Apollo is one of our loved lesson horses. He is a Norwegian Fjord Cross that came here in December 2014. Were we really looking for another lesson horse? Not really, but the Universe has a way of putting things in my life. I never would have imagined the journey we have already gone through together, but one thing was for sure that he was meant to be here with us. Apollo was named after the Greek god of prophecy, medicine, music, art, law, beauty, wisdom, sun and light. There is no coincidence then that what we soon embarked on together was one of healing, finding beauty in grim times, and great wisdom...
It was early April. The vet had just come out to do routine vaccines and coggins. Everything looked healthy and good. The next week, buffalo gnats came out in full force. Apollo had developed a large edema (swelling) on his abdomen. I had assumed because of the buffalo gnats biting, that he had an allergic reaction. Cold hosing and liniment was working, but very slowly, so I decided to pick up some Bute (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory). This was taking the swelling down much quicker, but along with it he started to get diarrhea. So I took him off the Bute, despite there being some swelling left. His diarrhea was not improving after a few days, and he was becoming dehydrated and noticeably depressed. We started giving him electrolytes, with little success.
I remember the first night I realized something was more seriously wrong than just a bad case of diarrhea. He was laying down a lot more than usual, his weight was noticeably decreasing more than just what he had lost in water from the dehydration. I brought the horses in that night, and he wasn’t interested in food. He kept lying down, getting up, walking lethargically. It was 11pm on a Thursday and I was to be up at 6am the following morning. I left his stall door open, asking him what he needed to feel better. He would walk out of his stall and walk a lap in the arena, poop (nothing but liquid), lay down in his stall, get back up, walk to the gate to go in the paddock, lay down, poop…This continued for about 30min.
I began then to realize how important it is to give him the choice of where he felt the most comfortable, and to have the space to be able to do what he felt would help. Every time he would get up to walk, or lay down, he would pass poop. So outside in the paddock is where he chose to stay that night. I didn’t want to leave him outside in the open alone, so I put his best friend at the time out with him, Fancy. I set an alarm to go off every two hours and went out and checked on him. For the most part he stayed lying in the same spot, attempting to nap and regain energy. Early in the morning, Fancy had finally joined him and laid down for a nap too. She was a good support system for him, just by simply being there with him. All of the horses could tell that he wasn’t feeling well, and they responded in amazing ways…more on that later…
The next day (Friday) the first thing I did was contact our amazing vet. She suggested that we draw blood and see why he was losing protein so fast. That afternoon, they were out and drew blood. Upon examination, they said he looked depressed and possibly had the signs of kidney failure or toxicity. I was devastated, but hopeful that the blood work would give us more of an idea of what we were dealing with so suddenly. The farrier was out that same day and was shocked to have seen his condition decrease so rapidly in 6 weeks time. Apollo barely had the energy to lift his legs for him to trim.
The first Saturday in May brought us the blood work tests: high white blood cell count and everything else was out of normal range. Our vet came out for further examination and diagnosis. She taped his stomach fluid, and pulled out dense fibrous liquid. This fluid should be yellow and clear, able to read a book through it. With an ultrasound they were able to see the fluid all over his abdominal area. She thought that one area showed a possible growth, like a tumor, but it was hard to tell, it could have just been the back side of an organ. He never had a fever, was obviously lethargic and depressed, and had some labored breathing. We literally thought he was using all of his protein to just stay alive at this point…but what was causing all of these symptoms?
The vet had suspected cancer, tumor, or internal rupture of some sort. And even if we pulled through this, the fibrous tissue in the abdominal area could adhere to the organs and cause them to stop functioning. She suspected that from his blood work findings that he had been dealing with this since before I got him in December. We were facing a grim decision, one that no one wants to make. My husband, vet and I all talked about what the best possibilities would be with and without treatment. In our minds and hearts we were planning on making the decision to euthanize, so that he wouldn’t be in pain anymore. To this day we don’t know what caused his condition. The only diagnosis he had for sure is called peritonitis (read more about it here: http://equimed.com/diseases-and-conditions/reference/peritonitis). For the time being we decided to get IV liquids put in him, and the vet had added some antibiotics to it, and left us with a bottle of antibiotics to give him intramuscularly.
Through our wonderful community online and in Olney, I began to ask for help: prayers, positive energy, love, and light, anything to help Apollo out. I am amazed to this day how many people who have never met Apollo before came out to see him, and potentially say “goodbye.” My lessons students came out to give him treats and love. We didn’t have a date set to euthanize, we just knew it should be sooner rather than later. On Sunday (the day after the vet came out to diagnose), I had come into contact with an animal communicator locally. I couldn’t make the decision to euthanize Apollo without him letting me know he was ready. She read from Apollo that he knew he was sick, but was not ready to transition. At first this did not make our decision to euthanize him any easier, but after I talked with my husband about what Apollo had told the communicator, I figured if he was willing to fight for his life, then I would be there to support him and help him through.
Apollo went through 8 bags in total of liquids over the course of two treatments, which noticeably began to perk him up. From Saturday to Monday, we honestly began to see his top line fill in again. My husband and I could not believe it. We were skeptical though, thinking the visual weight gain was probably only from getting proper amounts of liquids back in him. Apollo was supposed to stay stalled while the IV catheter was in, but he was clearly telling me he wanted to be out with the others, so I let him. In total he went through four different types of antibiotics over the course of about 40 days. He began to graze on grass (limited, because he was also laminitic before I got him), and I started him on grain with immune support herbal supplements as well as electrolytes. Day by day we saw him come back to life, literally. His depression lifted, energy came back, his personality started to show through again, and little by little we noticed his top line fill back in. We pulled blood twice more, once after a week of antibiotics and his WBC count came down a little with everything else adjusting some too, and once at the end of antibiotics where everything came back to normal range!
There’s no doubt that the traditional medication worked, and at the same time there’s no doubt in my heart that the amazing out pouring of love and support from the communities helped just as much. The other amazing element of healing came from the horses themselves. I watched as the lowest horse in the hierarchy and elder of the herd stepped up to protect Apollo from the more assertive mares. I watched the horses stand around Apollo, holding space and healing him with their own special powers. I learned from Apollo to trust in him to know what he needed, and to listen to my intuition. There is so much wisdom horses share with us, if only we will stop to listen, and I am so glad that I stopped to truly listen and hold the sacred space of possibility for Apollo.
Not only has Apollo recovered from the inside, but on the outside I have noticed physical changes. When he first came here his tail was brittle and dry, and after going through all of this his tail is shiny and smooth! His mane use to sag over in the middle, which we thought was due to having a crested neck whenever he (likely) foundered before I had him. However, now it sticks straight up, and the muscle is nice and strong! He still has the same sweet, adorable personality that anyone can love. I am so lucky to have a healthier horse in all on the other side of this devastating sickness.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU TO EVERYONE that helped and gave love and prayers to Apollo. I know for a fact that he soaked it all in and used it as strength to fight and win this battle! I am amazed, and just over the moon thrilled that my happy, now healthy, sweet boy is with us still, and I could not have made it through this without my herd, both two legged and four. Thank you to my husband, family and friends who supported me and Apollo in navigating this journey! We are both forever grateful!