In May of 2018, Megan contacted me to see if she could set up a consultation for her beautiful 5-year old Palomino Quarter Horse mare, Joey. Apparently Joey had been suffering from “white line disease” (WLD) in both front hooves and a non-specific lameness in her left front leg. White line syndrome is a term used to describe infection inside of the hoof wall; imagine bending your fingernail back to the point it bleeds, then having dirt work its way up and creating a perfect environment for bacteria to set up infection. In a nutshell, that’s what white line disease is. Horses with good immune systems and proper foot trims rarely are affected by WLD.
Since Megan and I were seven hours apart from each other, I agreed to work with her via phone and email since she had extensive medical records including X-rays from her veterinarian, and notes from her farrier from the past eighteen months. Megan was very concerned about Joey and wanted to do everything she could to correct the lameness issue and to keep her from declining. Recently, Joey had dropped some weight and had a decreased appetite. Megan thought she looked depressed and sent me several videos so I could see what was going on with Joey.
The video Megan that caused me immediate concern is this one, where Joey is obviously in a lot of discomfort:
As you can see, Joey is very tender on her front feet. She places her feet very carefully and she holds her neck abnormally low. But watch her rear legs move too; they don’t appear to be synchronized with her front legs. Observe how Joey loses her balance when she turns to scratch her left rear leg. This incoordination made me concerned something much more serious than WLD was affecting her.
Megan informed me that Joey had undergone a partial hoof resection (cutting out the infected and dead parts of the front of the hoof), as a result of the white line disease. Her mare had never fully recovered following the treatment. In the back of my mind, there had to be something else going on. Incoordination is not a symptom of WLD. As we talked on the phone one afternoon, Megan asked me if there was anything she could do in terms of natural products to help control insects. I asked her if she was referring to mainly flies, or if ticks were a problem in her neck of the woods. She told me that the horses were in an area (northern Minnesota) where ticks were problematic.
Bingo!! The proverbial light bulb flashed on in my mind. I quickly explained that Megan should get Joey and any of the other horses that were showing any signs of subtle lameness tested for Lyme disease. Lyme can cause a huge variation in clinical signs, ranging from mild to severe lameness, stiffness, joint swelling, lethargy, kidney issues, eye problems, neurologic and /or cardiovascular issues. Megan made an appointment that same afternoon for her veterinarian to have Joey tested.
Shockingly, Joey tested positive for three tick-borne diseases: Lyme, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. I was stunned, since it’s very rare for any animal (especially horses) to have all three diseases at one time. Treatment would need to be started immediately.
We discussed a protocol that would support Joey’s immune system using natural products such as whole food supplements, pure, high-quality essential oils, and extra amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. I highly encouraged Megan to consider administering a month’s worth of doxycycline, an antibiotic typically used in rickettsial diseases. The Lyme organism is a stealthy one; it hides in tissues where the immune system has trouble getting to it. The organism can also change shape and cell membrane structure, “confusing” the immune cells that are targeting it. Megan agreed to order the doxycycline and whatever else it took to aid Joey’s body.
It would take several days to get all of the products Joey needed: probiotics, digestive enzymes (to support the immune function of the intestinal tract), a whole food supplement to support Joey’s tender feet, and the antibiotic. So for the time being, we focused on increasing Joey’s intake of a high-powered antioxidant drink that would be added to her straight oats (no sweet feed to keep inflammation at bay), and a powdered supplement that had wolf berries for immune support and MSM for joint health.
A few days after her blood test was performed, Joey was reluctant to move, had very little appetite, and she spent a lot of time lying down. Megan was very worried and wondered if Joey would pull through. Megan diligently nursed her mare through the next few days, paying extra attention to making sure that Joey ingested the nutritional supplements. She also used essential oils that would promote healthy organ systems and those that would possibly increase Joey’s will to live.
Once Joey was on the increased supplements, essential oils, and doxycycline, she slowly showed signs of improvement. Though she seemed to progress at a snail’s pace, we were both thrilled to see her taking “baby steps” in her health. Throughout the course of the summer, Megan and I talked frequently, tweaking Joey’s protocol periodically, and tracking her progress.
By late summer, Joey improved dramatically. She had a very slight limp on her left front foot, but she was moving freely. Megan was concerned about the white line disease and what we could do naturally to treat it. I told her that once her mare’s immune system was functioning normally again, the WLD probably wouldn’t be concerning anymore. But I encouraged her to have Joey’s shoes pulled and work with a farrier that was well-trained in barefoot trims. It’s my strong opinion (after seeing my own horses’ feet improve dramatically) that keeping shoes off of a horse’s foot will let the foot expand and contract normally, as nature intended. With a steel or aluminum shoe nailed to it, the hoof has no ability to do so. Shoes, in my opinion, weaken the hoof, rather than strengthen it. There are many manufacturers of hoof coverings, or “boots”, that horses can wear to protect their feet over rocks or uneven terrain.
Megan wholeheartedly agreed to try the barefoot approach. By the end of September, Joey had improved so much that Megan was able to ride for short distances around the farm, and eventually took Joey out on longer rides with her friends in October. The photo at the top of the page is Joey, looking healthy and vibrant again!
Using products from nature, along with conventional medicine, is often the combination that brings about a more complete resolution in the body’s ability to heal itself. In Joey’s case, this was exactly what she needed. – Barb Fox, DVM