I’m sorry for my absence; you can say that the past months have been an emotional rollercoaster. (And there is a reason why I avoid rollercoasters.)
First of all, thank you so much for all your support, kind words, prayers and warm thoughts. I’m forever grateful, and deeply touched by all your messages. Most of you have not known how severe Batman’s problems have been, because I did not want to write anything specific about it before we knew more. Everything was extremely complicated. And when it comes to severe health-problems affecting my horse, it all becomes very personal to me.
Because of Batman’s symptoms, things looked pretty bad for a while. I was prepared to spend the rest of our time together with him living in a smaller paddock, on a special diet, with medication every day, special shoes, never being able to ride or play with him again, just trying to keep him comfortable. Other horses with symptoms similar to Batman’s have had to be euthanized just months after the symptoms arrived. Without knowing anything about Batman’s prognosis (all cases are of course different), you can imagine my pain reading these stories. I ran out of tears, and in March, we celebrated what I feared would be his last birthday.
We have been working on solving the mystery since January. At first, we discovered that Batman had laminitis. We removed all sugar from his diet immediately, and had him followed up by vets and experienced hoof trimmers. We also filled the entire outdoor area with a soft surface so he could walk comfortably when the ground was frozen and hard during the winter. We had a slight rotation of the coffin bones on both front hooves, but the laminitis was soon under control. We also tested him for EMS and PPID/Cushing’s, both negative. I started training him again, and it went well for some time, until something felt odd in walk. He felt stiff and was unwilling to move into the shoulder-in, and seemed unlike himself, with problems moving his hindquarters towards the center of gravity. Something was wrong.
I called my vet, and we discovered that he was lame, on both hind legs .. He kicked during the flexion test, and behaved unlike himself. That explained the vague symptoms. We tried to treat the lameness with rest and injections, without any luck, unfortunately. The next step was to have him fully examined at the clinic in Oslo.
After Easter, a good friend and I drove to Oslo. That turned out to be the worst day in my entire life.
I tried to calm myself, hoping that everything would be fine and we would return home with a plan to get him back on track. I did not believe they would find anything severe at all. I mean, he was fully examined a year ago with x-rays and everything, and I don’t think any horses get so many vet appointments a year as Batman does…
We were greeted by a lovely vet, who would do a full examination of Batman’s hind legs. I still hoped it could be explained by laminitis and stiffness. I kept telling myself that everything will be fine; it is nothing horribly wrong with my horse. It simply can’t be!
But on the other hand, there is a reason I booked a full day at one of the largest equine hospitals in the country, and showed up there and asked for a full examination with x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, literally everything they had.
The vet was friendly and patient and I told our story, and he started examine the hooves, and that made me relax. Vets who starts checking the hoof is my favorite vets. No hoof, no horse.
After examining Batman’s body, hooves and legs we did a flexion test. Batman was 100 times calmer than he was during the flexion test two months ago and stood completely still without kicking, as he did last time. 2 degrees lame on both hind legs.
I was not very worried at this point either, Batman is no showjumper or top dressage horse, and I barely ride him. Most healthy 12-year-old horses used for light dressage, liberty training from the ground and a hack every now and then will recover from 2 degrees of lameness!
We went outside to lunge him, and Batman, filled with energy, discovered a group of trotters training on the track. Batman decided to join them, and I had no chance of holding him back. He took an entire round around the race track with the trotters, I was so embarrassed! It looked absolutely ridiculous: a huge, confused Friesian with his fancy movements catching up with the trotters. Thankfully, they stopped and caught him for me, and we went back inside. How severely injured could a horse be, if he chooses to run around a race track?
Afterward, we did the x-rays. Batman was x-rayed a year ago without any problems discovered. I was sure we would not find anything there now either, but I was so wrong. So horribly wrong. I don’t know how I can explain the next two hours after that…
When he was drugged and the feathers shaved off, we could see that his fetlocks looked weak, compared to other horses. But to me they looked like they had always looked like. They looked like this when I first met him in 2009. He had always been like that, without any trouble at all. The news were devastating. His suspensory ligaments on both hind legs were affected. I had to sit down and almost fainted. Everything went into a big blur. I could barely believe that this was really happening.
Ultrasound confirmed the worst nightmare ever possible. The ligaments were not healthy on either of his hind legs. The suspensory ligament is an important part of the horse’s leg, and provides support to the entire horse. I bursted into tears, barely able to stand, receiving the worst message possible, being told that my horse would never recover. The shock.. It felt like being struck by a meteorite. Batman was resting in his box next to us, smiling, as he always does. He might have been living with this for a decade without any issues, and now the problems started to show.. Maybe it had something to do with the laminitis, age, bad luck, we don’t know.
The next days felt like a complete nightmare. I woke up every morning, hoping everything was just a horrible dream. I was in so much physical pain and could barely stop crying. I was shocked, angry, devastated. Stuck in the abyss of deep sorrow. The day before, I looked at Batman and saw a proud, healthy looking-horse. Now, I had lost my healthy horse.
