Leggs, a beautiful Tennessee Walking horse, came to live with us in July 1998. Owning a horse had been a life-long dream and I jumped in with both feet. He had been a show horse in Tennessee and Alabama and we planned on competing in local shows here in Texas.
From the first moment I saw him, I fell in
love. Technically referred to as sorrel, he
Over the next couple of months, I learned the art of grooming, figured out which way a saddle went, and tried to “feel” the different gaits. We lavished Leggs with attention, worked and played with him every day, and he learned to love and trust us. We noticed a few odd things, like the way he often fell asleep in the cross-ties and how sometimes he seemed to "run out of gas", but we figured it was because he was still young (nappy time, we called it) and that maybe the heat was getting to him. Of course, he was still twisting and popping, but we had already explained that, hadn’t we?
We worked hard and come October we entered our first show together. I was nervous, he was an old pro. After two classes someone asked me what was wrong with him. “Oh, that’s just the way he walks.” After four, it was painfully obvious. The twisting was horrible, he started to hitch, he looked terrible. I scratched the rest of the show, cried for hours, and made an appointment for the vet. Everyone figured it was a stifle problem, maybe ligament or tendon problems, a few x-rays would tell the tale.
We went to Waller Texas where we met our new
best friend. Doctor Collier examined Leggs, did a few physical tests,
and suggested x-rays. They came back perfect. How odd.
We really expected a stifle problem. Well, Doc didn’t beat around
the bush, heck, he never got close to the bush. He told us that we
could do some more x-rays to rule out other possibilities, but he felt
sure it was a neurological disease called EPM. Silence. No
one said a word. My trainer looked faint, the Assistant Manager paled,
my husband stared at the ground, and tears rolled down my face. None
of the four of us had ever heard of this, but we knew it wasn’t good.
We did the extra x-rays which came back fine, Doc loaded us up with information
on EPM, scheduled an appointment for a spinal tap, and sent us down the
road with this beautiful creature who had become my best friend, and what
felt like a death sentence. A few days later my sister and our Trainer
took Leggs back for his spinal tap. I was too chicken to witness
it. I couldn’t bear the thought of them forcing my baby on the ground
and sticking a 2-3 inch needle in his
I was brought up in church, went every time the doors opened, but had drifted away during my young adult years and never went back. If you can say anything good about our EPM experience, it would be that it brought me back to the Lord. I still don’t go to church, but from this day on, Leggs and I pray in his stall on a regular basis. It sounds weird, but he loves it. He hangs his head near mine and closes his eyes. I’m not a nut, he really does. He also loves to hear Amazing Grace. I’ve made a point of learning two versus because I got tired of singing the first one over and over. One of the things Doc told us about EPM was that stress was a major factor, so anything that would calm Leggs, we did.
Our trainer took Leggs to Waller on October 26, 1998. He was to spend 3 weeks with Doc and be treated with the new drug diclazuril. The treatment consisted of 2 doses a day, via stomach tube, for 21 days. Those three weeks were terrible. I knew Doc would take care of him, I knew the facility was top-notch, I knew he was getting the best, most aggressive treatment possible, but nothing helped. I had not been more than 5 minutes away from him since he came to live with us. He had come to expect me to be there every evening after his dinner. How would he understand that I just didn’t send him away? That Saturday I drove 2 hours (round trip) to see him. He felt bad, he was dirty from laying down, and his poop smelled like something died three days prior. I stayed in his stall and cried while I cleaned him up. You could tell he enjoyed the grooming and it was obvious that he was glad to see me, but he felt so bad he just hung his head to the ground. I left after 2 hours and cried the whole way home. The next Saturday showed a world of difference. His coat was dull and dirty, but his attitude was wonderful. He proceeded to pull everything out of his tack box (twice) while I groomed him. He was alert, curious, and active. The next week he was unstoppable. Things were looking up, and that Monday I could bring him home.
