Monday, September 30, 2013

Making the Impossible Decision for Echo

It’s hard to keep a blog when you don’t feel much like writing, because you haven’t got much positive to say. This is a long post, and it sums up what’s been going on in the last month.

A month ago, I was trying to be positive. The Quiessence was helping Echo. His headshaking symptoms were better, but still there. He had started eating at normal times, which made management easier.

But Echo was still in pain. He would bite the barn half-wall or the edge of the water trough and hold it for minutes at a time. He’d bite Cash constantly. He liked to submerge his face in the trough, up to his eyeballs, holding his breath until he had to come up for air. I can only guess that the water provided some relief, since he also likes to have his nose hosed (but now hates having his body hosed, and flings his head about maniacally while being bathed).

So we tried another round of Dex Pulse Therapy, which did nothing for him at all. Then we tried the Cypro and the Carba, which maybe helped his sneezing and snorting a little (which makes sense, it’s an antihistamine) but did not affect any of the other headshaking symptoms.

In desperation, I began to consider doing a permanent block of the branch of the trigeminal nerve that goes to the upper nose. Unfortunately, the block requires general anesthesia, the success rate is less than 50%. In a significant number of horses, the attempted block makes the symptoms worse, and the result is having to euthanize the horse. I even contacted USEF to see if they would allow a horse with the nerve block to compete, but they would not. Given the cost and the risk factors, plus the fact that Echo would not be able to show, we decided that the permanent block was not an option.

I rode him a few times, always in an arena. Under saddle, he rubs his face so hard that he has almost pulled his bridle off several times. I have learned to do up the throatlatch much tighter than usual since having a bridle come off mid-ride isn't safe. He’s gone from being a confident baby jumper to stopping in front of a single ground pole and refusing to go over it, to the point of rearing up and spinning away. He sucks back, tucking his nose to his chest, and he has become very spooky, whereas before he was a pretty cool customer.

Because I felt like I was running out of options and was no longer able to view Echo’s behaviors objectively (that is, green horse issues vs. headshaking issues), I put him in training with Paige, who I take jumping lessons from. We agreed to a two-week trial, so see if he would improve at all. Two weeks is up today, and I’m sad to say that while I can tell he’s been ridden by a pro (he doesn't fall in as badly to the right and he’s more forward in general), the HS behaviors are still there. The scariest one is what Paige refers to as “blacking out,” where he sort travels with his head way up in the air and to the right and just sort of zones out. You can’t turn him or stop him, he’s so focused on the pain in his face that everything else ceases to exist. I can’t even imagine how dangerous this would be if it happened in front of an XC jump, or out foxhunting.

Paige told me that if I want to keep trying, she’s willing to help me, but we could spend huge amounts of time and money and it could go nowhere. Despite being on a whole bunch of drugs and supplements (the bill for that stuff alone is over $250/month), he’s not getting better. In fact, he’s back to rubbing his face so hard that he’s got cuts on his nose and gums. I had hoped that with the shorter days, his HSing might be seasonal and the symptoms would improve, but they are not.

What it comes down to is this:

  • Pain – Despite all the drugs (and we are literally out of options), Echo is still in pain, even just out in the pasture. I can’t make him feel better, and this will be something he will have to suffer for the rest of his life.
  • Safety – I don’t feel safe riding Echo. He’s not being naughty, but he cannot control his responses when his face hurts, and we cannot predict when an episode will occur. He also flips his head viciously when being bathed, and when his symptoms were bad this summer, it was almost dangerous to handle him because of the head flipping.
  • Emotions – Any time your horse isn't right, it’s emotionally draining. You keep hoping that the next thing will work, and then the next, and the next. When do you stop trying? Horse-wise, I have already been through the deaths of Saga and Oberon this year, and I am having a very hard time emotionally handling Echo’s HSing. 

