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Horse Fainting
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OpenTheGait
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Joined: Mon Sep 10th, 2007
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 Posted: Mon Sep 10th, 2007 09:51 am
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Hello!  I have a pretty hard question for all of you, if you don't mind.  I volunteer at a therapeutic riding program, and a few years ago one of our horses began to faint.  She is a small QH cross mare about 23+ years old.  It started out with her just sort of falling asleep in the crossties, as they stand for long periods of time between classes.  But she became very unresponsive to everything around her, and would startle immensely if someone came and stood by her and spoke or did something else to waken her.  Then later on she began to do this falling asleep every moment she was left.  If we work with her or groom her she's fine, but if we walked away she was out.  And yet later it progressed so far that her knees would give out, and she would fall and snap her head in the ties.  We thought it was a fluke at first, or that she just plain fell, but it continued to happen.  We ended up tying her with a long line just in case.  We had the vet out, but he really didn't have anything productive to say about it, and at one point he did some blood tests, which turned up normal.   Other people began to tell me they saw her faint out in the pasture.  All this happened over the course of a year or two and then one day she did it while riding.  It was totally unexpected.  Luckily the rider was not hurt.  She was immediately retired from riding.  Now one of the young volunteers had fallen in love with her and got her for her birthday.  I told her it was not safe to ride, but I think she does.  The family are our neighbors, and we keep in touch.  They say she has not fainted since she settled in a couple years ago!!

I am so perplexed!  At first (because we ruled out pinched nerve from the saddle)  I was thinking EPM or some brain disorder, but someone mentioned plant poisoning, and that makes sense since she quit.  Or maybe the HYPP? or lyme or erlychia?

Now, there is another horse doing it.  He is an old 26+ QH gelding, with a club front foot (which probably makes no difference).  But he does it a little different.  He will sort of deeply relax and then fall backwards and to the side .  Or he will pick up his hind leg at the hip and set it up resting on top of the half height stall wall.  He sometimes also gets very stiff and his hind legs get stuck and dont want to flex.  He has bad arthritis.  He drags his left hind toe in the dirt (diagonal from the club foot).  Someone said they saw him fall in the pasture.  And someone who does not know the horses well said another horse fell, but they were not sure if it was this gelding or another who is similar to him.

Also, I don't know if it is related to this or not but another horse always had bad diarrhea, and I was told he was allergic to a certain plant! He was quite old and died suddenly in the pasture.  Now another old horse has terrible gas all the time.

We are replanting the pasture this fall.  If this is plant related, I would like to know what to look out for.  If its not, then what is going on???

Thank you for your time!

DrDeb
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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
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 Posted: Fri Sep 14th, 2007 12:10 am
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Dear Open -- What you're describing here is a pretty clear case of narcolepsy. If you're in the US, please call Equus Magazine at (301) 977-3900 and ask for Christel. Tell her you want the recent back issues that deal with narcolepsy research and she'll help you get them.

"Narcolepsy", if you're not familiar with the term, is the veterinary name for "unexpectedly and suddenly falling asleep or losing consciousness."

The condition arises because the affected animal is being prevented, some way or other, from getting enough sleep during the night.

With these older animals that you're working with, you need to inquire very closely as to relations in the pasture or group turnout area. As the owner myself of a couple of elderly horses, I am familiar with the problem -- you see, as they get quite old -- my Sadie was 38 when she died, and Painty was 29 -- they have to become rather self-protective. The fact that they are old makes us good horse owners perhaps feel a bit sorry for them or a bit protective of them. No such ethic applies to other horses, some of whom will take advantage and take advantage constantly of any weakness they perceive in the older animal. Some pasturemates will attack or continually harass. If this is going on, it may go on during the day when you're likely to see it, but it may also go on at night when you are not aware of it.

Not only may it go on out in the pasture, it can also affect the old horse in the stall, even when he is by himself in his own stall -- he can still be afraid of nearby horses enough that he does not feel comfortable or safe lying flat out and going sound asleep. Contrary to popular belief, horses cannot fall completely sound asleep while standing -- they can only snooze while standing. They do not require 8 full hours of sleep as we humans do -- four is an average for them -- but they do need to get the four, and then supplement that with several more hours per day of snoozing or napping.

The other part to this is that, as the horse ages, he becomes less and less able to either lie down or rise comfortably. If an old horse becomes afraid to lie down because he is not sure he can get back up, he will of course not lie down -- and hence not be able to go fully asleep.

It can also be that the old horse is simply uncomfortable on whatever bedding is provided, or in a stony or bare sort of pasture. Check for "camel calluses" on the sides of the animal's hocks and fetlocks -- those are a giveaway that the bedding is too thin.

To figure out which of these factors may be coming into play, you will probably have to spend at least a few late nights quietly hanging around the stable or pasture in the dark. Keeping these older animals in work, though, should be a priority, and doing for them anything that needs to be done and can practically be done should also be a priority. The reason for this is that, although the body ages and slows down, the mind gets better and wiser, and that's what we primarily value in riding horses for beginners, whether they are children or adults.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

OpenTheGait
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Joined: Mon Sep 10th, 2007
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 Posted: Sun Sep 23rd, 2007 04:38 pm
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Thanks for your reply, it was very helpful!  I would never have thought the problem would be from lack of rest.  I will watch them, and perhaps separate the older horses at night.  Thanks again!


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