This has been hard for me to write. I have not written for a couple of months because life has been total chaos. Against my own wisdom I’ve been a ‘Busy Idiot’. Pushing energy into dumb places for short terms gains. A necessary task? Perhaps for that time, but long term? A poor coping strategy. So, everything again had to change.
Three months after uprooting my life, family and business from Poland to Spain, I had to make major changes here on the ground. These changes have taught me something about balance, about Yin & Yang. That ancient pagan idea that everything in life comes with 50/50 positives and negatives, advantage vs compromise. To get one you must take the other with it. That is the ultimate balance in life. More subtly, even inside the positive there is a tiny part of negative and vice versa. It is how the world works. The last four months have been absolutely demonstrative of this.
Sanson is sick. He is also healthy. My incredible equine buddy is Healthysick. Confused? Stay with me.
My Sanson is sick. My Sani. Mammoth. Buddy. Friend. Work partner.
Sanson has a history of health problems surrounding his digestion. Before I bought him and since I bought him, his body has battled with many symptoms. Digestive disorders in horses are very difficult to diagnose due to the hazardous and expensive nature of scoping internally and the vague nature of their gut microbiome. There is so much we do not know about a horses insides, and so many differing opinions on their management and pathology.
We do know that colic, or obstruction of the intestinal tract, is the number 1 cause of death in domestic horses. Knowing this, I invested a great deal of time, energy and money into teaching myself as much as I could about the horses nutritional needs to avoid this very fate- colic. Sanson has never colicked whilst under my care (touch wood). In a moment, you will understand how important that is for him.
When I got him, it is possible he had stomach ulcers. Most probable. This is what I was informed when I arrived in Spain in 2017 to bring him home to Poland after summer. I was given sound and fair advise of how he has been managed thus far and what I should do with him going forwards. I have thanked those responsible for keeping him alive through winter at their own expense even though he was no longer working. I am beyond grateful.
I was told, that the winter just passed he battled with chronic diarrhea, supposedly caused by a food allergy. As a result he dropped condition and a long distance ride he and I were scheduled to attend, we had to pull out. These are not my opinions. These are facts. This is what happened. I know 100% he had quite a bit of sand in his gut, I did the test myself. I know he needed to put on weight. Passers by at transit stables in Barcelona, central Germany and Northern Poland -strangers on our way back home two and a half years ago- sought me out to say this, you know your horse is really thin? Thought they were somewhat exaggerating but comparing before and after photos now shows maybe they were not. I will not share the worst of them here, there is no need. But it is a fair statement to say he needed 1 on 1 attention and not a moment too late, when I picked him up.
I was and still am beyond grateful for the care he received before I bought him. I have love and respect what was done for him before I owned him immensely. I want that to be crystal clear and unambiguous. Sanson had a start in life which has set him up to be the perfection I enjoy today. Some key parts of that start in life were not done by me but others. I still seek them out when I have questions about his care or his future. But by 2017 it was clear Sanson was a special needs horse that needed a one on one care and lifestyle to flourish. So they did that for him. He always has been done right by and is one of those horses lucky enough to never know abuse, neglect or lack of love.
Colleagues at stables in Poland and close friends used to mock me. I would spend 4 hours every Sunday night, locked in the coal furnace room of our stable, despite the encroaching winter, carefully weighing Sanson’s daily meals into individual parcels. Painstakingly labelling each baggy with instructions for when to feed and how many ml of oil or water to feed with. To my colleagues, I was an obsessive compulsive helicopter horse parent who eventually would calm down and just give random scoops of whatever was available at whatever stable he lived in- like many others who own horses in Poland. Relentlessly, from 6pm until 10pm that was my chore. I devoted myself to healing Sanson through nutrition. After I was done, but hands freezing and back aching, I would brush him and talk to him in his box. I would listen to him eat hay, run my hands through his mane and smile.
Has Lachlan done his Sanson Masterchef yet?
My comrades would say. They mocked me. They tolerated me. Mocked then thinly tolerated. But they mocked me. Yin & Yang.
I knew in my heart of hearts that my horse needed this level of attention and nothing less. The careful transition from grain-centric diet to a grain free diet took 3 months and was no laughing matter. With such a change, Sanson’s entire gut microbiome, those tricky and fickle creatures, would utterly change. If I was not careful- he would colic. The careful detox with Bentonite powders and mycotoxin removers and anti-ulcer chaff bought by the pallet, was no joke to me. The no-expense-spared-diet and the best hay around was all I wanted. I was dedicated to this horse that in return gave me his all. I worked 3 jobs. On the weekend I drove 280km to be 150% Sanson.