And then randomly through a Yahoo group, I found another horse owner in Austin who has been managing her HSer for the last 8 years. She kept him at a VERY nice boarding facility, and was able to do a few schooling H/J shows with him. She wrote me this about her experiences (reposted with her permission):

"I feel so much pain for you reading your story and thinking back over my years of heartache trying to manage Ian's HS.  I spent so much money trying everything under the sun.  Once his HS was "managed" I spent a ton of money on body work etc to undo whatever was probably already there and whatever all the tension from the pain caused.  I certainly saw amazing results and had a horse I loved to ride, but in hindsight, my choices in how to manage him leaving no stone unturned because I couldn't bear to see him in any pain, the money I spend trying everything under the sun plus keeping what did work going did which was 10s of thousands over the 8 years, going to the barn to take care of him every single night, not riding in lessons most of the year because I only rode him after dark which also then meant I rarely saw my husband during the week because I'd be at the barn until 10pm all seem pretty crazy.
I know I kept going with Ian long after anyone else would have and if I'd decided to put him down I knew any of my friends would have done it long before me, but I look back and can't believe what I went through and what I did for him every single day for 8 years.  I honestly was relieved in a way when his vision started to go [and I had to retire him].  He was still doing great and fun to ride but I just couldn't do the constant maintenance anymore.  Had I known he could live outside in retirement I would have retired him a long time ago. However, it's possible he wouldn't have done so well in retirement a long time ago.  His HS was the best it had ever been when I retired him.  That "best" still required a lot of effort and money.  I look back and wonder what life would have been like if I'd put him down before I committed much of my life to trying to make him well.  
One of the hard things with HSers is that you know for some horses the solution is simple so it feels like if you just keep trying, you'll find that thing that makes your HSer better.  And if you quit, what if there really was a simple solution and you just didn't find it.  So many HSers seem to be really talented and wonderful horses too.  It's torture and if I were giving advice to a friend 8 years ago with Ian, knowing what was in store, I would have advised that friend to quit trying and put him down to end his pain.  I physically had the money to spend but never would have imagined just how much I would sink into maintaining him and in hindsight I think I would also advise a friend to not only end the horse's suffering but it's not worth the emotional and financial cost.  I love Ian dearly and can't imagine my life without him but the cost, in so many ways, has been significant.   Obviously I didn't take that path I would advise and it's easier to give that advice than take it but I'm glad to hear you are being realistic about the possible outcome. There is no easy answer.  My research does tell me this condition can be extremely painful.  My opinion is that when Ian is snorting and wiggling his nose, that is not pain, but when he flicks his head or flings it, that is pain and when he flings his head so hard his feet come off the ground, that is significant pain.  So I tried to keep that in mind when I was trying to get his symptoms under control and had decided he would not spend another summer suffering. "
Y’all, that’s what Echo and I have ahead of us. I just can’t do it, and I can’t put Echo through that. 

So, I have decided to donate Echo to the University of California at Davis. He’ll be shipped out there in the next 7-10 days. Dr. Madigan and his team are doing ongoing research on headshaking, and Echo will be part of their research program. It’s likely that they will observe him and run tests for a few weeks, and then he will be PTS. My hope is that he will be able to contribute in some way to further the knowledge of this awful disease, and of course, that one day soon he’ll be able to run in the great golden pasture pain-free.

I am honestly not sure what to do in the meantime. I had thought to take some pictures, but like with Saga, I want to remember him when we had our blue-ribbon “winning” day at our first h/j mini show, instead of now with cuts on his face from rubbing. Every time I see him I cry, so that’s hard too. I just feel kind of lost and adrift and sick to my soul.

My poor little Echo-Gecko. I am so, so sorry we couldn't help you.

IMAGE_12DCE65A-33D1-41DF-A499-B5DF6E7CF71C.JPG
Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin.

57 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry Jen *hug* If there is anything you want me to do when he gets to UCD just let me know.

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    1. If you could visit him while he's there, it would really mean a lot to me. Thanks.

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  2. That is so horribly tough... I can't even imagine... I hope that you can heal from this and eventually find a horse that will give you joy for many many years to come. Just give poor Echo hugs, smooches and treats :( - my thoughts are with you...

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  3. I am so incredibly sorry to read this -- and unfortunately there's not much to say. Just know that Echo has many friends across the pasture and that we are all here for you, whatever you need.

    Sending the best vibes and jingles your way <3

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    1. Tracy, your thoughts are much appreciated.

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  4. My heart breaks for you both. Thinking of you.

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  5. :( You know I've been hoping for a miracle, but sometimes that just isn't to be. He's going to be out of pain soon enough and I can't think of a better decision for either of you.

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    1. Lauren, thanks so much for listening to me through all the ups and downs. It helps so, so much.

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  6. So sorry. Seems like a lot of loss in such a short time. Hugs and lots of love sent to you.

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    1. Karen, I sure am ready for this year to be over - it's been a year of loss for sure.

