Ranger, my sister’s horse of nearly 20 years, has developed breathing issues. It was something that occurred gradually over the last year or so, but this fall, it got pretty bad. He wasn’t coughing uncontrollably like Cruiser was, but he was breathing harder going up hills and trotting. He would do better after a good snort, but it seemed like he had trouble getting enough wind to get the good snort.
When the vet came out to give the guys their fall shots, Ellen told her about it and she examined him. She said she couldn’t quite say he had COPD, but he definitely was having problems breathing. Her suggestion was to just dunk his hay in water before giving it to him. In her experience, this was usually enough to correct the problem. She said steroids might help, but Ellen didn’t want to do that unless absolutely necessary.
Cruiser was much worse with chronic coughing, breathing hard in his stall and rapid weight loss. I put him on steroids which only helped a little. I also took him off hay completely and fed him soaked hay cubes. He still didn’t improve until we put him on a round of antibiotics—even though his bloodwork showed no sign of infection. After that, his cough went away and his breathing returned to normal. We do think the steroids may have masked the infection—allowing it to get worse.
We keep our horses at a boarding stables, and Ellen felt bad about asking the feeders to do this extra step. As an experiment, I did it for her on the days that I fed in the evening. She noticed an improvement when she rode him the following morning, so she felt it was worthwhile. She bought a big plastic tub that the feeders could use to dunk the hay to make it easier, and we were on our way.
After a couple of days, he no longer wheezed when going up a hill, and his snorts were more substantial than before. After about a week, it was pretty hard to hear his breathing at all if he was doing light work. When my sister was riding him back and forth at the bottom of the hill a few weeks later, I noticed that he looked really good—and then I realized what the difference was—he was holding his head in a normal position. Previously, he had been traveling with his head much lower so he could breathe better. Ranger was definitely better than he was. The question is how much will he keep improving? When a person quits smoking, it takes a while for their lungs to heal. Ranger is in the process of healing.
When I watched Ellen trot him in the arena last week, not only did he carry his head higher than he had been, he was going faster and stepping further underneath himself. Maybe he wasn’t as arthritic as we thought? Maybe he had slowed down partially due to having breathing problems? He even threw in a kitten buck.
Ellen plans to ride him as much as she can outside to keep him out of the dust, but sometimes the weather and icy conditions will force them into the arena. We will continue to dunk his hay and see how far his recovery will go. I will keep you updated.