I moved him closer to home and still the feed regime continued. It continues today. I weigh every single meal to the gram, then and now. Nothing is left to chance. I once balanced his zinc and copper intake by adding 3 grams of powder of each daily, because I read that chestnut horses who fade in colour need more zinc and copper. Two months later, his colour deepened considerably. Just 3 grams a day. Teeny portions repeated every week during my Masterchef moments. A complex array of carefully researched and resourced equine feeds turned Sanson into a fat, energetic horse now free of ulcers and sandy gut. Only one thing remained.
Diarrhea. Mysterious, undiagnosable diarrhea. Everything about Sanson would be perfect. Then like a bolt of lightening from a blue sky, explosive diarrhea.
Through time, observation and research I came to know the triggers.
Social stress; crowded paddocks, new horses or bully horses could trigger it. For that reason I had no problem removing him from stabling that had social stressors among the horse herd or stable environment.
Grass or grains; either accidentally fed or deliberate, grains or sugary grasses trigger his shit fountains to come forth.
Stress; such as the colossal journey back to Spain which involved a 4 day delay not of my own doing, can trigger it. Change of seasons. Training around trainers or riders who yell at or hit their horses, he would get diarrhea. I researched the best people in the business who train through relaxation and befriended them, studied as much of their work as I could afford.
I thought to myself, maybe he just needs time to adjust to Spain again? As every morning when I went to feed him I would need to wash his bottom and his legs of dark foul smelling liquid, maybe he just needs time I thought.
I sourced the best anti-ulcer feed I could get. I drive hundreds of kilos of it from Fuengirola, 1 hour 45 minutes away. It is grain free and high quality. He gets this every day. I saw moderate short term improvement, then nothing. No improvement. Diarrhea Armageddon.
I changed hay to a grain free alternative. I rejected any bales with mould and fed only immaculate grain free forage in slow feeders which never became empty. Same thing, tiny short term improvement, 1-2 days mildly sloppy shit instead of diarrhea. Then no change.
I spent a lot of money on psyllium husk powder to rule out sandy gut- no change. The diarrhea now was predictable and powerful. Confusing still because my horse was perfect under saddle, gaining weight not losing and not showing any signs of colic or pain. Maybe he needs more time.
I waited. I watched the horses he lived with, belonging to a friend I like and admire deeply, bully him in the paddock, push him off hay. We separated them at night. No change. Even though I risked losing the warm feelings of an admired friend, I considered moving Sanson.
I relented and realised my horse needed a more low energy paddock friend. I sourced another home locally. Again by the absolute pure kindness of new friends I and my horse was welcomed to a new home, very close by. We rode there in 45 minutes at a walk.
I moved Sanson to his new home a month ago. His new paddock buddy, a white gelding named Chenel is calm and sweet. Sanson took one smell of him, looked at me and YAWNED! Smelled him again, looked at me and YAWNED again! His eyes half closed, he walked into his new paddock, ate hay for 20 minutes, lay down and slept for almost 2 days, with brief interludes to eat, poop or wee.
Bizarrely in those first two days, his diarrhea totally cleared up. Jumping the gun, prematurely I bombastically declared the cause of his diarrhea to be Stress. The change in Sanson was immediate and clear- stress was a contributing trigger and he now felt better. New relief washed over me, mingled with some smugness over the power of relaxation.
Just as I relaxed I looked and saw Sanson sporadically stretching in weird positions, like a hideous horse yoga. My colic alarm bells rang, I cancelled two days of work to watch him for colic. None came. Poop normal. I started to relax, but my eyes were not yet happy with what was happening.
On the morning of the 7th day in new home the diarrhea returned with a vengeance. As bad as it ever was. I was at my wits end. I had done EVERY. SINGLE. THING. I. COULD. In the horse owners manual I had ticked all boxes. The diarrhea remained. I could not do it alone anymore. I had to consider a deeper and chronic medical condition was with my horse.
I called a vet I trusted.
It’s colic. No food today and 10ml Buscopena intra-muscular.
Hmm, are you sure? I do not think this is colic.
No food today.
Something in my gut told me that was wrong. He had no other colic symptoms. No temperature. No sweating. No pain signals. A normal horse happy and healthy, who cannot shit solid. The confusion and fear was real.
I called my mate Amanda, another trainer in this area who welcomed me to Spain with open arms and proceeded to work with me on projects. Now a close friend. She gave me the number to a different vet she trusted totally. I wrote him.
