Thursday, February 9, 2012

Looking My Gift Horse in the Mouth.

"Maybe he wasn't meant to be a horse," says the Barn/Willy's owner. I laugh, ruefully.

In the last week, I've tried a few new options to make Will comfortable and I'm afraid it's not going well. I was given 4 doses of dexamethasone to give to Will one dose/day, every other day, to help with the inflamation in his mouth. During this time, I rode bitless and gave him several days off. I wanted to make sure he had a chance to normalize before starting my bit experimentation.

My initial thoughts on how to proceed were pretty basic: a) stay away from any metal for awhile, and b) try not to purchase bits without knowing if they will work for Will! I was worried that any metal could contain whatever the metal was that Will was reacting to and since I didn't know exactly what that was (though I suspected nickel), it would be best to avoid altogether. The next "rule" was purely practical as this could be an expensive venture if I purchased everything I wanted to try.

I also decided that I would need to get to know what his mouth was like if I was going to be able to tell if he was ok or not. I know how his legs, feet, eyes, etc look on a daily basis but have never before inspected his mouth! Every day for the last week I briefly inspect his mouth, mostly feel his bars. Honestly, I have NO idea what's normal in there. Hopefully in time...

The first day after his last dose, I rode in a Happy Mouth shaped mullen mouth that another boarder kindly lent to me.
The ride went ok. The bit test was slightly confounded because Willy had too much energy from his extra days off, plus I've never had him in a non-jointed mouth piece before and have almost exclusively ridden him in a double-jointed bit. I got the sense that any weirdness was due to the configuration of the bit, not the composition. Still, the Happy Mouth was inconclusive. I have a bias though - I admit Happy Mouth is my least favorite option since it is plastic, and an "apple-scented" one at that. I will get whatever Willy likes best, of course and without reservation, but I would be happier if it weren't a Happy Mouth.

In the meantime, I contacted Stubben to find out the composition of the "Steeltec" part of the bit I had been using. Turns out it is:
Iron 70%
Chrome 18 %
Nickel 12 %

So I think my nickel suspicion was correct.

Next, I decided to try the "simplest" option that Dr. B repeatedly mentioned, which was to wrap it. Initially, I thought the vet had recommended vet wrap but actually it was another onlooker who said that. I remembered correctly later, but apparently was taking in too much information at the time. I did try vet wrap the very first ride after diagnosis with mixed results. In any case, I soon learned of Sealtex, a thin latex sheet that can be cut and molded to just about anything.

So, on the evening after trying out the first happy mouth I went on a foray to my favorite tack shop, Apple Saddlery. I found some Sealtex and at only $10 decided to pick some up. I also bought a D-ring single jointed copper bit. Yes, I said I didn't want to buy a bunch of bits BUT my DH Alex pointed out that he can analyze the bit and get the metal composition of it. This meant I could be sure that the copper bit (which was a vet recommendation) contained no nickel and, if it did, return it for full refund.The analysis of the copper bit showed it to be (within error):
Copper 90%
Zinc 5%
Tin 5%
I was happy to see the very high copper content. Of course, this is what you'd expect with an "all copper" bit but I was prepared for worse. I was encouraged to see no nickel in the mix, so I will give this bit a go in due course.

For the next day, I decided to try the wrapping approach.Of course, I recognized that this wrapping job, even at it's simplest, would tax my patience. I'm not proud of it but I definitely have limitations when it comes to annoying detailed work like that. I wanted to ask Alex...but kinda didn't want to ask, at the same time.

There are definite advantages to loving someone who knows you very well. When Alex saw me with a bit and sealtex in hand, he essentially asked me if I'd have enough patience to accomplish the task - without actually saying those words. He managed to phrase it so that it was completely non-offensive and was simply a recognition of our relative strengths. I gladly relinquished the task to him (ha-ha!) and appreciated the result immensely. I can't believe I didn't get a picture.

Tuesday was my first ride with the wrapped bit and it went well. I could tell he was a little weird about it but it wasn't clear whether something was still actively bothering him or if it was just the difference in feel with the latex wrap (or if that itself was irritating). After the ride while on cross-ties, he started bobbing his head. This is not something he has ever done before and it made me think it was a response to being uncomfortable but since it only started after the ride I thought it was possible he was just anxious to get back outside.

Wednesday I used the wrapped bit again, since it seemed pretty good the day before. The head tossing began the minute I put Will on cross-ties and continued through the beginning part of the ride. It was an awful situation since there was no real reason why the wrapped bit should be irritating him (I had only a very light, consistent contact) so I didn't want to let him learn that head tossing got him out of work but I also didn't want to ignore his signals of discomfort. So hard! He did settle in and we had a good ride but the head tossing started again as soon as I dismounted to cool him out. After, I handwalked him outside and he kept rubbing his mouth on the snow over and over. Clearly he is uncomfortable.

I am so discouraged. I know I have several options left but it is worrisome that he is still having issues even with the bit wrapped. I guess it's unbearable to know my horse is still uncomfortable or in pain and not be able to fix it right away.

I am trying the copper bit tomorrow - wish us luck!


Once Upon an Equine said...

Oh, I'm sorry. This does sound frustrating, but you are being very thorough about looking for a solution. I'm interested in hearing if that new copper bit works better for Will. Interesting that nickel may be the problem in the other bit. People can be sensitive to nickel too. My stepson needs to wear belts with a nickel-free buckle or he'll get a rash on his tummy. Good luck. I hope you find the right bit soon

RuckusButt said...

Thanks so much for your comment Once Upon! I feel so alone in this dilemma, your words meant a lot! We are still inconclusive so far, though the all-copper bit seemed like it might be better (though Willy is still irritated - physically or mentally, I'm not sure!)

Laura said...

Sorry to hear that you are still having trouble with the bits! What is going on with Mr. Will???

I hope you can find a solution soon...keep us posted on any updates!