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  7. Echo had a better chance with you than most anyone Jen - you've done everything reasonably possible to heal him and make him comfortable. I know he knows that... I'm convinced they know when we're helping them.

    SO very sorry you have had to go through this. It's been a super tough time for you and the critters, bless your heart. (((♥♥♥)))

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    1. CFS, thanks. This disease just sucks. I feel so bad for him that he's in pain - I really wish I could make it all go away.

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  8. Oh babe, I'm so sorry. I don't believe in keeping them in pain, so FWIW I think you're doing the right thing by him. Your poor baby horse. Tons of hugs for you.

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    1. Funder, thanks. Poor baby racehorse indeed.

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  9. What a completely selfless thing you're doing. Hopefully your choice will help other horse owners in the future and Echo will make his mark on so many others. I feel so badly that you have to go through this yet again though. You're in my thoughts! Big hugs!

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    1. I don't know how selfless it is, Carly. I have moments where I think I'm giving up too soon and that I should keep trying, but I think that deep down I know that letting him go sooner is better than letting him suffer. Thanks for the hugs.

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  10. I was thinking about your blog yesterday and so hoping things were going better :( its so incredibly hard to lose a horse you love. Hopefully he will help all the horses out there that suffer from this, and he will no longer be suffering.

    Nothing anyone can say can make it better :( hang in there.

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    1. Thanks, ER. I wish I had better news too, but it was not to be.

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  11. Oh Jen, I am so sorry, both for you and for Echo. It sounds like an awful thing to have to live with and you're doing the right thing for him. Sending hugs your way!

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    1. in2, thanks so much for the hugs. They mean a lot.

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  12. I'm so incredibly sorry Jen and I know there's nothing to say to make it any better. Hugs to both of you.

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  13. You've done everything you could. It's a hard decision, but the life he has is no life for a horse. I think you're making the best decision for everyone, even though it sucks. :-( I am so sorry it's turned out this way. Hugs to you and yours.

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    1. SB, you're right, it's no life to be in that kind of constant pain. It's still an impossible decision to make.

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  14. What a well thought out post. The comments from the other owner also seem so thoughtful, sincere, and honest. Honestly, sending him to Davis sounds like a great option. The condition sounds so scary and frustrating and awful, what a gift to allow him to contribute to the attempt to understand more and help future horses. Huge Hugs and stay brave!

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    1. Gingham, I thought it was so nice for the other owner to be so brutally honest. Her email, more than anything else, helped me make the decision. Sending him to UCD just gives me a little hope that Echo can in some way contribute to finding a solution to this awful thing. Thanks for the hugs.

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  15. How unbelievably sad. And how incredibly brave you are to 1) do the right thing for him and 2) let the UC Davis folks study him so they might be able to come up with that ever elusive simple cure. My heart is breaking for you. Lots of hugs to you.

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    1. I don't know how brave it is - I sure don't feel very brave about it at all. Thank you for the hugs, and may your words - that they find a simple cure - come true.

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  16. Hugs, big long tight hugs going out to you. You are being incredibly generous sending Echo to UC Davis. You are doing the right thing. He is in pain and you have done all that you can. I know that doing the right thing doesn't make it easier and you have had an incredibly difficult year with your horses. Hugs. More hugs.

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    1. Annette, thanks, I'll take all the hugs I can get.You're right, doing the right thing isn't easy, but I think that's part of the price we pay to be with them. On days like today, though, it's almost more than I can bear.

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  17. This is so sad and hard to read. I am very sorry his story doesn't have a happy ending. I think it's incredibly self-less of you to donate him so that his case might help horses in the future. My heart breaks for you *hugs*

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    1. Dom, a happy ending sure would have be nice. Hopefully for other horses it will be. Just wasn't meant to be for Echo.

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  18. I am so very sorry. I know that you tried your best and so many other things were thrown at you on top of this. I am not sure of the reason but Echo was with you for that reason - if anything so he would be truly loved. Take the time you need to heal and only blog if you feel like it. Again, I am so very sorry.

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    1. WIHAH, thank you. I have to keep believing that things happen for a reason but with Saga, Oberon, and now Echo, I have to wonder what that reason is. For them to suffer so much just isn't fair.

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  19. That email was full of kindness and wisdom. What an unlikely gift. You are doing and have done a great deal of good.

    I am crying for you and for Echo.

