No Breakfast for Kissa

For the past couple years EN has been following the story of Kate Rakowski and her mare Kissa, who came into this world in a rather happenstance manner: Kate bid $380 on a breeding with Ronald Zabala’s show jumper stallion, Wonderboy, in an online auction fundraiser for Boyd Martin after his barn burned down in 2011. She won, but had no mare. So she found an OTTB who fit the bill, Kissa was born, and it’s been a roller coaster ever since! Click here to read previous blog entries. 

Forsythia are really tasty. Photo by Kate Rakowski.

Are you ready for a new game called “What’s wrong with my horse?” It’s part bidding, part crying (this may be me not you), part sleuthing. Play along as I describe more and more symptoms and rule out more and more diagnoses. If you don’t remember or you haven’t met my horse, the short version is that she’s an 8 year old, homebred TB/WB princess who’s always been “complicated.” 

Background info to get you started: 

1) She’s always been a little anxious when I buckle up the girth which is just one of her princess characteristics. I’m 98% sure that a girth has never been yanked up on her. I usually take four steps to tighten it a hole or two at a time. I bought her a special equalizer girth for her jump saddle to solve the problem of having it be long enough to buckle up loosely but short enough to not go all the way to the top of the billets which is super bulky and annoying under my leg when I ride. I realize I have some princess leanings too and, yes, I can feel that pea 38 mattresses down.

2) She has a super weird habit of peeing during almost every ride. She’s done this for over a year now. Usually after a dressage school. But also out on hacks or between jump rounds. She has always drunk a lot of water, gotten a lot of salt and sweated and peed a lot. It’s not very princess-like but that’s her. 

3) She’s never come into heat on a normal cycle, consequently I’ve never been able to tell if any of her behaviors are cycle related. She may or may not be a rabbit — they cycle when they meet a likely mate. She acts like she’s in heat when she meets anyone sexy; she likes the dominant older mares, but can also be into a studly guy too. 

4) In the past, as a result of her challenging and unexplained behaviors, I have done trials of Bute, Progesterone, Mare Magic, Vision calming supplement, Ulcergard and probably a few others I’m forgetting right now. Mare Magic made her wild; none of the others made any noticeable change in her behavior or way of going. 

Are you ready to start your mental bid on what’s wrong? Or do you need some current symptoms? It’s always hard to know where to start with her. 

Our last outing of the year in late November was … um … a challenge?! You can read about it in my last blog. But also around that time, she was getting a little grumpy and girthy. I didn’t think much of it because she’s like that, and she was getting six weeks off anyway.

Started hacking again in late December. She was back to a normal level of girth anxiety but seemed not quite lame but not quite sound either. I figured she’s just weak from her time off. So we did three weeks of increasing length hacks with more hills and more trots. Two ring rides with some dressage schooling. The first was awful; she was so crooked I literally couldn’t get a contact on my left rein. The next was not so bad.

What are you thinking? Lame? Weak? Front? Hind? I wasn’t sure.

More hacks, more hills, a dressage ride and she felt great: lifting, balanced, even. A tiny jump school at another ring: super quiet, no problem. Some bigger jumps at Win Green: fine but pretty crooked — she lays on her right side in the air and grabs for the left lead. Went to the Beverly Jumper show with dual purposes of a few rounds of jumping on nice footing and making Kissa and mom’s mare, Puff, deal with being in public together with other horses and do their jobs. Blessings to all low-key winter jumper shows and I’m so glad they’re like this in Area II also; they let us be in the ring together and both mares were very good. Funny story, if you teach your horse to stop when you say “whoa-oh” in that particular tone, she will. Even if you’re a dope and you say it in the middle of a line — oops. 

So we’re OK right? Maybe nothing is wrong? Except not really. She still didn’t feel quite 100% — you know like when they feel really different on the two trotting diagonals. She was also bad about picking up her left hind leg for me and the shoer in the last week.

Thursday, Jan. 16: my birthday! I got a really well recommended performance vet. He did hoof tests (both front a little tender) and flexion tests (a little sore in both front and left hind and difficult to hold up left hind). He watched her lunge (like a nutcase but to be fair it was windy and the greenhouse door was flapping). He watched me ride (tense and strong but comparatively quite sound). It is really interesting to note the level of detail a really knowledgeable person can see. He saw weakness in the right hind. He thought the being bad for the left hind was from not wanting to stand on the right hind. Fair enough. 

OK, you have to pick a diagnosis or two now: SI? Saddle fit? Ulcers? Something cropping up from an upper hind end tweak she did in the winter two years ago? Those were my top candidates. 

He thought she had a little tenderness in her loin area and near the SI but nothing dramatic.  He thought it not likely that ulcers or saddle fit were causing the problem. He recommended Robaxin and lots of back strengthening type riding and lunging exercises.

