Over the years there has always been one type of horse I find fascinating more than any other. And since you are reading this page, you have probably guessed by now it is in fact the Neurological Horse. Not sure how or when I first got interested, I feel a lot of it comes from my desire to always root for the underdog. And that is what a neurological horse is, is an underdog in the Equine world. An underdog in that they are not well understood (by scientists and owners alike). An underdog in that their functionality as a performance horse is limited. An underdog in that many people give up on them via euthanasia, selling them, or placing them in a rescue/sanctuary setting. Very few are willing to take on the task that is caring for a Neurological horse for life. So below we will discuss the three most common causes of Neurological disorders, and then will go into further information how we care for our Neurological friends. Our sanctuary is currently home to 4 horses of varying neurologic grades.
As previously stated there are 3 common Neurological disfunctions in the horse. EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis) is from consuming contaminated feed. Wobbler's is from a compression in their spinal cord either in the neck or back. The final and most devastating one is known as EDM (Equine Degenerative Myeloencephalopathy also known as eNAD-Equine Neuroaxonal Dystrophy) which has a genetic component but is triggered by a lack of Vitamin E in utero.
EPM is way more prevalent in the Eastern US than Western, but since horses are constantly shipped all over the US is important to understand. It is more prevalent in Eastern US as there are more opossum's there which their feces that contains the protozoal parasite Sarcocystis neurona, which then gets deposited into the grain they rummage through. Once in the equine, it spreads from the GI into the blood and attacks the central nervous system. Although it is estimated 50 percent of Equines have been exposed to EPM, only about 1 percent show the neurological symptoms. To confirm EPM, a vet needs either a blood or more definitive a spinal fluid tap to confirm EPM. There are treatments available such as Marquis and Rebalance which helps the horse recover from the neurological symptoms. If treated early, most horses can make a full or mostly full recovery. There are currently no EPM neurological horses here :).
Wobbler's is from a compression on the spinal cord either in the neck or back. There is believed to be a genetic component and they are finding a link between spinal cord compression in between C3-4 in their neck as a genetic/hereditary compression. I tend to agree since Rampage and Cassie are both Wobbler's and they are full brother and sister (I have not done X-Rays to determine where their compression is). Cassie was already in utero when Rampage was diagnosed. Wobbler's is a tough one as there is a surgery (known as Basket Surgery) which can improve the neurological grade by at least a grade or two, but there is also a lot of risk putting a neurological horse in surgery and recovery. Vitamin E is highly recommended since there is a compression to the spinal cord, the spinal tissues/nerves are also affected so the Vitamin E helps stabilize the tissue/nerves.
EDM/eNAD is probably the most devastating of the three, as by the time it is diagnosed the damage has been done and the only thing to prevent it would of had to have been done while the horse was in-utero. Once they are born, they are what they are, there is no fixing the neurological condition/no ways to improve the neurologic tendencies. Horses with this condition are usually neurologic in all four limbs but the hind limbs are more affected than the fronts. Usually by the time they turn 2-3 years old, you will know what you are dealing with as they usually don't get any worse at that point. Vitamin E is still recommended for these horses, but it does not improve the deficits as since they lacked Vit E in-utero, they don't know how to absorb it and use it. Aurora is our resident EDM/eNAD horse. When she first arrived, she was quite thin. We pulled a blood sample to test for Vitamin E and her level was 155, this isn't even an acceptable number for a newborn foal! Normal vitamin E levels in horses should be greater than 300, with a desire of a level greater than 400. So we immediately started her on Kentucky Performance Products Elevate W.S., along with starting on Santa Cruz's Vitamin E pellets. After 2 months on Elevate, and a month following of just being on the Vitamin E pellets it was time to retest her Vit E level. She was on maintenance level of Vit E (2 scoops per day which equates to 8,000iu Vit E per day). and upon retest she is at 249, which is still well below where she needs to be. So she is still a battle of finding out what she needs to maintain a normal level for her. She has gained a lot of weight and looks like a normal horse now, just with a weird gait!
Video of Rampage showing the gait abnormality associated with Wobbler's. Unusual foot placement, difficulty backing, etc.
Pasture grass is most ideal for a neurological horse as it has the highest level of natural vitamin e. Once hay/alfalfa is baled it quickly loses the amount of viable vit e. Here in AZ, everything is dry lot, so the horses are fed high quality alfalfa diet.
The best is to have a high quality ration balancer to ensure the horse is getting the appropriate levels of all vitamins and minerals. Here at Shiredale, we feed Purina Enrich Plus, along with a small amount of Purina Strategy Healthy Edge just to give them a little extra feed.
The BEST Vitamin E supplement on the market. Any new horse that arrives here is placed on Elevate for 2 months, while also giving UltraCruz to make sure by the time they are off Elevate the UltraCruz is at peak efficacy.
This is the best Vitamin E available in pelleted form. It takes time to reach full efficacy (usually about a month if not a bit longer, so for new horses we combine this with Elevate. Once they have been here they remain on UltraCruz for life.
A white powder that is just straight amino acids, has done WONDERS for the neurological horses here. It really seems to make them more stable (note it does NOT improve the grade of neuro, it just makes them more at ease/accepting of their condition) and more mentally with it/more knowledge of where their body is. It has been amazing to watch the horses respond to this product so all the neuro horses here are on this product for life!
As the equine world is forever changing with more knowledge, I constantly research new products or new things to try with the horses here. The above products work really well for the horses here but am always researching new products to try on them :).
As you have hopefully seen, neurological horses are a breed all their own! They have been a passion of mine and I suspect they always will be! Now that I have been around them, I fully can't imagine not having at least one of them in my life!