Friday, April 11, 2008

The Story of Lyle, Part 3

A month after everything had finally clicked for Lyle and I, I looked out in the corral one evening and noticed he was acting weird – in a physical way, not in his weird personality way. At first I suspected colic, but I couldn’t get him to walk –­­ it was like his front feet were mired in cement.

Fast forwarding through the next 48 depressing and painful hours, Lyle was diagnosed with laminitis. The vet hoisted him in a sling and put these funky rocker shoes on his feet, which allowed him to find his own spot to stand comfortably. He was confined to a 12’ x 24’ stall bedded with deep sand for almost five months.

It was torture for both of us. Lyle would explode a few times a day, wanting to get out of his stall – bucking, farting, rearing – he sure didn’t act like a horse with sore feet. I was a nervous wreck thinking he’d kill himself during the explosions. This was also the summer that my ranch was under construction, so there was more than a little stress in the air. But we got through it, his feet got healthy, and the vet proclaimed him rideable again just before we moved to the 7MSN.

For the first time in their lives, Lyle and Hank would be able to live like horses, running free across wide-open spaces. I had a whole new list of things to worry about: Would they respect the Horse-Guard electric fence I had worked so hard to put up? (Yes.) Would they ever come back to the barn once they had tasted freedom? (Yes.) Would the lions, tigers and bears that lurked on the range come out and get them? (No.) And most worrisome of all, would Lyle founder from eating the pasture grass? (No.)  But I hedged my bets on this last one and bought grazing muzzles for both horses. I made Lyle wear his most of the time until the grass died off at the onset of winter. He looked ridiculous but didn’t appear to develop any self-esteem issues because of it.

It had been 5 and a half months since I had last ridden Lyle, and I was a little nervous about getting back on him, but in the few rides we were able to get in before winter hit, he didn’t do too bad. He certainly hadn’t forgotten anything he had learned, and it felt great to be back in his saddle.

When I found the land which became the 7MSN, I agonized over many things before I signed the purchase offer: the 11 miles of “unimproved” road between it and the pavement, the bribes I would have to pay to a builder to take on the job, and mostly, the ability – or lack thereof – to find a reliable, competent farrier willing to make the trip. The ranch was already under construction when Lyle was diagnosed with laminitis, and if there ever were a reason to stop the hammers, he was it. But I figured if push came to shove, I could always haul him to a farrier if a farrier wouldn’t come to us.

I did my homework, got recommendations, and found a new farrier. But I quickly learned that the single biggest cause of lameness in horses is not laminitis - it’s the farrier. All the progress Lyle had made in his “summer of the stall” was dashed in three bad trims. Despite explicit instructions from the vet, the farrier did his own thing and I didn’t know enough then about hoof trimming to recognize what he was doing and stop him. Five months after I had been able to start riding him again, Lyle came up lame immediately after a visit from the farrier.

The vet suggested we try hoof boots for awhile to support Lyle’s front feet while his soles were recovering, so I bought him a pair of Old Mac G2 boots. He wore them 24/7 except for a few hours every other day when I removed them to let his feet air out. They didn’t slow Lyle down a bit and stood up to all the abuse he could give them. I’m a believer.

After six months of wearing his “sneakers,” Lyle was proclaimed fit to ride again. Since my confidence level was dropping with each of Lyle’s rest periods, I scheduled Randall Davis to come here to give a weekend clinic and to help me re-start him. Lyle hadn’t forgotten how to move his feet, he just didn’t particularly want to. We got through the first few rides with Randall’s help, and re-established our partnership over the course of the next eight months. By now we had another new farrier, Lyle stayed sound, and life was good...

...Until Lyle decided to become allergic to something in the pasture. His eyes were red, his face and legs were covered with oozy sores, and he started coughing. Look up “hard keeper” in any equine medical’ll probably find Lyle’s picture. We treated him with ventipulmin to clear his lung congestion, and I kept dosing him with Equitussin – a cough syrup for horses that is just plain foul. You know how a little kid will take a spoonful of medicine and squint his eyes and shake his head and his body quivers all over? Now picture Lyle doing do the same thing. The vet also recommended a microalgae supplement called Spirulina. I had to grind up the green wafers and topdress a little feed to get him to eat it. Then he got to liking the taste of it so much, he’d lick the bowl. His nickname became Spinach Lips.

So Lyle got another 4 months off until his skin cleared up and he stopped coughing. When it was time to re-start him this time, I had some friends bring their horses out for a weekend so at least I’d have someone to call for help if he dumped me in a cactus. He got western a few times but we worked through it. We were able to get in a few good rides before winter hit. Life was good until his “mystery lameness” episode in January. And once we get through his current woes, life will be good again.

Writing the first three chapters of Lyle’s story has helped me put his first seven years in some sort of perspective. In all the ups and downs of having him in my life, there have been many lessons, and I keep hearing that little voice over my shoulder say “there’s a reason for all this.” When I get all of that sorted out, I’ll write Part 4. For now, he's had way more than his 15 minutes of fame and I'll give this thread a break before his head gets any bigger.


  1. I'm loving this story of Lyle and the journey you have taken together. I hope he hits a good long spell of equilibrium very soon.

  2. You and me both, Billie! I think we've turned the corner on his latest foot pain. He's still wearing his boots but I've turned him out in the big corral, so at least he's not climbing the walls and he seems to be pain-free. My barometer for his pain is my own stomach - when I look at him and know he's not right, my stomach gets in knots; ergo, when he's fine, I'm fine. And we've both been fine for a few days. It's sure hard to type with my fingers crossed, though.

  3. I think that Lyle is a lucky guy to have you as his mom. I know exactly what that feeling in your stomach is - I'm the same with my horses. I believe that owning horses is all about what you've been describing - it's the ultimate reality check. I had similar farrier drama with Silk years ago. I've been wanting to try the Old Mac boots for years - you've encouraged me. So, why do we put up with all the illnesses, expenses and agony our horses cause us? Because they also give us daily reminders of what true love and freedom really are.

  4. Thanks, Victoria. I wouldn't wish "farrier drama" on anyone, but we all seem to go through it at some point. The Old Mac boots have been a godsend - I can't say enough about them. Lyle wears the G2 - generation two version.