, sliced into his opposite leg with his own shoe. 

Cue an impressively gory flap of skin waving at me in the breeze, an emergency call-out, 10-days’ worth of antibiotics and some Frankenstein-esque staples. You couldn’t make it up.

Needless to say, after the DDFT injury, the navicular diagnosis, the grass allergy discovery and the realisation that he is a complete and utter idiot, it became highly apparent that life with Tobi was not going to go the way that I had originally intended. 

Planning a future with a hooligan

Planning anything with him is about as successful as trying to organise a tornado. We still haven’t made it to a competition, six years later, but he's going to be dragged to one at some point this summer.  

I won’t vocalise when it'll be, because inevitably he'll hear about it and attempt to remove his own legs, or head, or whatever other body part he feels like sacrificing at the time.

Two years ago, I decided, for my own sanity as much as his safety, that he couldn’t live in a herd without serious consequences. 

After 21 years on the same yard, I moved to a smaller quieter farm where he's turned out with just the Diva, who firmly doesn’t believe in contact sports. It's the safest I've managed to keep him, and although he does participate in yobbish behaviour on a mostly daily basis, the glare of an unimpressed mare is usually enough to bring him back to a level of almost-sanity.

I’ve had people tell me that I’m an idiot for continuing with him, and there have been times when I've been so close to selling his tack and giving it all up as a bad job. 

He'll live the remainder of his days with me regardless (unless I go first, of course, due to the stress of his existence), but there's just something about him that makes me persevere. 

He is, despite everything, a supremely stunning animal and the feeling of power that he gives me under saddle is unreal. 

He loves to work, and is an all-round nicer animal when he has a job to do. You ask him a question and you get 10 answers, there's so much going on in his head. 

And what it boils down to is that I quite simply love working with him, despite the fact that lungeing him is akin to attaching a rope to an airborne Boeing 747, and he has perfected the spook-and-disappear so expertly that I’ve been tempted to offer his services as a magician’s assistant.  

Regardless of this, I made a promise to him when he landed in my life six years ago that he would have a home for life, and I will fulfil my side of the bargain.

Even if it turns me grey in the process…

‘Til next time,

Nat x