This is what Druid does best. Left to right: Emma Walsh on Pie, Nick Poss on Druid; Liam Walsh, Hayden Walsh, Connor Poss. This was the first day that Druid was ridden since his founder.

 

Druid

By Paige Poss

 

Some horses come into your life to teach a life lesson. Others come into your life to give you a college degree. Druid is just that horse… actually, pony.

The first day that I met Druid, he was miserable. He was sweaty and shaking with pain. This poor guy was the worst founder that I had ever seen.

According to X-rays, Druid's coffin bones had already rotated 18 degrees and were perilously close to penetrating the soles. Wouldn't you know it; this is when I came into the picture.

Let me go back and introduce this amazing pony. Typical of his breed, Connemara, Druid was the family pony. He did a little of everything from showing and trail riding to fox hunting. Most of all, he was excellent with his children. He was a good solid citizen, game for anything. Since Druid was a family member, his owners were willing to go the distance to save their beloved pony.

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This is what Druid looked like just before he foundered. (Notice the cresty neck and the fat pads on the shoulder and at the base of the tail.)

 

Not surprisingly, Druid was fat. Peter and Haley were not ignoring the fact that he was overweight; Druid was living in a muzzle and never got any grain. Since he was so young, only eight, no one was panicked that he was so chunky. It was disconcerting that he was fat, but not causing a panic.

Druid was your true acute laminitis case. When he crashed, he was immobilized with pain. Because Haley and Peter had never witnessed such dramatic laminitis, they called the veterinarian. Despite weeks of traditional vet care, this guy was going downhill hard and fast.

From the first day, my education began. I had dealt with many foundered horses, but this was off the scale. Druid was down 23-plus hours a day.

Unlike most foundered horses that I trim, trimming Druid gave him no relief. I soon discovered why he was so miserable. His laminae were apparently dying in large numbers and one day they were no longer capable of holding the coffin bones suspended anywhere in the hoof capsules. It was obvious what was happening because the coronary bands sank lower than the hoof walls. The depression was so deep that a marble could have been rolled all the way around the foot at the coronary band. The pressure was so great that the hoof wall was folded over and pulled down. Huge abscesses began flowing from the coronary bands. They drained so profusely that there were puddles of pus around each foot. To tell the truth, I was scared that he was going to slough his hoof capsules.

Upper: The arrow indicates the prolapsed corium. When the abscess opened on the coronary band, it was so large that it allowed the corium to prolapse.
Lower: This lateral photo, taken a few days after the front view, is what the prolapsed corium looked like as the hoof grew.

 

A few days later, the soles began to bulge in front of the frog. As the bulging increased, the soles looked like they were going to burst. Eventually, they did split. Under the flap of sole, the edge of the coffin bone was clearly visible. The alarming part of this scenario was that this was happening in all four feet.

This is what all four of Druid's feet looked like after the coffin bones penetrated. He was lying down close to 24 hours a day, and we did not encourage him to get up during this stage. We trusted him to know what was best for his feet.

Why was this pony still alive? Well, he was still alive because he had his own committee. Typical of all committees, we could never collectively agree on what day to let Druid go. Druid was being nursed by an extremely committed and dedicated woman, Catherine Mack. Catherine had invited Peter and Haley Walsh to bring Druid to her barn because she was convinced that she could save Druid, and she was willing to go the distance. Peter and Haley spent as much time as possible at the barn, and I was driving up to see him every day or two. Each day we discussed how Druid was doing. On the days that one of us was discouraged, someone else would feel like he was improving. So, the pony stayed alive and amazingly improved.

 

Day after day, Druid was a little bit better. After weeks of constant nursing, we decided to move Druid to my house to give Catherine a break.

This is what the bottom of Druid's foot looked like just eighteen days after the coffin bone had penetrated the sole. The hoof has quickly covered the exposed coffin bone in an attempt to protect it.

His feet were improving rapidly. They looked awful, but the protruding coffin bones were quickly covered by new sole and he began standing for long periods of time. His body was another story. It was becoming very clear that his feet were not the major problem.

Up to this point, I was learning more about the devastating effects of founder than I ever cared to know. I had now seen sole penetration. I had seen what sinking coffin bones looked like. I witnessed a prolapsed corium and huge pieces of foot sloughing. But I also witnessed how quickly the bones are covered by new tissue.

What I really needed to learn was that the feet are only one part of the horse and that they often only reflect bigger problems that are occurring in the body.

I also needed to learn to trust the horse. Druid knew what he needed better than any person that I asked for advice. I tried many different things with this guy, but ultimately, he led me down the correct path.

