While we haven’t actually seen the vet since I last posted, we have of course kept in touch. All of the tests the vet ran on Drifter all came back slightly off, but not enough to point to anything specific, so the only option was to treat the symptom (diarrhoea). It seems likely that some specific event upset his gut balance and it hasn’t been able to fix itself although the cause is probably now no longer around. The probiotic hasn’t had a chance to re-populate the good gut bacteria because of the great speed at which it travels through the horse and into the muck heap!
So the plan was to slow everything down. While this could have been achieved medically, we would rather try doing it as gently as possible, so instead of an anti-diarrhoeal we are changing the diet, as you probably guessed from the title of the post.
We needed to go to a molasses-free chaff, so we switched from the ordinary Dengie Hi-Fi that he gets free as part of his livery package to Dengie Hi-Fi Molasses Free, which involved an exciting adventure to the feedshop, where I also remembered to purchase a bin to put it in.
The probiotic dose he was already on was doubled.
To soothe his stomach we are adding vegetable oil. While the vet would like him to have a cup-full in each feed, he knows most horses will reject this, so we started with a tablespoon-full in each feed and are increasing it every few days.
The final addition to his feed is charcoal. This is to slow the gut down and absorb toxins and he’s getting 3-4 tablespoons per feed.
Apart from the oil, everything else changed on the same day and Drifter was not at all sure about it. On the first day I wasn’t there at feed time but the staff said he spit the charcoal on the floor and overturned the bowl, but I was there for the next feed and he ate it fine. Perhaps he needed to learn that he wasn’t going to get his usual feed just because he rejected that one or perhaps it wasn’t well mixed, but since then he’s been OK with it. As a precaution I’ve asked that he doesn’t get his haynet until he’s finished his feed.
A few days on and I’m cautiously optimistic. [This is your Too Much Information warning here….] His bowel movements still begin with a flush of liquid, but the stools that follow are a much better consistency. They hold their shape, are a more uniform colour and the fibre within them looks much more broken down than it did before the diet change. While they’re still not as well digested as those produced by other horses on the yard (yes, I’ve spend a lot of time analysing the contents of the muckheap) they’re definitely a vast improvement.
He also seems to have more energy, and I’m hopeful he may put a little weight back on soon. He has lost quite a lot, which is not surprising. His saddle fit is pretty poor because of it, so we’ve borrowed a prolite pad from a friend until we can get our own. I don’t want to have a saddle fit until his weight settles down a bit though, as it’s too expensive to need another one only weeks later. Hopefully though, if this feed change continues to show benefits, we’ll be booking that saddle fit soon.
Despite the not-so-great saddle, he’s been doing very nicely in the school. We can walk and trot in a great shape, working well without worrying that we will overdo it. I don’t worry about anything in walk or trot now, and although we are still doing very little in canter, when we do canter, it is no uglier than it ever was! Today we had 20 m canter circles on the bit on both reins – the first time we’ve had that since pre-lameness, back in the early summer. The right rein was a bit motor-bike-ish, but still better than I had thought it might be.
Last Sunday I had a lesson booked but didn’t feel well, so once I’d warmed him up in walk my instructor got on. That was really interesting. Drifter looked very nice, of course, being ridden by an excellent dressage rider, and the comments were useful as well as seeing what he did. Of course Drifter gave him plenty of forwards, and made him work hard to contain it into something useful. The main thing the instructor articulated, which I sort of knew but it’s always good to have someone else verbalise it, is that he prefers to just go forwards rather than listen to what you’re asking, particularly if it’s something he didn’t expect. You have to really make him wait, almost stop him, before you ask for something hard or different from what he expected. He also agreed that we need to work on straightness and getting him equally responsive to aids from both sides. When I first got Drifter, Drifter kind of trained me to do everything with my weight or the left rein, because he’d ignore the right rein, leaning on the left, and just rush off like a giraffe if I touched him with either leg. As time’s gone on he accepts the leg better but has never responded equally to either leg because of stiffness issues and his preference for going only off the left rein. These days I can get him into both reins, but he’s still not even in his acceptance of the leg, and easily forgets to be even in the reins if I’m not on his case the whole time about it.
It was really nice to see that my instructor couldn’t get him to leg yield in both direction. One way he did achieve, but every time he tried on the other rein Drifter gave his “sorry I’m too busy rushing forwards” response and didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t do it. I don’t think he understands that a rider can ask him to move in that way or that he could actually do it. It made me feel so much better to see that he doesn’t have a pre-programmed button for leg-yield in that direction – it’s not just that I can’t do it! I know I ought to try programming it from the ground, but our ground-work has ground to a halt since I can’t use any treats because of the dietary restrictions. I know I could do things without treats, but since we’ve begun the whole clicker training and positive reinforcement process, I’m reluctant to go down the negative reinforcement route, and to be honest apart from food I can’t positively reinforce in a way that interests him! He doesn’t really like scratches or pats, and while voice praise is nice, it’s not enough for him without something to back it up.
So for the moment I’m just going to keep trying from the saddle, and accept that this is not an easy thing for him to learn, so it’s not going to just happen. At some point in the future I’m sure we’ll be allowed treats again and we’ll resume clicker training. Until then, work in the saddle is pretty exciting and we have plenty of challenges!