Fiasco's story....

-my experience of dealing with a semi-paralysed horse-

When my gorgeous section D colt started the 2008 show season in style, winning Southern Counties first time out, I would never have expected that he would soon be paralysed in his stable and unable to stand. When the vets have no idea what is wrong you find yourself on a crash course in paralysis in horses so again, I thought I would share my experience with you!

Taraco Fiasco - my paralysed colt

In 2005 I was thrilled when Danaway Cherimarie had a stunning buckskin colt by Danaway Flash Jack - he was everything I had Taraco Fiasco - click on photo for pedigree and informationalways wanted to breed and was the perfect welsh cob in everyway. The joy of his arrival was soon eclipsed by various catastrophes but he wasn't to disappoint - in 2006 he was shown successfully winning nearly all his shows, including the Royal of England, the only two he didn't win he was placed second in exceptional company. He beat a variety of colts from top studs including the likes of Danaway and Brynithon and it was fantastic to see him standing at the Royal of England Second Reserve to Danaway Tango (Champion) and Trevallion Black Harry (Reserve Champion) and we genuinely couldn't have had a better season. He was to return to the show ring as a 3 year old in 2008 where he started the season winning a good class at the Southern Counties Spring Show. Only weeks later I got a phone call from his producer to say that he was down in the stable and couldn't stand up. The vet was called immediately but confirmed that they were unable to find out why but that he was paralysed in his back legs and could not stand. The next few days saw me on a crash course in things that could cause unexplained paralysis in horses and driving hundreds of miles through the night to see Fiasco in Wales.

The problem? Examining a 500kg welsh cob recumbent in a stable is not very easy and the vets had the inenviable job of trying to get to the bottom of things. He didn't seem to be in pain and the vet originally ruled out any form of spinal damage and Equine Herpes Virus type I (neurological) was considered the most likely cause of sudden onset paralysis and the symptoms Fiasco was presenting with. Scarily enough I suddenly realised that I knew nothing about this! I always knew about the fact that there were different types of Equine Herpes Virus and that they could cause respiratory symptoms and abortion and vaguely something neurological but that would NEVER happen to me! I berated myself for sending him away to be shown - exposing him to different virus's and germs - but as it happened it didn't happen to me... and after ten long days waiting for results he was tested negative for EHV-1 (neurological symptoms) although even that was considered inconclusive and a second test was carried out. Fortunately, this was also negative. So we were back to square one. Noone had a clue why my pride and joy was eating, drinking but unable to stand. It could still be viral, or vascular (apparently in rare cases they can get a blood clot in the spinal cord), trauma or fracture was the obvious one but was ruled out on examination as he showed no pain which would be related to serious spinal trauma. I was warned that if he didn't stand within four days the prognosis was extremely bad with 90% fatality prediction. I was stuck hundreds of miles away in England waiting for a mare to foal so Justin sat up late with him and I threw the book at Fiasco - reiki, distance 'healing', chiropracty, vets, herbs, supplements, IV steroids, antibiotics, bute - and on day 5 he stood. Just. Personally I think it was the threat of Justin singing in a kilt that did it myself.....! Although it may have been the promise of a kick up the backside if he wasn't standing by the time I arrived on day 5...! Whatever it was he was standing when I arrived.

Watching a powerful welsh cob colt precariously balanced and barely able to move was heartbreaking. But from that first dreadful morning he remained bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, cheeky and true to his welsh character. It was just that his legs didn't work. But he was upright. He staggered about the stable propping himself upright against the stable wall he fell into. And then on day seven, just as I returned to Kent to check on foaling mares, that dreaded call - he was down again. Another frantic call to the welsh vets treating him, a metaphorical kick up the bum and he was up again. He saw three different vets in the first 10 days - each had a different idea about what may be causing his rear leg ataxia - and of course we couldn't travel him so he could not be scanned or x-rayed for many months. I emailed experts throughout the world; read every article going; but all we could do was hypothesise and manage the symptoms and wait and see. Eventually, in June, he was standing long enough to face the journey for tests. I took the decision, rightly or wrongly, to travel him home to Kent and shortly after that Taraco Fiasco - click on photo for more photos of swimming and hydrotherapyI safely got him to Bell Equine where Tim Mair was able to successfully isolate the problem using nuclear scintigraphy bone scans and x-rays. These showed clear and marked arthopathy affecting the dorsal facet joints of C4-5 and C5-6, most likely traumatic in origin. In short it looked that he had somehow fractured his neck, causing displacement of the vertebrae in the neck and severe neurological damage to the nerves. This in turn caused the severe posterior ataxia and mild anterior ataxia. It was official - I had a paralysed horse with a broken neck - and there was nothing we could do except give him bute, box rest and time. With a seriously 'guarded' long-term prognosis.