He came home November 21, 1998 and everyone
at the stables stopped by to say hello. We made it through the treatment
(some don’t) and now it was up to us. Little did we know. Doc
told us no riding for the first month, so we walked. And walked,
and walked. It was too dangerous to let him loose, so we hand walked
him and let him graze for hours at the end of a lead rope. He looked
good. Slight twist, but that was about it. By January we were
ready to ride. We started riding Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday
for about 20-30 minutes each time. Mostly walking but once in a while
we’d gait. On the days we didn’t ride, we walked. At the end
of January he had his first “bad day”. Real wobbly, major twisting,
and hitching. We attributed it to the weather. A cold front
was coming in and well, the next day he was fine. No signs of the
previous day. February came around and he continued to have “bad
days”. We tried blaming it on the weather, but that didn’t last for
long. Even the weather in Texas didn’t change as quick as he did.
One day he looked like he was about ready to fall over and the next he
was fine. Sometimes the “bad day” lasted several days, sometimes
only hours. Of course I was out there every day and I saw everything.
Friends, family and stablemates only saw him occasionally (usually on his
“good days”) and they couldn’t understand
Then Leggs started coming up with new symptoms. Sometimes he’d drag his right rear leg or he’d stand with it way behind him or maybe off to the side. Later we found out that during the treatment, the “bugs” die (hopefully) and leave a space or void in the spinal column. Sometimes this space fills with fluid and causes symptoms to show up. This can happen very quickly, hence the fact that in the morning he’d look ready to fall over and by afternoon he’d be fine. I wish I had know this a long time ago. It would have saved on the tears and gray hair.
Well, by the end of February we had decided that he was still sick. There was no way around it. We stopped riding several weeks prior, he looked awful, and every day he seemed to have a new and improved symptom. I was a wreck, he was a mess, our friends quit asking how he was cause the answer was always “Not Good”, we had hit a low point. We were already planning on how to afford the cost of a second treatment.
The most frustrating thing about EPM is nobody has answers to your questions. By the first of March everyone was mentally wore out. Our trainer just shrugged or shook his head, Doc’s answer was “Wait for the test”, some friends tried to stay positive while others confirmed our fears that he did indeed look terribly ill. All we could do was wait, walk, and pray. Every evening we would walk around the arena and pray and sing. One night we were in his stall and I started to cry, mostly out of fear and frustration, but also out of guilt. I’ve always felt that Leggs came to us for a reason. I knew deep down that there was something wrong with him and he was depending on me to make him well, but I had let him down. One thing about Leggs though, you didn’t cry alone. He was always there to lick the salty tears off my face.
We finally scheduled the second spinal tap
for March 15, 1999, 3 months and 3 weeks after the treatment. I took
the day off, gave him a good bubble bath, shaved his whiskers, and fed
him all the bananas, apples, and carrots he wanted. I had decided
that I would be by his side for the second spinal tap. I owed it
to him. When we got there Doc put him through several physical tests.
He was beautiful. Running, prancing, gaiting, like I’ve never seen
before. Our Trainer and I stood in awe. Surely this was not
the same horse that wiggled and wobbled. He made liars out of us
is what he did. We couldn’t have been more pleased. Two weeks
ago we were making plans to retreat him, I had been making extra trips
late at night to the barn to check on him, making sure he was still standing,
and now he’s running around like a race horse. Doc was as pleased
with his behavior as we were perplexed. Thanks to Doc’s steady hand
and the skill and patience of his Assistants, the spinal tap was a piece
of cake. Leggs lay easily on the ground, Doc inserted the needle
just behind the ears, drew off some fluid, taped a cotton ball on his head,
and left me and another Doctor to wait for him to wake up. An Assistant
stood over Leggs and shielded his eyes from the sun the entire time.
Now it’s March 22, 1999. The results are back and they’re negative. Never in a million years would I have believed it to be possible. We understand that there is a chance of relapse, and he is still showing symptoms now and then. Doc says the twist may never go away and we may never go back into the show ring. I don’t care. My best friend has a new lease on life and I plan on making him the happiest, healthiest horse in the world.
I want to thank Doctor Billy Collier and the
wonderful staff at Collier
Leggs is my best friend and I know every time
I look into his eyes, all this was worth it.