He immediately cleared his schedule and raced out to see us. The other vet? Despite my clear begging for further diagnostics, I never got a reply.
This new vet showed up. Young, horse loving and smart. He took blood and sterile fecal samples (internal) and performed a field ultrasound. Sanson’s colon wall was more than twice the healthy thickness and starting to fold in on its self. He needed to rule out any management or diet related causes within my responsibility to remedy.
He checked the paddock- immaculate, spacious and flat.
He checked the hay. Clean and dry, good quality.
He checked carefully Sanson’s daily supplements. Everything was perfect. I had done everything right it seemed.
It is either colitis or Salmonella he said. We hope it is Colitis.
It’s not. It’s Salmonella.
Sanson has Salmonellosis. In horses it is a chronic and incurable condition. Alone it doesn’t pose threat to his life but the chronic symptoms can. The diarrhea exposes horses to chronic malnutrition and dehydration. Thankfully the supplements I feed have been fighting this. However colic in a Salmonella positive horse is almost always fast acting and fatal. It means I have zero room for error in this horses care. He cannot colic, period. If he does he will need emergency surgury within a short space of time and the closest equine Hospital is a two hour drive away and I do not have a horse float (yet).
My vet was emphatic and clear. Based upon the clarity of diagnosis and his presenting symptoms Sanson has had this condition for a long time. This was not a new infection, he said. He has likely had this for years, not months he said. He was clear that this is a very serious diagnosis. He was also clear that Sanson still has a chance to live a long and relatively normal life. He cannot ever colic. I must be immaculate in his care. My standard for his nutrition, welfare and daily life must be absolutely uncompromising.
Luckily enough, I was doing that anyway.
The vet said that he is in amazing physical condition despite the diagnosis which surprised him that I have managed this alone so long. His bloodwork is perfect. Prior to routine worming, no serious parasitic burdens showed up on tests. He needs a low stress lifestyle and lots and lots of exercise. Business as usual… almost. He said DO NOT play doctor google and ‘Go Crazy’ on the internet because most of what is written about Salmonellosis in Equines is inaccurate and ignorant fear mongering. I urge any reader to follow my vets instructions, I will not pay attention to panicking readers with patronising and inaccurate advise. He gave me a link to an American Veterinary website and said that is the only thing to read. He did a great job in keeping me calm and focused on Sanson’s care. Because when he gave me the diagnosis my gut dropped, my scalp crawled and I almost fell apart right then and there. Almost.
The sad part is, he is infectious to other horses. Horses get Salmonellosis from direct horse to horse contact. Sanson is not terribly social. He likes to be with other horses, but has never strongly buddied up to a single horse or herd, has no problem being alone compared to most, and if anything would rather other horses were an unmolesting presence in his life. Thank god. He lived for many years with another mare, only her, and was intimately with her for a couple of years. Sadly before I took Sanson to Poland she passed away suddenly.
We will never know how Sanson got this. Ever. I have only speculations and guesses. Not enough to write about. Sanson lived with approximately 50 other horses during the time I have owned him, spread out over 3 different stables, none of them present any symptoms. A Salmonella positive horse, once infected, I am told by my vet will present symptoms within 3 days. If the horse has no symptoms, we have no diagnosis. No other horse Sanson has lived with in Poland had mysterious chronic diarrhea.
Ultimately the past is not important. Neither is the future. Only the present. In the present Sanson is healthy (sick), happy and amazing. He is generous and bright in trainings. Relaxed and solid under saddle. Creative, strong and powerful. His appetite is tremendous and he is nothing short of my miracle horse.
That is my balance. Yin & Yang. I am blessed by knowing this horse and his daily gifts for me. Our relationship and bond, our adventures and training has and continues to change my life and show me the way forwards. He is cursed by this awful incurable disease in which, given the wrong and tragic set of circumstances, could kill him in a single afternoon. But he is also blessed with an owner who will stop at nothing and nobody, even a close friend, to provide for his needs first. I am cursed with the burden of checking his tail everyday, my stomach lurching if I see unformed droppings, my adreniline pumping if his anus is not dry.
Incredibly, without his diarrhea, he is an example of health. He makes chronic illness look good. This was taken earlier this week:
This is my balance in life. Perhaps those that resent my drive, my success and my stubbornness (They exist) celebrate upon this news. After all my bombastic and robust boasting about my dream horse, some (evil) frenemies might be thinking ha! Serve him right for boasting!. That is my balance. I continue to boast about my horse. Because he is perfect and boastable.
