I shimmied out of my protective suit and stripped off my clothes. The thermometer barely reached 20 degrees, and a foot of snow stood on the ground. My skin was dry and cracked from the cold weather and constant showering. Laden with exhaustion, I stumbled through the door and stepped into the shower. Here we go again, I thought. I stepped under the hot water and proceeded to scrub myself raw. I dressed and made my way back down to the stables.
I raised my head into the wind to glance at the quarantine stable where I had been all morning. I shook my head in disbelief at the circumstance I found myself in. Who would have thought that I, the manager of a top-notch A-circuit show jumping stable, would be dealing with an outbreak of strangles?
I continued past the quarantine barn and headed for the main stable at Rodney Bross' Independence Hall, in Monkton, Md., where I was manager. Through the snow I saw José using the tractor to clear the ring for me. I entered the "healthy" stable, and the grooms glanced up in fear. These days they never knew what mood I would be in. Because of the highly contagious nature of strangles (scientific name is Streptococcus equi) I refused to let anyone else enter the infected barn. All duties fell to me. I was fearful of cross contamination and did not trust that others would take the same precautions and extreme measures that I willingly took. It was just easier to nullify the problem by only having one person enter the infected stable. That person was me, and the grueling routine was taking its toll.
Unfortunately, there were times that the grooms unjustly bore the brunt of my frustration. But today I glanced around and smiled broadly to lighten the mood. I said, "Where's the music and where's my first mount?" Immediately the tension dissipated, the radio was turned up and my first mount was brought to me. Davy threw me up onto the horse, patted my leg and said, "Flaca, you are doing just great."
Flaca was their nickname for me. It means skinny lady. I glanced over my shoulder as I trotted out of the barn and let out a wild whoop to let the boys know that the happy "Flaca" they had come to know was still alive.
Strangles is an infectious and highly contagious bacterial disease caused by Streptococcus equi. The bacterium enters the lymph glands via the respiratory tract and most commonly takes up residence in the guttural pouch (just behind the cheekbone). The extreme swelling of the lymph nodes causes the horse to sound as if he is being strangled, hence the name.
Severe inflammation and pain are caused by the bacteria invading the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Abscesses most commonly occur in the throatlatch region or between the jaw bones. Treatment varies, and the vaccination is less than reliable. I can personally attest to its ineffectiveness. My stable was vaccinated, yet still contracted the disease. Antibiotics are often foregone in the treatment process because studies have shown that antimicrobials have difficulty penetrating the abscess capsule. This too I can personally attest to. The horses I chose to treat with antibiotics did not recover faster than those who did not receive antibiotics.
Strangles is one of the most common equine respiratory infections in the world. Most horses will survive, but complications do arise. Purpura hemorrhagica (widespread small bleeding with fluid accumulation of the limbs, eyelids and gums) may occur in association with circulatory antibody complexes with the Streptococcus equi M-like protein. This peripheral accumulation of fluid can be extreme, resulting in circulatory failure and death. Or other organs can develop abscesses, which grow and rupture. This is fittingly termed "bastard strangles."
Strangles causes major economic losses to the equine industry worldwide because of its prolonged course, extended recovery period and serious complications. Not only that, recovered horses can harbor the Steptococccus equi bacteria without exhibiting any clinical signs, thus becoming carriers of the infection. Barns like mine do not contract contagious diseases. We are too good, too careful, and too conscientious. Or so I thought. Here I was in week five of a classic outbreak of strangles.
Day To Day