The Battle to Save Paddy


Patrick Murphy, aka Paddy, is my perfect horse. A Clyde/TB cross, he was the best of both breeds–the unflappable nature of the draft with the strong work ethic of the Thoroughbred. He is strikingly handsome with a wide blaze, four white stockings, and a rich mahogany color which dapples in the Spring. Because of his generous nature, Paddy has experienced a little fox hunting (not my thing!), pony club rallies, low-level eventing, and dressage. He threw his heart into each one and did well, despite not being the expected “type.” About seven years ago or so, things fell apart. He had never been sick or lame aside from a frightening bout of Potomac Fever over Thanksgiving weekend, but now he wasn’t acting quite right. He was struggling. The first big shock was a diagnosis of EPM–a debilitating neurological disease from a protozoa which attacks the brain, spinal column and nervous system. He underwent immediate and aggressive treatment, which at one low-water mark left him nearly paralyzed. It took me twenty minutes to walk him from a small turn-out lot back into his stall, only feet away. But he survived did not sustain any permanent nerve damage that I could discern.

The long road to returning him to fitness was going well, when he became lame on a hind leg, which eventually was diagnosed as having bone chips. He underwent orthoscopic surgery and was confined to a stall for another four months, followed by a slow process of bringing him back to fitness. But it was all worthwhile because he is such a kind, giving horse.

Now, I am facing a war on two battle fronts. Paddy started having a terrible time breathing and I thought it was lack of fitness. It wasn’t–his airways were clogged with mucus and had constricted so that he was breathing through a soda straw. After calling in a vet specializing in respiratory and heart diseases to examine him for “exercise intolerance” and undergoing a series of diagnostic tests not unlike water boarding the poor horse, he was diagnosed with what is like human COPD or Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD) or Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO). He was put on a course of oral Prednisolone (which can increase risk of laminitis) followed by inhalant therapy. I bought a HayGain hay steamer and moved him to the end stall. He was better this Spring, but now the hot, humid and allergy triggering weather has hit, he has relapsed. His respiration is shallow and rapid, even on bronchodilators.

To add more to the challenge, he did have a laminitis episode and now he has also been diagnosed with Insulin Resistance (IR). His feeding regime has been changed to low starch and sugar feed, no carrot or apple treats, and limited turn-out just in the evening. It is like fighting two diseases with opposite treatments: he should be out for the respiration, but not eating grass. He should be exercised regularly for the IR, but he can’t breath. I’m instructed to canter him a bit on the lunge to purge his lungs if possible, but his respiration went up to 70 rpm right away.

People have suggested “just putting him down” to cut the vet expenses, but I think there’s still room for hope. He is sound. If he gets through allergy season and we get the breathing open again, I can work on fitness and weight reduction.  And he’s worth it.


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