Today is Earl’s 4th birthday – a day I didn’t think we’d be celebrating honestly. It’s a miracle his life has extended this far and the fact that he’s here is due in large part to the many people who supported him through his ordeal. Just as a warning, this post is as sad as it is happy, so you’ve been warned.
One week ago, I went to pull Earl from the pasture for a routine exercise and something was “off”. He seemed lethargic, dragging his back left leg, stumbling on the front end (more than usual) and I knew something wasn’t right. Luckily LowCountry Acres’ Ambassadors Terry Dantzler and Hayden Rodriguez were there that morning and when they saw he was in distress, they immediately kicked into action.
Earl’s temperature was in excess of 103 degrees and his respirations were near 80 per minute, so I knew it was an emergency. His stomach was tucked up like he was dehydrated or in pain, and he kept raising his left hind leg, holding it in the air, then lowering it slowly down. He did this over and over again.
As we waited for the vet, a lot went through my mind. From the time Earl came home from the ICU after his accident, I was told there would be a day that he would need to be transitioned from this world. I wondered if it was time. He’s a stoic horse and for those who don’t know him one would assume he didn’t look too bad. To me however, his pain and distress was apparent.
At one point, the stress boiled over and I let the tears fall. Just a few days earlier on Easter Sunday, my best mare, Leah, tragically had a still birth to a gorgeous, perfect grey filly I named Esther. She was a miracle foal sired by Earl, and possibly his last foal ever. In January, Earl made a trip to the Equine Repro Clinic at Performance Equine in Aiken where he was assessed for collection and semen freezing under veterinary supervision. During a routine collection, the pain in his neck made him unable to perform. Additionally, the semen they managed to collect during this jump was sub-par and not viable for use. The vet attributed this to being winter build up that needed to be flushed out. Hoping to get at least one good collection, they attempted to get pain meds on board, provided him prolonged rest and yet he was still unable to do the job. From there, he was sent home without any luck.
After consulting with Dr. Hernando Plata, DVM, he suggested resting Earl for a couple months and waiting for Spring when his hormones would be stronger. In early April, Earl’s primary care vet, Dr. Kathryn Sharbrough, came to oversee the first collection of Earl. It was obvious there were neurological, physiological impairments as he mounted and attempted to stay on the phantom. He had erectile dysfunction too, attributed to pain.
The semen collected during the jump was still sub par and remained sub par in the subsequent tests. Perhaps it was fever related or perhaps neurologically related in some way. In short, he would never be a shipped-cooled semen candidate stallion and definitely not a frozen semen candidate. Whether he’d even be a live-semen transfer candidate was still open for debate; his semen was that bad – over 70%-80% were dead, the majority (alive and dead) had apparent morphology problems.
I cannot overstate the importance of Earl’s genetics to this rare breed, most especially his color genetics. The grey gene is so rare that to lose the ability to breed Earl would be a tremendous loss. Of course, weighing the risk/reward was always on my mind. Factoring in the stress and strain of the collection process on Earl verses the semen he was producing made it hard for me to justify keeping going.
Knowing Earl’s breeding career was all but over, a lot was riding on the birth of Leah’s foal and when Esther was born dead, it was devastating. What made it even more heartbreaking was that it was all due to the Leah’s exposure to tent caterpillars. You can read all about that HERE. Thankfully, Leah survived the ordeal and she’s happily grazing alongside Opal – Earl’s and Leah’s 2022 filly.
The day after Esther’s body was sent to Clemson University for a necropsy, is the day Earl came up very sick. Was it coincidence or just bad luck? Only the lab tests would reveal the full story.
Once Dr. K arrived, she assessed Earl’s vitals and performed a neurological exam. A catheter was inserted and she started him on IV fluids with DMSO to help with inflammation. She pulled bloodwork to rule out infectious diseases. Given Leah’s miscarriage and Earl’s sudden acute distress, there was a worry that it might be Equine Herpes.
Thankfully the tests came back negative for any known viruses and/or bacterias. However, that left a big question mark over what was happening with Earl. For the following week, Earl manifested all kinds of symptoms: orchitis, lymphatic congestion, vasculitis, propioceptive deficit, and more. He wasn’t drinking enough, so he stayed on fluids for a few days and was monitored closely.
While his overall condition improved a little every day, some symptoms remained like the propioceptive deficit where he crosses his back legs over each other. That suggested increased neurological impairment. Based on his last x-ray results from December 2022, which showed bony proliferation in the area of the articular facets associated with C4/C5, it’s easy to think that has progressed and may be the culprit. Alternatively, it could be his osteoarthritis of his occipital atlantal and mid cervical joints. It could be both.
While the sun hasn’t risen on his 4th birthday yet, when I left him last night he was grazing happily in his pasture. His catheter was pulled on Tuesday and his recent set of labs looked good, so there is a silver lining. Is he out of the woods? I’d say the acute phase of his illness has passed, but there’s still a lot we don’t know. Every day with Earl is a gift, but every day may be his last. I treat each of our days together that way! Thank you everyone for the ongoing support.
2 thoughts on “Earl’s 4th Birthday”
Please give my sweet Earl hugs. I’m praying for God to send all of His Angels and Saints to wrap their wings and arms around Earl and take his pain away. Sending lots of hug, kisses and 4th birthday wishes his way. ❤️🐎🎂🙏🏻🇺🇸❤️🐎🎂🙏🏻🇺🇸
You and Earl have had more than a rough time. I’m glad he seems to be on the mend a, which is surely in part to your love and devotion to him. I hope he sees many more birthdays. ❤