Finnegan was born on March 17th, seventeen years ago. He is my youngest brother’s horse, and was an all around show horse, especially shining in roadster, obstacle and jumping. After that he did a stint with my Grandad’s eight horse hitch, particularly helping to start new horses in harness as the steady influence teammate.
The smartest horse ever, we swear Finnegan can understand English. He taught himself a trick when he figured out Hawk got treats for doing tricks, and he has strong opinions that he is not afraid to make known. He HATES needles – his vaccination history includes knocking people over, needles through fingers and even a broken arm – and he isn’t above a runaway back to the barn if he thinks he’s worked long enough, though an exasperated “Finnegan …” is usually enough to result in a sigh and a return to what he was doing.
When I was struggling to recover from a complicated surgery two years ago, I wasn’t comfortable driving any of the green horses I’d been working before I had surgery, so I decided to show Finnegan – he was wonderful after several years off, and even won a few championships. When I decided I wanted to drive a tandem, Finnegan – strong, steady and smart – was my wheeler. He’s so clever, he’ll even try to “help” steer the leader when he gets out of line, pushing the rein with his head. At our first tandem outing, a dressage test, the judge said, “That wheeler is to die for” and we definitely agree.
Finnegan is a regular participant in our kids workshops, and took our friends, Leanne and Chantelle, to their very first horse show last spring. He went in the Calgary Stampede parade, and generally participates in anything we do. He’s a key member of our herd in so many ways.
He was normal all summer, but now the last few weeks I’m noticing similar symptoms again. Once he walked away from his food and laid down, and often I see him stop eating to stretch, or walk around before returning to his supper. Then the other day when I was doing my routine body condition scoring (hands on in winter to “see” through the hair) I noticed that while his ribs were still well covered, his withers and hips were getting very bony, an unusual pattern of weight loss, as usually the ribs are where I first notice changes in body condition.
Following a consultation with my veterinarian, we decided that it was very likely that he has gastric ulcers; the painful reaction to feeding time, the loss of body condition, and the fact that the symptoms disappeared in summer when he was on pasture instead of being fed in meals are all strong signs of ulcers.
In full sized horses, veterinarians would always recommend gastroscopy to definitively diagnose ulcers prior to treatment, as the cost of treatment is so high. While that would also be the gold standard for Miniature Horses, with the reduced amount of medication they require it’s a similar cost to treat as it is to scope. And since the medication, Gastrogard, is so effective, if we see an improvement in symptoms we can be sure that he did have ulcers. (And Finnegan’s aversion to needles and other medical procedures was also a consideration – we didn’t want to further stress him.)
In addition to treating for a month with Gastrogard, we’ll also be making some management changes, once his ulcers are healed, to prevent a recurrence. He’ll be on free choice hay, until he regains his body condition, and then a slow feed net if needed to keep him eating most of his day until spring when he can be on grass and graze most of his day instead. And I’ll be investigating supplements for him as well. He’s already on an alfalfa mix hay, and since alfalfa is high in calcium and excellent for buffering the stomach, that clearly wasn’t enough so we’ll up our game.
Like I say, Finnegan is a very important part of our herd. Next year I’m hoping to drive a full driving trial with the tandem for the first time, which means Finnegan, as the wheeler, will need to be in tip top condition to pull two people in the marathon phase. Hopefully by treating aggressively and managing him with a focus on prevention he’ll be back to peak health soon! And in the meantime, while he is not a fan of his medicine, he is a fan of the extra spoiling he’s receiving.
We’ve never dealt with gastric ulcers in our herd before (though in retrospect, I am pretty sure a horse we owned 20+ years ago had them, before gastric ulcers were so well understood or readily treated). I suspect we’ve avoided it mainly because our management system has always been quite low-intensity, with horse living outdoors in herds, on forage heavy diets and grazing whenever possible. But horses are very prone to ulcers, and even in seemingly low stress situations they can develop them. The symptoms of ulcers can be varied and while Finnegan’s were fairly “typical” there are many more subtle issues that could be indicative of ulcer pain. If you suspect that your horse may have ulcers, or if you have any concerns at all, a discussion with your veterinarian is always in your horse’s best interest.