If you missed her introduction, meet Galaxy! Galaxy is a 7-year-old arabian riding pony who has been given to me as she had such severe gastric ulceration and associated behavioural issues her previous owners felt she was unsafe and also not fit for sale. From what I’ve seen of her so far, I agree.
BUT, they also loved this little horse and wanted someone to try to heal her. I just happened to see her gastroscope and said she would make a great case study… so here she is! She is such a sweet girl, but with all her pain she just couldn’t hold her behaviour in.
My hope is that Galaxy’s story will help educate thousands of horse owners around gastric ulceration, and especially the behaviours horses will display to try and tell us, as their humans, that something is wrong! It’s not them being naughty, its them being in severe pain!
With that hope in mind, let’s get the story started!
I have very little backstory on her other than the home she came from was loving but inexperienced. The little bit I saw of her being handled there they were quite anxious with her. She was kept in a paddock, with another horse who was a seemingly very sweet thoroughbred. He was the dominant one though they apparently got along quite well. He would occasionally bite her over food.
There was a kelpie dog there, though she doesn’t seem too bothered by dogs here with me. She doesn’t like them, but she doesn’t seem scared of them either.
She had been with this family for around 6 months. During that time she ate only the native pasture available, which seemed plentiful but of poor quality. She was in good body condition.
Prior to this, I’ve very little background. Depending on how difficult she is to treat, I may go digging back further to find out more. Who knows how long this has been an issue for her. I believe she hadn’t been with the previous owner for long and she was sold for a relatively low price. Whether that suggests her behaviour (i.e. her ulcers) were an issue with this owner too I don’t know?
She is registered so I can see on her papers that she was bred by a stud but owned by someone else at the time of registration. So in her short life she has had quite a few homes, I am the 5th home that I know of so far! A lot for a 7-year-old.
Why Does She Have Ulcers?
The honest answer to this is I have no idea. Why does a pony who is not in work, not travelling, in a 24/7 paddock environment with a paddock buddy with constant access to forage have grade 4 squamous and glandular ulcers. Her stomach looked like it had been attacked with a carrot grater! (So bummed the recording didn’t work, so I can’t show you!).
But here are some possible contributors:
Stress – moving homes, potentially not always having paddock buddies or being handled by anxious handlers.
Chronic Pain – poor saddle fit or issues in her back, or hooves or mouth or ovaries or… And I do wonder if the glandular ulcers developed first which then predisposed her to the squamous ulcers by reducing feed intake and increasing the acidity and risk of acid splash in the stomach. Theory only but it is about the only one I can come up with to explain such severe squamous ulcers in a horse with constant access to forage and not in work.
I should note here she appears sound, and we have done her teeth and there were no major issues in her mouth, in fact not a single laceration that may have been causing pain. I had all my fingers crossed that we would find a mess in her mouth as it may have given us some explanation for her ulcers, but alas, (and also relief) she has a good little mouth!
I will keep looking for any possible contributors to chronic pain for her!
Drought – while the drought has been broken in our region for a while now who knows what her circumstances were during the recent prolonged drought. Is it possible she struggled for feed during the drought, developed ulcers then and hasn’t had the support to help heal them since?
This (maybe obviously) is the big one for me! Her diet I know was suboptimal and I am 99.9% sure it would have been deficient in multiple minerals, including zinc, some amino acids, vitamins and potentially also fatty acids. It’s a bit of a cocktail of deficiencies that would likely have predisposed her being less able to repair any damage that was occurring in her gut, leaving her susceptible to the severe ulceration present in her gut.
There are likely many more factors that may have contributed to her ulceration. We will likely never know what caused her ulcers. Big question is can we fix them!!
Treatment So Far
When I first saw Galaxy being scoped she had been on oral omeprazole for a month. She still had grade 4 ulcers, top and bottom. She was only kept off pasture for an hour prior to the omeprazole being administered which could well have rendered it ineffective. Or she may be one of the small % of horses that oral omeprazole is seemingly ineffective for, regardless.
After that scoping she was continued on omeprazole, put onto a grain-free complete feed, and had a gut supplement added to her diet. This continued for another month with no improvement in her behaviour. But she hasn’t been scoped again so we don’t actually know what has happened in her stomach. Her next scope is in 2 days.
Since coming to me I have really just focussed on her diet. I have incorporated a lot of lucerne, taken her off the complete feed as she was quite fat and have switched to a grain-free balancer pellet, focussed on amino acids, using soybean and supplemental amino acids, added vitamin C (it’s a theory, will explain more later) and she gets a gut supplement twice a day to help with buffering her stomach and supporting her hindgut.
As we go through this story I will explain why I am using these ingredients. It is too much detail to add just now.
So far so good. When she first arrived her appetite wasn’t great. She picked at her lucerne hay and often left a lot of it uneaten. She picked at her feed and for a couple of days hardly ate anything. Which gave me a small taste of the frustrations of a horse with a poor appetite! And she was terrible at grazing, preferring to stare off into space than actually put her head down and eat.
But about a week and a half in and she is was eating like a proper horse, finishing her hay and spending longer amounts of time grazing.
Where To From Here
First things first, she gets scoped again in 2 days and then I will know what I am actually dealing with! Once we know, my vet and I will put together a plan for medication and ongoing nutrition.
I will also keep looking for any other stressors or pain that may be predisposing her to the ulceration we are seeing.
And I’m also really focussed on keeping her calm, integrating her into my herd so they can teach her to be a chilled out pony that loves to graze and eat normally, and on slowly slowly helping her to accept being scratched all over without pinning her ears back! I’m doing very little with her in terms of handling because I don’t think it is fair to expect her to be able to behave well when she is likely still in a lot of pain.
Watch this space! Will update you once this scope is done!
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