Moe has had a strange year. We kicked off the year with a great outing at the Celtic Cross combined test, but followed it up with dreadful showings at Gallery Farm’s CT, Thoroughbred Athletes’ HT, and Feather Creek Farm’s HT. At Gallery Farm, Moe felt great, electric and excited for cross county. At the other two shows, he was…off. Not lame, but reluctant to jump and definitely not excited to a job he’s normally eager to perform. His dressage work has been good this year- he’s consistently scored in the mid-60s at First Level at local dressage schooling shows, and had good scores on his Novice-level eventing tests.
I chalked up Moe’s weirdness at Thoroughbred Athletes to some kind of bad juju. After all, I’d fallen off at the previous show, and he and I have never had a good round at the Thoroughbred Athletes venue. At Feather Creek, it occurred to me that Moe might not be feeling his best. It’s not an impossible thought. He’s a 22 year old horse who has spent most of his life doing some kind of jumping. Maybe he has arthritis. Maybe one of the mares kicked him. Nothing really seemed to be wrong with him- he was as bright and cheerful as ever, eager to see me, eager to eat, and moving normally. I gave him most of the summer off, only riding him occasionally.
When I was in Raleigh for the Arabian Sport Horse Nationals a couple of weeks ago, my friend who runs the barn next door texted me that Moe was lame. One of his usual lesson kids had saddled him up, gotten on him, and almost immediately jumped off because he felt too weird. My friend said that Moe looked very stiff and that she thought it looked like the lameness was in his hip. She saw no injuries or swelling and was mystified about his behavior. She told me the vet was coming out to look at another horse at the barn anyway the next day, and asked if I’d like to have him look at Moe. In the many years I have had Moe, he has been lame once, from an acute injury: a deep gash on his pastern, acquired by slicing it open on a metal culvert pipe after spooking at a vehicle that backfired. He never comes out stiff. He never goes lame. I joke that he’s found the Water Trough of Youth somewhere. I told my friend to have the vet examine Moe, because any kind of lameness is so unusual for him.
The vet wanted to test Moe for EPM, because he believed Moe was exhibiting symptoms of neurological disease. I was surprised. EPM had never crossed my mind as something my horse could contract. Despite two very well cared-for horses in my dressage club being diagnosed with the disease this year, I assumed it was something that stemmed from careless barn management. I kept my feed in impervious metal trash cans. I bought fresh hay every two weeks and monitored it closely. I scrubbed my horses’ water troughs and feed tubs. No opossum poop was contaminating my horses’ living space! Besides, Moe wasn’t exhibiting any signs of EPM. His muscles looked fine. He didn’t have any paralysis. He was swallowing just fine. He certainly wasn’t having seizures. And, this vet wasn’t even Moe’s usual vet; he worked out of the same clinic as Moe’s usual vet, but he’d never met or examined Moe. But I gave the okay to test for it anyway, figuring it was something that could be ruled out, at least. The vet said it would take a few days for the results to arrive.
When I got home from Raleigh, I grabbed Moe from the pasture and stuck him on a longe line. He moved completely normally. His walk, trot, and canter were as good as ever, though he seemed confused about why I was longeing him at 9 PM. I took a video and sent it to my friend, who replied with, “I swear he was doing some weird shit, Stephanie.” I believed her- she’s trustworthy and not prone to horse hypochondria. She knows my horses well. I believed that she saw Moe doing some weird shit; I just assumed it was Moe finally showing some signs of his age. The day after I longed Moe, I rode him. I brought him into the barn, spent half an hour pulling burrs out of his tail and scraping away bot eggs. I tacked him up and led him over to the arena. Or tried to. Moe was very reluctant to walk. He did, because he’s an obedient horse, but he shuffled along with tiny, mincing steps. Gina does this all the time after standing on the concrete in the barn aisle for any length of time. Moe doesn’t, but I told myself it was because he was old. Maybe he was just feeling stiff. In the arena, he remained stiff. I put him on a longe line to let him walk and loosen up. He did, a little. I got on him, and he felt cramped and very reluctant to move. I took him to a flat grassy area between my barn and my neighbor’s, thinking springy turf might be more comfortable. He felt more normal at the walk, but was very lame at the trot. I dismounted, untacked him, stuffed him full of cookies, and tried to limit the amount of Googling I did.
On Tuesday, the vet called me to inform me that it was likely Moe had EPM. He went on to say that Moe’s prognosis is very good and he should have many years of riding ahead of him. He may recover after a month of treatment. Moe’s regular vet advised me that it was perfectly fine to ride him during treatment. Exercise is good for him, and since his neurological symptoms are very mild, he is not dangerous. Still, I was upset to hear the diagnosis. A neurological disease sounds terrifying, as if my sweet-natured horse will turn into a rabid monster or suddenly collapse one day while we’re out for a trail ride. I’m a practical and pragmatic person, but it’s hard for me to be logical when my favorite horse is ill.
Moe’s medicine ought to arrive early next week. For his part, he seems completely fine. He eats, drinks, gets pushed around by Candy and Gina, happily accepts treats, patiently allows me to pull burrs from his forelock, and strolls around the pasture just as he usually does. Moe has an unwaveringly cheerful attitude and an invincible spirit. I’m confident that he will recover well, and that the two of us will have more years together. After all, he’s still hiding that Water Trough of Youth somewhere.