I’ve been sitting here in front of a blank page on my computer screen for 45 minutes. The truth is, I have no idea how to begin this entry. But I have always been totally transparent with you and honestly, that’s just who I am. And I think another part of struggling to begin is that typing it up for you and hitting “publish” makes it all too real.
On the other hand, it SHOULD be real. It should be VERY real. And anyone that has a horse or knows someone that has a horse really needs to pay attention. This information is so important that I BACKED OUT OF A LAWSUIT so I could talk about it. And I did that for two reasons: #1: The equine grain industry turns a blind eye to monensin and lawsuits are settled out of court with “hush money”……and “hush money” means no matter how much the people want to talk about it – they can’t. We are talking BIG name brands. And #2: It seriously boggles my mind how folks in the industry – as riders, barn owners….basically anyone involved in horses in any way, shape or form – doesn’t believe this is a VERY real thing. They don’t believe it’s happening or they don’t believe the effects of even low dose monensin exposure exists. And they blow it off. “He looks fine so he must be fine.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.
I have only been involved in horses for 10 years. So I will be the first to tell you that there are so many people in my world that know waaaaaay more than I know. But do you have any idea how many of those people have laughed at me behind my back? Do you have any idea how many of those people have said – either to my face or behind my back – “he looks great so you should just ride him….horses come with an element of risk anyway so what’s the difference?”
For a quick lesson (and I say “quick” because this is not what this blog post is about) in monensin exposure – low dose monensin exposure comes from cross-contamination in the milling process. Cattle feed (or other grains – like chicken – that contain monensin are milled and then not properly shut down for flushing prior to milling horse grain. To shut it down for any length of time to properly flush effects the bottom dollar. Sad, but true.
What is monensin? “In the US, monensin (trade name “Rumensin”- manufactured by Elanco Animal Health) is a feed additive for cattle indicated “for improved feed efficiency, for increased rate of weight gain, and for the prevention and control of coccidiosis caused by Eimeria bovis and Eimeria zuernii”. In other species, such as horses, monensin can be extremely toxic.
Horses who consume less than a lethal dose may not show outward signs of illness, but the effects to the heart, muscle and skeletal are cumulative. Over time, the horse may lose weight and become unthrifty, with generalized weakness, poor performance and a depressed attitude. As damaged muscle cells continue to die, they release toxic byproducts which accumulate in the horse’s blood and injure the kidneys and liver, leading to eventual multiple organ failure. As the horse’s condition worsens, signs may include deepening depression, intermittent sweating, irregular heartbeat and muscle weakness that progresses to abnormal gaits and then paralysis.
Ryleigh was exposed – low dose – 4 years and 5 months ago. And we’ve faced symptoms over that time that we’ve fought through.
- Profuse sweating for no other environmental reason
- Months and months (almost a full year between trims a couple years ago) between hoof trims
- On and off weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Blood work always “off” but never definitive of anything (and monensin leaves the system as fast as it goes in – it does the damage and gets urinated out)
- And a variety of other weird little things that were never explainable….except to say “probably the monensin”
Ryleigh had a bad ECG back on July 30. That was definitive. For 4 years I’ve been knowing in my heart that he was one of 18 horses in our barn to effected but without ever doing an ECG, we really didn’t know how his heart was doing for sure. July 30 changed all that. And although over the last 4+ years of ignoring the warnings of “do not ride because he could go into a cardiac event at any time” (and honestly, I was fighting against all the people in the equine world laughing at me and doubting me so we continued to work him and ride him) – July 30 was the end.
Ryleigh was officially retired. From every single thing. He would spend his days standing in a pasture with his girlfriend and enjoying the life of luxury……with mama bringing him apples and carrots and soaked hay pellets and doing nothing more than grooming him or playing around in the arena. I was told by my vet – who I’ve mentioned before has his Master’s in Toxicology and I feel so blessed that we have a vet that knows about monensin and its effects – to make sure every single person, from the farrier to the person turning him out or bringing him in – knew to be very aware when interacting with him…..because his heart could go at any moment.
But time, and the effects of the monensin – are catching up with us. Fast.
Ryleigh began losing weight. Back in March he weight taped in at 963. He started looking a bit better and I didn’t feel like I needed to keep taping him after that….until August 14 when I noticed he was looking less than great.. He weight taped in at 908. August 22 he taped in at 898. August 27 at 878. And if you’re thinking that the tape may have been off or not in the right place – we shaved lines into his body to make absolutely sure we got it in the same place every single time. He’s remained at 878 since August 27.
But during that time, we also noticed his gait was off. And it’s really difficult for me to describe but the best way to put it is that the front end seems like one horse and the back end seems a different horse. His back end seems very stiff and almost mechanical. He drags his back toes and his foot placement when his feet land seems very “hard”. Like, he’s stepping down hard to make sure his foot hits the ground. And he’s starting to stumble. He’s still been getting his Adequan injections monthly so I didn’t think his gait was from any arthritis.
It was time to contact the experts. (Again) There is testing for neurological deficiencies in horses that vets use out in the field – and used a ton to test horses for EPM (which Ry doesn’t have) because most neurological horses are going to have a tough time standing/balancing in a trailer to head in to a hospital for an MRI. It’s called Propreoception Deficit Testing. It tests the neurological function in a horse.