As Druid's feet improved, he began standing for longer periods of time, but he looked awful. His weight slowly declined, his shiny coat dulled, his eyes became listless. Six months into this journey, it was clear that he was not doing well. I felt like he was dying one day at a time.

I was devastated that we had gotten him this far and had let him suffer for so long to just let him go. I was torn by doubt. Why had we done this to this poor guy? I called the group and told them that I thought it was time to let Druid go. He was not getting better and he was tired. His feet, although steadily improving, had been abscessing for months; he was un-enthusiastic about his food. He was in pain and miserable. We needed to make a decision.

The four of us - Catherine, Peter, Haley and I - were basically working alone. The first veterinarian that had treated Druid had pumped him full of copious amounts of drugs, only to see him worsen. The second veterinarian would not even come to see him because she said that she would recommend euthanasia. My veterinarian had been wonderful and supportive of our efforts, but she was fresh from vet school and did not feel like she could offer any advice better than what we were doing. She happily X-rayed his feet for us, but everything that she saw Druid go through contradicted what she had recently learned in vet school.

These X-rays were taken at three month intervals. The first (18-degree rotation) shows how close the coffin bone was to penetrating the sole. The Sept. X-ray shows how the sole has grown incredibly thick in only three months time. The last X-ray shows how little rotation now exists. Druid was amazingly comfortable by this time.

Then Catherine mentioned to a friend that she thought he was bothered by ulcers. When I heard this, I decided that it was worth it to try one last thing before letting him go. I hated to give up after he endured so much. My vet thought it was very plausible that ulcers were aggravating his system, and she happily sold me ulcer medication for him. If he didn't respond, then it was time. Haley was making arrangements to bring him home to bury him. I didn't tell her to change those plans.

I gave him five doses of the medication, one per day. I had not told Haley that I was going to try this; I didn't want to give her false hope. It was definitely a last ditch effort on my part. Haley came to see him on the third day of treatment.

What she found was a pony that clearly didn't look like he needed to be put down. He was up and happily munching hay. His coat was shinier and his eyes were brighter than she had seen them in weeks. The difference in Druid was that clear.

During this same time frame, I met a holistic practitioner that started helping me with Druid. She suggested some essential oils and energy work. She worked her magic with him and suggested I begin applying the oils to the coronary bands and down his spine. Within days, the abscesses began to resolve themselves. Certain oils were used daily and others every second or third day. The oils were religiously used for three or four months. During this time his feet began to look somewhat normal, and he was moving around better than ever. Druid finally appeared to be on the mend.

I was not quite convinced that the oils were solely responsible for the improvement in the feet, so when I went out of town for a few days, I didn't ask the caretaker to put them on Druid. After four days without his oils, he was abscessing again. Two days of applying the oils again and he was immediately better. That has been a year ago, and he has never abscessed again.

The oils, ulcer medication and energy work were all started at the beginning of Nov. of 2003. By March of 2004, Druid was trotting and bucking around the pasture. He even frightened my family and me when he first started moving around more freely: For months prior, he had been loose in the barn yard and never ventured more than a few feet from his food and water. One evening I went to give him dinner and he was no where to be found. This started a frantic search around the property only to find him happily napping right next to the house. He had never gone a fraction of this distance before. We thought we had lost him.

The other extremely important factor affecting Druid's road to recovery was learning to feed him. Thanks to the invaluable information on www.safergrass.org and the equine Cushing's yahoo e-group, I was able to stabilize Druid's diet so that he could continue to heal.

Druid returned home in March of 2004. I was given the privilege of the first ride since his recovery in April of 2004. This occurred just ten months from when the coffin bones had penetrated the soles of his feet. That was a very memorable day! Druid voluntarily trotted and was eager to bother some cows.

Current photos of Druid's feet

Today, Druid is doing very well. He is back to being a trusted member of the family and is frequently trail ridden. This past fall he went Beagling with the kids (Fox Hunting for children). I make a point to ride with Haley every month or so, and Druid is usually my mount. He may be dependable and un-flappable, but he makes sure you don't take this for granted. I have been jostled more than once when he has decided to kick up his heels. His shenanigans always bring a smile to my face. I know how far he has come and I am in awe. What an amazing pony!

 

About the author:

Paige Poss is a barefoot trimmer and the author of www.ironfreehoof.com, a website devoted to teaching basic trimming skills. She is currently trimming and teaching in the northern Virginia area and working to open a large teaching facility and rehab center. You can contact Paige at paige@ironfreehoof.com or 540-364-2011.

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