Side note: It was also really interesting to talk to him about “alternative therapies.” Massage: good but only for about 24 hrs; chiro: best in conjunction with acupuncture; PEMF/Magna Wave: can actually hurt; Back on Track: good; Pessoa type systems: good for improving lunge work; hacking out and hills: good but even better if you leg yield and you really don’t need to have them on the bit to benefit; cavaletti: good.

The Robaxin made her super runny for a week and then she was colicky — just gas; 10 cc of oral Banamine worked fine. Stopped the Robaxin and started probiotics to see if they’d help. And it had rained and been miserable several times so I can’t really tell if it helped. Add Robaxin and probiotic trials to the list of things that I’ve tried but I can’t really tell if they help. 

Last week of January: We got footing in our ring! Yay! Although that meant it was hard to ride for a week, what with dump trucks in and out of the driveway and large equipment moving large piles of dirt all day for a week. I made a full jump course with all the jumps we own. She had been hacking and flatting pretty nicely when we could get out and do it.

Our footing and the full jump course. And the dramatically cloudy sky because Noah would feel a little wet with all the rain we’ve had around here. Photo by Kate Rakowski.

Sunday, Feb. 2: Tacked up quietly. She was a crazy woman when we started working. I hopped off and lunged for a few minutes. Interestingly she just ran in circles which is unusual for her — usually when she’s fresh she’s full of bucks, twists, airs above the ground and general Lippizaner impressions. But she settled and I got back on and went to a few jumps. She was back to a year ago with bolting at the jumps, diving right, and launching herself indiscriminately to the other side of even quite small jumps. We got a few slightly better and called it a day.

Tuesday, Feb. 4: Tried again with the jumping. She was generally quiet this time but very strangely for her she had a lot of trouble making the distances in the line. And I had actually wheeled them to make them correct, and the footing was good. And she used to have a huge stride. Then she also started getting super tense and crooked and worse the longer I rode. So again, we quit. 

Have you changed your mind? Sound but spring fever? Still lame in RH? 

Wednesday, Feb. 5: She pulled a shoe in the muddy field and got it back on a few days later but was super grumpy about any kind of touching on her chest/girth/stomach. Really crabby about putting blankets on and off. This is very unusual for her. I figured she had probably pulled a chest muscle when pulling the shoe. And mom’s horse was also off. So we kept them on stall rest in our huge stalls with run-out pens attached. We built these to board rehab horses; turns out they were our own. 

What do you think? Related? Unrelated? Who knows, I gave her time off and stall/pen rest for a few days. 

Tuesday, Feb. 11: Colicked again — same as last time; a little Banamine and she was fine. But I called the vet again. 

L: pathetic princess colic. I should have done video so you could hear the moans. I was picking up the piles from her night in while she was lying there dying. Don’t worry, Banamine was already on board when I took the pic. R: 20 mins later, we’re better but still looking very sad. Photo by Kate Rakowski.

Wednesday, Feb. 12: She got shod all around and was still super sensitive about touching anywhere on her lower half.  Vet drew blood for a Lyme titer and ordered an overnight fast to do an ulcer scan.

Have you changed your mind? Internal? External? Have you been betting on ulcers or Lyme all along?

Friday, Feb. 14: Valentine’s Day but no love here; a terrible tragedy happened. My poor neglected horse did not get breakfast. And it was morning! And EVERYONE ELSE WAS EATING!!! Seriously people, I’m 98% sure that this horse has never missed a meal in her life since I’ve fed her the majority of them. 

The scan showed no ulcers. A few bots and a little roughness in the lining of her stomach at one spot which are clinically insignificant. Lyme titer is negative. 

What now? Not ulcers; not Lyme. Still fluctuating levels of sensitivity on her underside — some days just girth, some days, all the way from the chest to the stifles. Does it depend on how distracted she is by other things? Maybe? Is there actually anything going on or has she just become grumpy? Who knows. 

She’s back on turnout and I haven’t ridden since our last disastrous jump school. I could probably sit on her, not tighten the girth much and go for a hack. But I know something is wrong and I don’t see the point. 

So here’s my proposal. I’m going to start a 50:50 raffle. You all can buy tickets with your bid on what’s actually wrong with her. I’ll pool all the money and you win half of it if you’re right. I’ll put the other half toward paying my vet bill — I figure if about 7,000 people read this and send me money, I should be able to cover it. Did I mention that I’m trying to start a new business here and we only have one boarder so far so I’m not actually making any money at all? Start sending me anyone you know who wants to board their horse in north/central Virginia. I promise that I can take care of any medical issue since my horse has had them all. Then start sending your proposals for the pool — $50 each: hind gut ulcers, a mineral deficiency, uterine issue, pulled muscle, Leaky gut syndrome/IBS, she’s just a princess (actually you can’t have that, my mom has that one). It could be months until we figure this out but I’ll keep your money safe, I promise.