I was guided through this test this past Tuesday by a good friend that knows her shit (and I gotta tell you, she has been the most valuable set of eyes and information in addition to my vet that I could ever have hoped for and I don’t know how I’ll ever show my gratitude for guiding me through these last weeks)…….and basically, if you cross the raised leg behind the downed leg and he leaves it, it’s a sign that he’s losing neurological function. In other words, he’s not feeling where his feet are. No healthy horse will stand this way more than a few seconds. Another part of the test is to rest the back hoof on the other back hoof (so not normal and a horse will resist this) and he should move it almost immediately. There are so many nerve endings in that area and a horse will simply not stand like that. Ry did. For a very long time.
Ry’s feet were placed just like she told me to place them and he stood there for 30+ seconds. The even more concerning part is that once he came off his toe and was bearing weight on both feet, he never corrected them. 🙁
There’s other symptoms of neurological issues that I didn’t even know until she mentioned them……and one big one was when she told me “you may notice him coming through the gate really fast.” Ry has been doing that for several months now and lately, he comes through REALLY fast. In his brain, it’s like stepping from one dimension into another.
I. Was. Crushed.
This Propreoception Test explained everything that I had been seeing when we stood and watched Ry walk in the pasture…..or down the aisle….or in the arena. It explained why I hadn’t been seeing him get frisky and run or play on the cooler mornings we’ve had…..and it explained why I haven’t really seen him lay down and get a good roll in lately.
The “news” was that Ryleigh “officially failed the Propreoception Test”. He doesn’t really know where his feet/legs are.
I was suddenly faced with the very real effects of the monensin. And my heart hurts.
Ryleigh’s life before me wasn’t good. Tossed around. Physically abused. Mentally abused. Neglected because he didn’t “perform” right (he didn’t want to be a dressage horse). Not loved. The day he came into my life I promised he’d never EVER face any of that ever again. He would be loved and always put first……and we would be together until one of us took our last breath. We became “we” when he was 10 years old……he’ll be 20 in April. So I choose to believe that the second half of Ry’s life has been the best half.
In “always putting him first”, well…..that means some gut wrenching decisions. As an animal lover and owner (for lack of a better word because how do you really OWN another being?), we accept the responsibility to always care for them. To look out for them. To do what’s right by them. TO PUT THEM FIRST.
Ryleigh’s neurological issues will progress. It can happen quickly – as in overnight – or it could take weeks or a few months. But it’s progressed rather rapidly over the last few weeks. And although the neurological part is NOT painful, it could be very painful if he lost his balance and went down in the pasture or even in his stall. He’s already not feeling his legs and feet…..and he’s stumbling…..and that could very easily end tragically. And with nobody around to see him go down would make it even worse.
Ryleigh has been my once-in-a-lifetime dream horse. And the bond we’ve formed is pretty damn amazing. I love being able to walk out to the pasture, call his name and watch him lift his head to look at me and come straight to the gate to greet me. While I’ve watched so many others have to chase their horse down in the pasture, I’ve never had to chase Ry. He always chooses me. He has taught me to be real with my emotions, to chill the F out, to take life a little bit slower and most importantly – coming from a life of neither of us trusting – we both learned that with some beings, trust is okay. He has been patient with me while I’ve learned but just sassy enough to challenge and push me without ever putting me in danger. And he’s been described as “one of the best horses in the barn…..one of the sweetest horses in the barn” so many times.
Two years after my mom died and I started learning my real history (and why I blocked so much of my life out) and needed to start discovering who I really was, Ryleigh was my teacher. There were days I would go to the barn after hearing another story or truth about my life and I’d be so upset…..but Ry taught me how to take things for exactly what they present to be. Look at it from both eyes, realize it won’t kill you and be done with it. When they tell you that a horse is a mirror to your soul – sometimes you’ll like what you see and sometimes you won’t – they weren’t kidding. I can remember one evening showing up at the barn after a pretty emotional day and trying to lunge Ry….. and he stood there challenging me by not moving his feet. I started crying and screaming at him as if he was my mom and all the heartache I was feeling was coming out. He just stood there and let me unravel. And when I was done…..we were both ready to move forward.
Ryleigh has led me to some of the absolute best friendships in my life that I ever could have imagined and never would have been blessed with if it hadn’t been for him. He also led me to a career change…….a brand new, never planned life that was born because of him and will go on existing….because of him. In HONOR of him. Because one of the biggest things Ryleigh taught me was to “get out of your comfort zone and get out of your own way.”
In the last almost 10 years, Ryleigh has given me so much more….taught me so much more….than I ever gave him. And putting him first has never been a struggle for me. Until now.
Every single being on this earth deserves to leave this life with dignity…..and the least amount of suffering that is in our power to protect them from. And I always promised Ryleigh – just like I promised Reason – I would never let suffering happen. I am not willing to risk the absolute neurological progression just because I need to keep him around longer for ME. He deserves better than that…..because God knows he’s given me better than that.
I feel broken because I can’t fix him. And every inch of my heart hurts. But the right thing to do is to let Ry go with dignity. Without tripping, falling and suffering.
Ryleigh will be surrounded by people that love him as we send him home to God next Thursday evening, September 19. And we’d be grateful for your prayers.
He has definitely earned the other half of his wing. 🙁