It was time to start believing in miracles, keep fighting, and never ever give up.
The vets could not tell much about the issues at that point, except from the fact that I would probably never ride or train him as normal again, and that there was nothing we could do to make the situation better. There was simply nothing to do, except from being very careful, because too much stress on the tendons might cause rupture. And we all know what that means for a horse. (Could it be any worse now?)
It can be many reasons for tendon problems like his, some worse than others. You can have injuries in sport horses, older horses, you can have accidents, and you can have a confirmation/exterior problem. But some cases can also be caused by other things, like a disease. All I could do was hope for a miracle.
I got in touch with researchers in the US, emailed many vets, spoke to many horse-owners struggling the same kind of problems, joined a bunch of Facebook and Yahoo-groups, contacted the Fenway Foundation, spoke to Batman’s hoof trimmer, former hoof trimmer, chiropractor, osteopath, multiple Friesian breeders and many more. I read every single page on Google regarding suspensory ligament issues. I contacted all the largest equine clinics in Europe, just in case we would need more input. I went through hundreds of old photos of Batman’s hind legs. I was basically extremely busy, and in need of a doctor degree in pathology.
I did everything I could to make sure he would get the best treatment available in this galaxy, and a part of that, is to get as much information as possible.
Batman before our second visit at the clinic, playful and happy
We went home, and were told to come back six weeks later to take more tests and have another vet look at him. And we did. That was the day we did the biopsy. The biopsy would provide important information regarding a disease that can cause issues like Batman’s. Because this could be way worse than a ligament injury or exterior problem, it could be a systemic disease, a deadly disease with no cure. It can always be worse, it turned out. I spent two months of waiting, PRAYING for a severe ligament injury (most horse-owner’s worst nightmare was my biggest dream, because injuries actually heal, or at least they don’t get worse), everything in the world would be better than a disease destroying tissue from within.
Yesterday we got the final results from the biopsy, and at this point, it was the second best answer I could hope for. The best would be “sorry, we were wrong from the beginning, there is no need to worry”, but that would be rather unrealistic.
We finally got the test results back, and there is still much we don’t know. It showed 25% of changes in the tissue, which can be a sign of disease, but it can also be found in healthy horses. He’s got some symptoms, but not enough combined to get the diagnosis. This was the best news I could possibly get at this point. I mean, it could be so much worse! They did not find any 100% clear signs of this particular disease, but they can’t be sure. The team of experts concluded with that it is a little bit more likely to be something else at this point. (For example weak confirmation) But we can’t say for sure before we sees how it develops over time, and we’ll do new ultrasounds and x-rays every 6th months, and maybe do another biopsy next year. If his condition worsens, we must examine him again. If we succeed in keeping it stable, it is good news.
We simply have to wait and see, and in the meantime, I will enjoy every single minute we get to have together.
Batman in June, still happy and filled with energy
And guess what? The vets recommended us to keep him active, which means that he can remain in his herd and move around freely. In order to keep his legs strong and healthy, I will exercise him around 15-30 minutes every day! WE CAN TRAIN AGAIN!
Compared to how he was last winter, he is a hundred times better now, and all I did was to walk around with him, let him rest, do some clicker training and have fun together. And he is no longer visibly lame, plays around in the herd, canter without any problems, and I even saw him jump over a log(!) a few weeks ago. Batman is the kind of horse who stands in a corner with his head down and looks sad if he is in pain. He will never move one single meter if he doesn’t want to. So to see him playful and filled with energy is such good news!
I will be very careful with him and observe him over time, if he is willing to lift his feet, walk forward, if he feels energetic and happy, does he look interested and is he sound.
Right now, he is everything on the list above. He greets me every day with a neigh, seems eager to join me and is 100% interested when we are training. I will continue to go for walks with him, and take everything in his tempo, and if he seems good over some time, I will start riding him for a couple of minutes every now and then. I was sure I would never be able to ever ride him again, and had almost settled with that. So I could barely believe it when the vets told me that I could actually do so.
VICTORY! At least for now. This photo was taken after our meeting with the vets, and was a day worth celebrating!
There are on the other hand a lot of things that we can never do again. But for now, all that matters to me is that my horse is alive and comfortable. That is more than I could dream of.
We’ve gotten so far together; we achieved so much together. And we will continue to do that, side by side. Just in a slightly different direction, and I’m looking forward to every second that is left of our amazing journey!
For now, our fairytale continues, and we will do everything in our power to keep his hind legs as healthy they possibly can be. ❤❤❤
A huge thank you to the team of vets helping us this year, including Bjerke Dyrehospital for amazing service and help with the biopsy. It was the first time it was done in Scandinavia as far as I know.
I’m going to need all your help very soon, more than ever. I will write everything about the disease we tested Batman for this week. This is a disease barely anyone knows exist, we have no cure at this point and it is deadly. It is causing so much suffering for horses world wide because of lack of knowledge, and many horses can suffer from it without even showing any symptoms. We now have a unique opportunuty to raise awareness and fight this disease together.
Batman & Matilde