Talk about tenacity.... Fiasco has been amazing throughout this - confined to his box, albeit a 15ft by 15ft box, he has remained upbeat and full of life. He even has his own digital radio (much to Simon's horror and amusement!) so he can listen to Magic fm radio if I am not around for hours.... and his brother Fernando and section A stallion Friars Golden Mark have taken it in turns to keep him company and amused. I cannot thank my vets enough for fully supporting my decision to give him every chance to make a recovery despite the very poor prognosis. I always felt that provided he was happy in himself and not giving up that I would not give up either. It is now 9 months since he was first found paralysed and he is as full of life and cheek now as he was 12 months ago!! Throughout the past months he has shown very very slow, but steady, improvement and although it has been a long and uphill struggle I have never regretted giving this colt every chance. Despite being told to cut my losses and spend my time on a horse that will do his intended job by a top vet I am so glad that we are still trying. I am under no illusions; there is a very long way to go. I've had Simon come running as I've shrieked for joy because Fiasco has bucked... or reared... or struck out playfully! All massive milestones as far as I am concerned....

Hydrotherapy - as you would expect I have spent the last 9 months researching every article, website, lead or information on treating paralysis and neurological damage in horses. It soon became clear that there really isnt much available Taraco Fiasco - click on photo for more photos of swimming and hydrotherapyin terms of traditional treatments. Logic suggested that some form of treatment that enabled his weight to be supported whilst he improved his co-ordination and balance may be best. Thus I found out as much as possible about swimming pools, hydrotherapy, water treadmills and massage. After extensive research and in discussion with my vets he has just been referred for hydrotherapy to see if we can now improve his muscle tone and balance even further in a safe environment. Only time will tell if I have been right not to give up on him - but all I can say is I am glad I haven't yet. On 1 February 2009 I travelled to an equine swimming centre and settled him in - having promised him he would never leave my yard again, I found it quite hard but I was convinced it was the right thing. It was predictably amusing seeing my hairy, scruffy welsh cob peering out amongst the bay racehorses! He spent 6 weeks walking on a water treadmill for 7 minutes twice a day and swimming 3 lengths of a pool and did show some improvements in muscle strength but sadly the results were minimal and the costs were prohibitive so he came home again. He thoroughly enjoyed working so it gave me something to focus on in terms of trying to work out what he needed next.

Physiotherapy - After weeks more research and two months of saving I was able to find a veterinary physiotherapist based within a specialist therapy centre who was able to offer a really comprehensive range of treatments including a superb state of the art water treadmill and swimming pool, solarium, sports massage, electrotherapy and more. Taraco Fiasco - click on photo for more photos of swimming and hydrotherapySo, almost a year to the day after his accident, it was reluctantly, but hopefully, that I packed Fiasco off again another month of very intensive physiotherapy. I absolutely HATED sending him away and the yard seemed very quiet without him but I remain completely and utterly convinced that I can get him well again so it has to be worth trying. He settled very well in his new temporary home and after a full assessment was put straight to work, which he thoroughly enjoyed. The physio there really pushed him and within the first week had him trotting (albeit in a wobbly fashion!) and 3 weeks it was time to try turning him out for that first time. We had the indoor arena at 7.30am so it was up at 4am and on the way by 5am to get there in time. We walked him to the arena, unclipped the leadrope and watched. Fiasco looked somewhat bemused to start with and took a few tentative steps round, following me until he worked out the boundary, a few balanced steps of trot round and then he was off. A huge massive buck quickly followed by a crash landing, he struggled to get up and then limped round. We all watched very nervously but he then loosened up again and at a slightly slower pace started to explore in walk and trot. I have to confess to being VERY relieved and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief!

