Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Zipper's Story: Laminitis, Coxofemoral Luxation, and Crankiness

Last week, a post on Eventing Nation really resonated with me. On Friday, I asked what you thought of that post. I also mentioned that that post really got me thinking and wanting to write more about it. In this post, I'd like to tell you more about my Miniature Horse, Zipper, the horse that has tamed me.

When I was 12 years old I asked my parents if I could get a horse. I'd grown up having dogs and being an animal lover, but the request was completely out of the blue. Now, don't worry, this isn't a parents-spoil-their-kid-and-buy-her-whatever-she-wants kind of story. In the back of my head I knew that we didn't have the money, the land, or the experience to own a horse and my parents sure knew that too, but I asked anyway. Being the sensible people that they are, they said no; and I'm glad that they did because it made me work for it. However, the seed had already been planted in my mind, and from that moment on I was determined to own my own horse.
I spent the next year saving up money I earned from odd jobs - mostly babysitting. One day that summer my mom came home from work and found me pulling weeds in the small patch of land adjacent to our detached garage. She asked what I was doing and I told her, “This is where my future horse is going to go!” She resigned to just sigh and proceed into the house, but I think from that moment on she knew I was totally serious. I continued clearing the "paddock" for the rest of the summer and I spent the fall cleaning out our garage (that made my parents quite happy.) I was going to build a stall in the back of the garage where there was already a little dutch door leading out the side and into the future paddock area. In the spring we enlisted the help of a family friend to help us build the stall and by then there was no turning back - my parents finally caved in and I was allowed to purchase a horse! There were just a few minor details to work out...
By then I had saved up a decent sum of money (for a 13 year old), but I still didn't have enough to pay for the fencing in addition to the horse. The other problem was that our little acre-and-a-quarter really just wouldn't give a horse enough room. The solution: get a Mini. My parents agreed to pay for the fencing.

That summer my mom, sister, and I went horse hunting. After visiting several farms and looking at a number of candidates, we welcomed Zipper in the fall of 2002. Zipper was a 5 year old mare, as smart and sassy as they come.
I continued to pay for Zipper out of my own pocket - hay, grain, shavings, farrier, and vet care - it all came from my babysitting earnings and eventually a job mucking stalls for a small local barn. I fed her and let her out into the paddock before I went to school everyday, mucked out her stall and groomed her when I came home, and fed her and shut her in for the night before I went to bed. On the weekends I'd hitch her up to a little cart and we'd go driving around town.
And sometimes in parades!
One day before school, about three years into Zipper-ownership, I went to take care of her before school as usual and I found her lying down in her stall unwilling to get up. This was highly uncharacteristic; I was used to her pacing her stall anticipating her morning ration. I finally encouraged her to get up and take a few steps and could immediately see she was having trouble walking. Overnight my little mare had gone from perfectly sound to looking like she was walking on eggshells.
Very fat and very sassy
For any experienced horse owner the phrase 'walking on eggshells' is sure to elicit a sense of dread, but at the time I had no idea what was going on. My instinct told me something was wrong with her hooves so the first thing I did was call the farrier. The farrier arrived, took one look at her and said, "laminitis." That was the first time I'd heard of laminitis, and regrettably not the last.
We called our vet who came quickly and prescribed a regimen of banamine, icing, and stall rest. The vet could find no obvious triggers for the laminitis - she hadn't broken into the feed room or eaten black walnut shavings - but she was seriously fat. I was unaware at that point of how out of control her weight had gotten. As with many cases of laminitis, we'll never know what caused it. There are many factors that can lead to the development of laminitis, yet no concrete "cause".
Doesn't everyone pose with their pony and their dog in their church clothes?
We did a lot of supportive care for Zipper, all of which I believe played an important part in her recovery, but one of the key things we did was change her diet. It was my farrier that was able to recommend an excellent ration balancer that we switched her to and we decreased her hay intake as well. It took weeks (if not months) and a lot of supportive care and checkup x-rays, but eventually she made a full recovery.