Everyday with Sanson is special now. It already was. Not a single moment with him- ever- since I met him has skipped me by without this overwhelming awareness of how lucky I am to know him. How he makes me feel inside when we work together and ride together. It is like soaking in a warm bath after a cold day. I feel at peace in myself. Protected and loved. I know this horse would never do me wrong, ever. I know he knows who he is looking at when he looks at me. It is a silent understanding that he offers me that I have never, not ever gotten from a human, ever except my partner Miki and I put a ring on it quick smart! It is unconditional. Probably only my mother comes close to replicating the enduring acceptance and understanding. This horse knows who I am inside. He knows that I am good, even when I forget. He reminds me everyday that I am good, that life is good. That life is worth living and fighting for. He opens my heart and a river of creativity and warmth flows from it and only being with this horse does that for me. I love all horses. But no others have done this much for me yet. His life hangs in a delicate daily balance, yet she strides through it, through all the changes and symptoms with grace. My vet says he saw Salmonella positive horses at the Equine sections of Clinical Veterinary Hospital University of Córdoba, that were well into their 20’s. In rare cases, he said, Salmonella positive horses can suddenly lose appetite, drop weight, and go down very quickly, the infection just overwhelming their system. Every day that Sanson looks forwards to his meals and hay is a blessing. That is my balance. My Yin & Yang.
The main tragedy is he is infectious to other horses. When I finally have my own farm, and move him at home, I cannot ever keep him in a herd. I can have him within eye shot of other horses, but I cannot risk my future herd contracting this. Sanson will be special needs for life. If this disease ever created unhappiness for him, I will always do right by him. He is my dream and also now my worst nightmare. That is my balance. My Yin & Yang.
He is only 10 years old. I will pull out all the stops to get him to 25-30 and beyond. In the meantime, I miss no moment to say,
Thank you buddy.
Though all of this life has gone on and we moved into a wonderful mountain cabin, a cosy dream home, mostly because our old apartment was infected with black mould, was making me chronically exhausted and gave our cats and smallest dogs bronchial infections. Yin & Yang. My old car broke, and it took 6 weeks of rental cars and walking to Sanson before a newer, better, cheaper to run car was bought. I made new friends who I adore and old friends got diagnosed with terminal cancer. (That’s a whole other story). That is my Yin & Yang.
Also, I let go of some work opportunities and gained my dream job. Taking it means scaling back the possibilities for similar work closer to home. But in my heart I feel taking this new job is the right choice, with a more predictable income. I am not a rich man. Yet to make my bigger dreams come true I need more savings than sunshine and promises can give me.
On the 9th December I begin seasonal work in one of the highest villages in Spain, at a mountain trekking trail head/stables. It is called Sierra Trails and run by a lady called Dallas Love. They are doing it about 30 years, mostly with minimal staff, just her, her brother Mordecai and a friend. They run highly structured and long distance overnight treks into the Sierra Nevada and surrounding wildnerness areas on well bred and thoroughly trained PRE horses. Last week they advertised for a Groom/Rider and I applied. I went up and visited for a morning and worked one of their horses (Also a green Breton like Sanson with problems staying calm) and got the job, and shook hands on terms with Dallas. I have often dreamed of working there. It was almost surreal shaking hands and smiling with Dallas about a winter of hard work together to look forward to, under the bright shadow of Spain tallest mountain, Mulhacen.
I am very grateful and happy to have the job. It allows me to keep all the clients I have, whilst adding high quality horse work to my daily routine, with an experienced and hardworking horsewomen, with a no nonsense attitude. The chance to work directly with her and be guided by her in exercising her horses to her standards is a fantastic opportunity for me to grow as a horseman. The hours are flexible and don’t require 5 or 6am starts. I am about to be very busy and I hope to honour Dallas giving me this opportunity. Here is their website if you want to learn more about them.
We have now a new normal.
But now I must dream new dreams. Then make them happen.
For those who want to know Sanson’s daily management practises for his Salmonellosis, read below.
If you know friends with horses with chronic diarrhea that has no explanations, send them this blog and get them in touch with me. This is incurable but manageable! You need the right type of vet to diagnose this.
I want to show how I manage this rare and chronic disease daily to keep my horses symptoms in check and keep him alive.
SANSONS NEW NORMAL
LIVING WITH SALMONELLOSIS
Step 1: PERFECT PADDOCK
Poop picked down to zero, daily. Sometimes twice or three times. Salmonella horses need absolutely immaculate living conditions. Funnily enough this is a good habit for owners of healthy horses too!
