Rehab Blues—Snow, Storms And Ulcers

May 1, 2019 - 2:50 PM

Remember how I mentioned Cairo had only been lame once in the five years I owned her? I didn’t jinx myself—I already knew about the post-stone bruise injury when I typed it. But now it’s three, so we are done, right?

I’m not saying Cairo hasn’t had her share of trips to the vet. She once broke out of her stall and ate half a bale of alfalfa. (I was terrified she’d founder; she probably remembers it as the best night of her life.) She got a puncture wound over her jugular and a fever of unknown origin. She’s a horse. She has Thoroughbred in her. She’s spent time in the shop.

But I have spent a lot more time worrying about her soundness than she has ever spent being unsound.

So imagine my horror when she showed up with a suspicious swelling on the outside of her right front, in just the right spot for an injured check ligament, a couple of days after she got her shoe back on post stone bruise recovery.

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Stall rest is boring. Camilla Mortensen Photo

Cairo had been on stall rest for a week or so, then turned out for two more, then I started riding her lightly. I brought her in from turnout and rode her Saturday, put her away, and then Sunday morning, swelling. 

I took a deep breath. Or five. Cold hosed, gave Banamine and tried to think good thoughts and not Google photos of injured check ligaments. I breathed a little easier when I came back later that day to a lot less swelling. I cold hosed again, wrapped again and brought out the emergency whiskey for a swig. (Why yes, we do keep emergency whiskey locked in a tack trunk; don’t all horse owners?)

The next day I brought her to the vet because I don’t care how much the swelling went down, I didn’t like it.

Dr. Violet saw a mild swinging leg lameness. He looked at my photos of the swelling that was now pretty much gone, and we decided to ultrasound.

The good news: Nothing on the ultrasound. The bad? We still couldn’t rule out a check ligament strain. 

I was mystified. Light riding, not lame. Put her away and boom. Swollen and lame. 

Three days of rest and then we began walking. Thank goodness I live eight minutes from the barn because I’m good at overkill, so I was immediately out there for twice a day walks.

Did I say walks? I mean twice a day flying the horse kite. Only the horse kite was loaded for bear, a 1,000-pound exploding kite. Cairo was super not thrilled with the rest and walk program. I tried to soothe her with treats. She promptly learned to fake spook and then snatch for a treat like an adorable horse-piranha.

We are currently quelling that less than adorable new behavior. 

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Cairo has some thoughts about hand walks. Camilla Mortensen Photo

We moved to tack walking and five minutes of trotting. The joy I felt at her soundness was modified by the terror at the piaffe moves she was executing. I added in some tack modifications to make leaping about less doable. I also, I cheerfully admit, periodically lit her up with a little oral Ace. 

Go ahead, judge me. And then you get on my little firecracker while the neighbor kids are shooting guns and the mini horse is galloping around bucking in the paddock next to the arena. It’s special. The first day I trotted Cairo I made my vet friend Dr. Ellie stay and watch. Not because I thought Cairo would be unsound, but because if Cairo succeeded in planting me and bolting, I wanted a professional there to catch her and check her out.

And because apparently my life is truly special right now, Oregon decided to weigh in and dump two feet of snow on us while all this was going on. We don’t get snow in western Oregon. We get rain and sometimes some fluffy whiteness. 

Two feet of snow meant that trees fell down, the power went out, and several barns in the area collapsed killing several horses. I was at the barn, in the dark staring at Cairo. Was the roof going to hold? I worried if I left her in, she would be trapped if the roof collapsed. If I turned her out, I risked her getting injured. 

In a wonderful quirk of fate, a nice young man, dating another boarder, walked up to me, said, “Hi,” then held up a rope halter and explained his girlfriend was out of town, and he’d offered to help with her horse. “Which end goes in his mouth?” he asked.

I explained halters versus bridles, and then he explained that he had a degree in structural engineering, and he’d overheard our conversation and told me if the barn were going to fall, it would have done so already. I was relieved.

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The shed behind the barn collapsed due to the snow, but the barn itself stayed standing! Camilla Mortensen Photo

I left Cairo in. I still woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning dreaming the roof was falling on the barn, and I woke as I was running down the barn aisle screaming Cairo’s name.

When I got there, she was OK, if slightly put out by not only being on stall rest, but in the dark stuck drinking out of a bucket because the pump was out, and the automatic waterers didn’t work. We carried water to the horses for a week before the power was on, and Cairo and I got lots of walks in because not everyone was crazy enough to ride their horse in the indoor arena with no lights. 

The snow finally cleared, Cairo moved to 10 minutes of walk, 10 of trot and another 10 of walk, and I took her back in for a follow-up appointment. She was sound at the trot, flexed sound, and my vet said there was no point in ultrasounding since there was no damage on the first one to compare it to. Fist pump! 

He also mentioned that the vet clinic was doing an ulcer seminar and clinic. Did I want to have Cairo scoped given her history of ulcers? I had actually noticed as we rehabbed she was getting sullen again under saddle, something that hadn’t come up since her saddle fit and ulcer treatment. So, sure, let’s scope.

Of course, the ulcers were back. And to make it fun, she has both glandular ulcers and squamous ulcers, so she’ll be getting omeprazole and sucralfate on a very specific schedule involving an empty stomach and my getting up really, really early to administer said meds for a month. 

The two symptoms Cairo doesn’t have are loss of weight and a bad coat. Girlfriend is fat and shiny. The vets say to keep food in front of her as much as possible for the ulcers. Trying to balance that with trying to have Cairo on a diet has been entertaining and involved buying things like Nibble Nets in order to have Cairo look more like an event horse and less like a broodmare.

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One bright spot in Cairo’s forced downtime—a glamor shots session! Irina Kuzmina Photo

As I write this, the plagues continue. Oregon has been flooding, and we are trying to do our trot and canter work in a soaked arena. Cairo is just starting her ulcer treatment and alternates between an ulcer-induced sullen lack of desire to work and a rehab-induced sudden need to bolt. Overall though, I am pretty impressed at how well she’s kept it together. 

The other day, as I attempted to deal with her antics and not get frustrated, while desperately wishing I was jumping, I was reminded of our first clinic with Dom Schramm and how he told me to “ride her like she’s sweet.” I stopped fussing with her and did just that, and we had our first nice canter since all this started in December.

Summer and our show season are seeming very far away right now, but I’ve signed up for some clinics, including one with Dom, and I am riding like it’s all going to be OK because that’s how we do it with these four-legged creatures. Ride her like she’s sweet. Ride her like it’s all going to work out fine. 


Camilla Mortensen is an amateur eventer from Eugene, Oregon, who started blogging for the Chronicle when she made the trek to compete in the novice three-day at Rebecca Farm in Montana. Camilla works as a newspaper reporter by day and fits training and competing Cairo around her job.

Read all of Camilla’s blogs.

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