Zipper and I enjoyed three more years driving around town and I even brought her to college with me at the University of Vermont, but in my second year of college we had another major setback.
UVM Homecoming demonstration Fall, 2007 - our last drive.
I found Zipper in her stall standing on 3-legs one night. She was pretty bright, but in obvious discomfort - she was not particularly interested in her hay, and when a Mini isn't interested in food you know something is wrong! I made her as comfortable as possible and called the vet first thing in the morning. We treated it as an abscess at first (an obvious choice given her three-legged presentation) to no avail. Over the next month we gradually ruled out a lot of causes as we worked our way up the leg with various diagnostics. Other than being resigned to stall rest (which for a Mini in a 12x12 stall isn't too big a deal) she seemed fairly comfortable given her obvious lameness - she was eating like a pig again after that first night and was alway bright, alert, and opinionated. Finally the field vet couldn't do anything more and we were referred to Myhre Equine Clinic.
Note the teeny standing wraps that a barn mate helped me make. 
A bone scan (nuclear scintigraphy) revealed that she had dislocated (luxated) her hip (coxofemoral joint). With her pain being managed and her spunky personality still intact we opted for her to undergo surgery. The joint had been displaced too long for it to be popped back into the socket (though Dr. Myhre tried!) so he opted instead to resect the head of the femur - leaving her essentially without a bony hip joint and to develop a 'false' joint over time. After recovery from anesthesia, she was actually immediately more comfortable - it was quite impressive. Though I had gone back up to school for midterms after dropping Zipper off at the clinic, my mom stayed at there and actually watched Zipper's surgery AND an emergency colic surgery that they had to perform before hand!

Cranomedial view of Zipper's left coxofemoral joint.
You can see that the head of femur is above and to the right of where it should be sitting.  
It took a lot of patience and a lot of time, but we helped Zipper along in her recovery through physical therapy, supportive medications, and good nutrition. Keeping her on a strict diet and keeping her weight in check was imperative at this point.
Just a few years ago in 2011 we had another laminitis scare. Not due to her weight gain this time, but more due to the stress on her 'good' leg. Because of her bad hip Zipper now carries more weight on the opposite leg. The increased weight bearing on that leg causes the hoof wall on that side to grow faster. Despite regular trimming, the hoof wall had grown in such a way that a crack was developing along the white line. It looked innocuous enough from the outside, but I was worried and I took her back up to back Dr. Myhre to check up on it.
Poor pony not feeling to hot, but very glad for a nap.
Dr. Myhre took some radiographs and found that the crack went far enough up that the coffin bone had rotated downward as a result - technically it was laminitis again. This time it was mechanically related, as opposed to metabolically related. We did a series of hoof wall resections in order to take away the excess hoof and help reposition the coffin bone. It took many months, hoof soakings, and wrappings, but we eventually grew a new hoof!
After the first hoof wall resection.
Before the first hoof wall resection. Crack = problem.

We decided to pull some bloodwork on Zipper at the same time we were doing the hoof wall resections. Cushing’s Disease can make horses more prone to developing laminitis; Dr. Myhre and I were both curious to see if this could be part of Zipper’s case. Indeed, her bloodwork showed elevated levels of the hormones that are key in Cushing's and she was deemed “Cushingoid.”
Second hoof wall resection. Before (left) and after (right)
Naked hood capsule and a lovely betadine dye-job
Throughout all of this, Zipper remained her sassy and spunky little self. It's a lot of money and time to put into a little horse, but Zipper made it clear all along that she would just deal with it and keep on trucking. At one point Dr. Myhre said to me, "She's just cranky enough to stay with you a good long time." That sentence has stuck with me because it couldn't be more true. She's a cranky little fighter and I love her for it. If at any point Zipper had made it clear that she didn't want to fight anymore, we may have had to make different decisions. I'm sure glad that she has wanted to stick around though, because I love her dearly.
Enjoying the labors of a freshly shoveled driveway. 2015.
Now 18 years old, Zipper still lives in my parent's front yard in the paddock attached to the garage; although now she shares her space with Billy Boomer the goat. He keeps her young and they can frequently be seen racing around the paddock together. This little horse has been with me since high school, through college, and is still kicking (literally and figuratively). Though Maggie has taken over being the focus of my equestrian pursuits, Zipper will absolutely alway have a place with me and my family because she is the horse that tamed me and that is something that no other being can replace. "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."


  1. This story was so amazing! I read every word. What a dream for a young girl to save up the money to keep a mini in a paddock attached to the garage! Very cool relationship you two have.

    1. Thanks! My dad has suggested on more than one occasion that I writes a children's book called "The Little Horse that Lives in the Garage" lol


      I also adore this story. I'm so glad you shared.

    3. Haha maybe someday I will! Gonna have to brush up on my drawing first

  2. Wow, what a story! Sounds like you're very lucky to have each other. :)

  3. Absolutely loved reading all about Zipper!

  4. love this story and your history with Zipper! she's certainly been through the wringer - and taken you along for the ride! - but she sounds like a really neat mini. glad she's doing well now!

  5. What an awesome story, and a seriously awesome little horse!

    1. She's pretty boss, not gonna lie

  6. What a great story about you two! She sounds like she's a really special girl.

  7. Aw, I loved reading this! You get Mini Mom of the Millennium award :)

    1. And you get points for alliteration there! :)