Stetson is a 29 year-old Quarter horse who spent most of his life as a lesson horse at a local stable, helping to teach people how to ride. He developed Cushings, which the owner treated, but when Stetson developed neurological issues at the age of 25 and would start tripping, it was obvious that he was no longer safe to ride. The owner first tried to sell him, but he tripped very badly and went down while she was showing him to a prospective buyer. She contacted Hanaeleh to see if we could take him. Even though he had made the owner a lot of money through giving people lessons, his future was uncertain.
There are some incredibly wonderful horse trainers in the world. These trainers take excellent care of their horses, and make sure to provide a retirement for them. Some trainers, however, do not have the foresight to make accommodations for their horses once the horses are no longer physically able to do their job, and many of these horses end up at auction, at risk of being sent to slaughter. Unfortunately for so many of them, their reward for working their best for humans for their entire life is a horrific end.
Thankfully, four years ago we were there to help Stetson find a new home. He was adopted by a wonderful woman who was hoping that he would work as a companion horse for her other horse. Unfortunately, Stetson quickly became attached to her horse, so it was impossible for her to take her other horse out as Stetson would run around in the stall and hurt himself if he was left alone. After trying many different ways to get him to adjust, after about six months, it was apparent that it just wasn’t a good fit, and we brought Stetson to Hanaeleh.
Stetson has had some difficulties because of both his Cushings diagnosis and his neurological issues. We had to push up his medication several times over the past three years, but his condition finally stabilized, so we finally have that under control.
We cannot do much about his neurological issues- the vet believes that was most likely caused by a standing martingale- this is a strip of leather that is strung from the noseband of the bridle down to the girth while the horse is being ridden. To the untrained eye, a standing martingale might make the horse look like he is on the bit and have a pretty headset, in reality he is often on his forehand and behind the bit, creating a hollow and unbalanced back.
The idea behind a standing martingale is that it prevents the horse from raising his head up- unfortunately, it keeps the head in an unnatural position and does not allow the horse to stretch or relax, leading to pinched nerves and other issues. The vet believes that the standing martingale- from either years of use, being too tight, or just being used in general- is what led to the pinched nerves in his neck, and from that Stetson developed his neurological issues. Sadly, there is nothing we can do to reverse this damage. The best we can do to manage his condition is to feed him high doses of Vitamin E and to help support his compromised immune system with other vitamins and supplements.
One of the most difficult things to manage with Stetson is his weight. He had been doing well, but he had some major losses which led him to becoming depressed and stop eating. First, his friend, Aurora, passed away. He was very upset over that, but the following year his new girlfriend, Onyx, passed away and he became completely despondent.
Stetson refused to eat, even his grain, and we were afraid we were going to lose him. We tried moving other horses up next to him, but he would attack them, almost tearing the stall down. Finally, we moved him next to Hope and Grace, thinking that he would enjoy being around other mares, and he seemed to like them pretty well, and he began eating again. He was still very tense and nervous, would not completely settle down, and he became actually too attached to Hope and Grace. When we tried to take either mare out of the paddock, even if it was just to groom her at the tie rail right in front of Stetson’s stall, he would run around the stall and hurt himself. Thinking that he might like to be in the paddock with them, we tried to introduce him in there, but within seconds he began attacking both of the girls, and we had to immediately separate them again.
We had Stetson on some holistic calming medication, but finally the vet prescribed some stronger medication to help calm him down- it took a few weeks, and it was very expensive, but it finally calmed him down a bit. He still would get very upset if we took Hope or Grace out of the stall, however, and he would still sometimes refuse to eat, so we knew we had to do something else.
Instead of putting him next to mares this time, we put him in a stall surrounded by geldings, multiple geldings – Rio, Ulysses, Quixote and Lou Dillon – so if we pulled one horse out, there were other horses there to keep him company. Et voilà- he was calmer almost immediately, and within a few weeks he was eating well again.
A short time later he went on hunger strike again for no apparent reason, refusing to eat hardly anything. We finally got him to start eating a scoopful of grain a few times a day. He seemed more interested in the grain with molasses, but we didn’t want to give him too much of that as he is insulin resistant, and that would cause other issues.
He still seemed to pine for Onyx, and there wasn’t much more we knew to do. The vet confirmed that there wasn’t anything physically wrong with him (like an ulcer) that would prevent him from eating. He was wasting away, losing muscle, and didn’t want to work at all in the arena or round pen. We were pretty certain we were going to lose him.
And then, a few months ago, Stetson began eating well again. We didn’t question our good fortune, but instead increased his grain, then added some pellets to it. Now he eats 15 pounds of grain a day and 6 pounds of timothy pellets. He once again had more energy, and we were able to work him in the arena. For several weeks we just walked and trotted him, but recently he has started to run around in the arena, letting us know he is feeling better.
Stetson will never be able to be ridden again, and the best we can do for him is to try our best to keep him as healthy as possible. Right now we seem to have found a good combination for him- he gets turned out everyday and he has his favorite volunteer, Catie, who loves him and comes out several times a week to groom him. Stetson still gets excited when he is next to Hope and Grace, however, so we groom him near his stall rather than down next to the “girls.” He seems content now, however, so we are hopeful that Stetson will continue to improve and enjoy his retirement with us.
Stetson would LOVE a sponsor. Did you know that you can sponsor him for as little as $10/month? Click here to learn more and sign up!