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    1. Val, you're right, that email was such a gift. I know it was hard for her to write and I have told her just how much I appreciate her honesty and candor. It really helped my husband and I know that we are making the best decision we can for Echo, and I will forever be indebted to her for that.

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  20. :( :( So sorry its ending up this way, but I agree with many others, you are doing a good thing and I def dont think you gave up too soon!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, BritnieAnn.

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  21. This post was heartbreaking to read. At the end of it though, the one thing that stood out to me is how lucky Echo is to have you. You were able to understand his condition, and realize that some of his actions were not a result of bad behaviour or mean-spiritedness, but out of pain and you responded accordingly. If he'd ended up with a person/family who had less experience with horses, it would be so easy for them to misinterpret his actions, and end up punishing him for involuntary responses. You also tried everything to control the HSing, and left no stone un-turned in terms of his recovery. So while the situation is still incredibly sad, I can't help but think that it could have been a whole lot worse. Hugs to you and the pony.

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    1. Kate, what you say about someone else not recognizing the "misbehaviors" as pain responses and punishing him is exactly why I felt I could not rehome him to someone who wanted to try to work through the HSing. And thanks for the hugs, they are much appreciated!

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  22. Oh, Jen .... much love to you and the family. I agree with Kate: Echo was lucky to have you. I, too, try to believe that things "happen for a reason," and have come to the conclusion that we don't necessarily have to (or even get to) understand what the reason is. Maybe it's just about going through and sharing the experience with others; touching others with your point of view. Life is hard, and we get through it somehow. We help others who are in pain (friends, family, our critters); they help us when we hurt. Hopefully we don't cause pain in others. We enjoy the happy times. We give -- and get -- a lot of love. Maybe that's what it's all about. xoxoxoxo

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    1. Aw, thanks Nan. Wonderful words. :)

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  23. So sad for you. So much loss in one year. I am facing the loss of my 33 year old horse, who I have owned for 30 years, and though it is a very different situation in some ways, I have some of the same feelings. I just want to cry every time I go down to the barn. You're a great horse owner--I know you will have many years of good fortune with horses ahead of you. This was such tough year for you. It was hard to read about--I can't imagine how hard it was to live. Thinking of you.

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    1. I saw your post about Gunner and was heartbroken. I'm still hoping he'll pull through, but if not... 33 is AMAZING and it's a tribute to you as a fantastic horse owner. I guess that's all we can do in the end, the best we can for them, whatever that means. Hugs to you too.

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  24. I am so sorry you're having to go through this. You're in my prayers. There are no words to ease your sorrow....just know that you are doing the right thing for him. I hope your heart heals from this break.

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    1. Thank you, Shandi, for your prayers and kind words.

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  25. I'm in tears reading this, so I can't even imagine how you are feeling. You are doing such a selfless and wonderful thing- not only by allowing researchers to use him, but by helping him out of his misery.
    Lots of hugs and thoughts coming your way from the other side of the world.
    Stay strong!

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    1. I have actually had a month to come to terms with everything, so I guess I'm beginning to feel some closure. Still, it's not easy. Thanks for the hugs :)

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  26. So sorry for everything you've been through and are still going through. I hope next year is MUCH better for you. Sorry that Echo didn't get better.. :-(

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  27. Oh Jen, my heart goes out to you. What a tough year you've had. You are clearly making the right decision for Echo, and what a brave decision to make. Hugs to you and Echo. Hope your remaining time together is a good as it can be.

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    1. Megs, thanks. We've had a good last bit together - he's in a good place right now with the symptoms and I'm thankful for that.

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  28. Aww, Jen, I am so sorry I missed this. While I am very sad that you have been faced with this decision, I hope you know you are doing the right thing. We can only do so much and sadly, I have not figured out a way to make love repair bodies.

    And you DID help him. You gave him safety and love. You gave him the gift of never being dumped at an auction or on a truck because someone didn't want to mess with it anymore. You gave him a peaceful ending which will be surrounded by compassionate people. Those are huge gifts, so don't discount those things.

    It is so hard to say goodbye to the ones that we love, but all we can do is love them while they are here and do the best we can, then pass on their love. I'm always here for ya, girl.

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    1. Eventer79, thanks for reminding me that despite love not being able to repair bodies (love that, thanks), we were able to make it ... well, if not great for him, at least not bad. It just never feels like it's enough, you know?

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  29. I've been away all summer ... and checking in. With a heavy heart, I find your decision very brave.

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