Whatever space you’re working with, there needs to be ample room for all horses. Sufficient space and free from chronic noise or activity stress. Sanson lives in a very quiet corner of my friends farm, visited only by myself and her family. 99% of the day is absolutely quiet.
Step 2: SEPARATE AT RISK HORSES
If you have loved up horses and they touch each other regularly, separate them. If they do not touch each other, they can remain. But in clean paddocks. Chenel and Sani like each other but do not touch. Sanson is ‘dominant’ and pushed chenel off all resources and maintains his personal space well so far. Attaboy. If that changes I will separate them.
Step 3: FORAGE
Provide forage ALWAYS. Salmonella horses need ad-lib forage in slow feeders to prevent colic. Colic cannot happen in a Salmonella positive horse. They will not survive it.
The forage needs to be grain free (so in Spain that means avoiding foraje) and immaculate. Absolutely zero mould or rot. Zero. Sanson has access to clean Barley Straw in slow feeders
During the day he is tethered on terraces. The terraces have grazing of 100% organic non-industrial grasses, plants and herbs. We are going to prepare a day paddock to have unlimited day grazing on these organic terraces. This makes a huge difference for a Salmonella horses ability to fight the bad bacteria in their gut, the ability to self select natural non-industrialised or improved pastures. STAY AWAY FROM LUSH GREEN DAIRY PASTURE!
Consequently, these practises are excellent for healthy horses as well
Step 3: REINFORCED DIET
We need to help the horse fight the bacteria in their gut, stay in good body condition and stay as healthy and robust as possible. This means:
– 100% grain free hard feeds
– properly balanced supplements designed for gut health and forage based horses
– anti-inflammatory agents
– regular feeding
Sanson gets daily (split into two meals):
- 500g TopSpec Comprehensive balancer (From Zafiro Equestrian in Mijas)
- 3 kgs TopSpec Ulsakind Cubes (INCREDIBLE STUFF! Also from Zafiro Equestrian, Mijas)
- 50ml Coldpressed Linseed oil
- 30g raw unprocessed Turmeric Powder
- 30g electrolytes
- 20-40g probiotics (SYNBIOVIT by TRM… the best you can get!)
- Step 4: MEDICATE ACUTE SYMPTOMS
When the Salmonella bacteria is shedding and causing diarrhea over the top of everything described above, it means the body needs help fighting beyond good diet and lifestyle. In acute symptoms I will do one or all of the following:
– 5-10 tablets of Cytotec. In humans this is a dangerous abortive pill. The Farmacia here was very suspicious when I first asked for it. Now, they know it is for my horse and get it for me easily. Women handling this drug need to be very careful, I wash my hands in alcohol after to be sure. This drug in horses controls the cell walls of the colon and increases their ability to absorb water, thus stopping diarrhea due to colonic inflammation- triggered by the Salmonella.
I crush the tablets into a powder, make a liquid, and syringe it to Sanson orally. First he gets a wee handful of his feed. Then a 5-10ml squirt of the drug. I do this in 4-6 rounds until all liquid and powder is gone. When I did it in one huge syringe he was able to spit or slurp some of the drugs out. Doing many small doses makes sure he gets everything and wastes nothing.
He is a VERY good boy about it, as is his way with me. He now opens his mouth for me and helps me give him the syringe. He now never spits a drop. He stands quiet. Between portions he follows me and stands waiting… begging almost, like this—
In very bad days I will buffer this with 10-20mg of Buscopena done intramuscular via the neck. This relaxes all intestines and keeps colic away.
Step 5: CHRONIC MANAGEMENT
Sanson’s body needs abundant healthy and strong bacteria to fight the Salmonella and keep its burden in his system low. We do this with Probiotics, which Sanson must get for his whole life. In 3 days my vet got me 5-7 months supply of SYNBIOVIT by TRM. The same I used to give him in Poland (When I could afford it). These accumulate in the system over the first month and fight the Salmonella. I am also looking into other alternative therapies for fighting this such as CBD oil and MMS. Lifestyle and good grazing helps. I also sometimes syringe the SYNBIOVIT as a liquid into his mouth to make sure none is missed.
Step 6: LOVE YOUR HORSE AND EXERCISE DAILY
If Sanson is not moving a lot in his paddock he needs daily movement to control gut inflammation. I do a minimum 20 minutes at a trot or canter every morning. Consequently, he is getting beautifully fit and full of muscle to boot.
There is still much I am yet to learn about this. This is just our management system so far. If you have experience with chronic Salmonella infection and successfully managing it long term PLEASE write me!