Chiropracty - Taraco Fiascoafter a few more weeks Fiasco came home again and spent the summer out for a few hours and in over night. He went from strength to strength with the most natural and best form of physio I could find - a 4 acre grass field! Although to start with he was too lazy to exercise much so his turn out was supplemented with short lunging in walk, trot and then canter. By August 2009 I felt he was ready to try chiropracty. The vets were apprehensive when I originally mentioned this as manipulative therapy is not to be entered into lightly with a fracture! However, it seemed obvious to me that with the injury he had suffered it was likely that he was not in total alignment and probably would benefit from chiropracty despite the potential risks. His first session was a great success and was quickly followed by repeated attempts to rear in the paddock, so he is now out 24/7 in a small paddock when he now walks, trots, canters, rears and bucks. He is not 100% but I genuinely believe that we are getting there slowly!

The future - It has been a very long and uphill struggle but I have never regretted giving this colt every chance. In the Spring of 2010 Fiasco was trained to mount a dummy mare to enable us to collect from him for use in Artificial Insemination programs. Taraco Fiasco - click on photo for more photos of him playing in the summerAfter all this time it was a great relief to discover that he was fully fertile, with excellent post thaw motility and we now have semen frozen off him for future use. He was also well enough to cover naturally and his first two beautiful foals were born in 2011, with another delightful filly in 2012. In Autumn 2011 Fiasco was broken to ride and absolutely loved it! So his story continues and he goes from strength to strength every year..... His daughter Taraco Daioni, was successfully shown and a prizewinner in 2012, and we have two mares in foal to him for 2013 and so his story continues through his wonderful offspring. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has helped and supported Fiasco and I on this journey.

There is no text book that can prepare you for looking after a paralysed horse – it really is completely unchartered territory from what I can see. They really are all different and you can only go with the veterinary advice you are given and your own instinct about your individual horse. Via word of mouth I have found a couple of examples of horses paralysed as a result of a fractured neck with similar symptoms to Fiasco's - the two I have heard of made full recoveries, one going on to race and one to show jump. I am no expert on paralysed horses, but if anyone is struggling in a similar situation and wants some support, advice or help please do not hesitate to email me at taracostud@hotmail.com or call on 07941-487616. I probably cannot help at all - but sometimes it is nice to know that someone else has been through the same thing.

What products do I find helpful?

Some products I highly recommend having in the store cupboard for any injured horse:
Equine America HA Cortaflex – A supplement that I feel is extremely beneficial in treating any joint injuries and maintaining healthy supple joints. Fiasco has been on this since his accident and I am convinced that it is helping the vertebral joints he injured. Information is available at www.equine-america.co.uk
Globalvite – a great herbal supplement that is one of the very few mineral supplements packed full of important chelated (bound to proteins) minerals. These specially formulated minerals are highly absorbable and about as close as you can get to the nutrients that your horse gets from its food. Visit www.globalherbs.co.uk for more information.
Globalvite Xtra – a liquid version of the above feed supplement. Can be fed every 4-6 weeks so great for anything that needs an intensive source of vitamins and minerals or for breeding stock that may be out in a herd as it is easily administered. Visit www.globalherbs.co.uk for more information.
Iron Aid - designed for horses that need the best possible source of iron for haemoglobin and red blood cells. Great for general health every 3 months and to help boost energy levels essential for fighting any form of damage/ injury. Visit www.globalherbs.co.uk.
ImmuPlus - an invaluable mixture of herbs which help your horse’s immune system work effectively. Great for good recovery after all health concerns and to help the body recover from injuries. Visit http://www.globalherbs.co.uk for more information.

Taraco Stud, Canterbury, Kent

  A small stud specialising in breeding for colour without compromising on quality