Equine Gastric Ulcers… and Sage.

I’ll call her Sage.

Sage was a thoroughbred mare with classic elegance. A solid bay with a long neck and pointy withers. She was very feminine, not too tall, but she was proud.

That’s who she was born to be -but what she looked like was very different. She was in a small stall the first time I saw her -showing every known ulcer symptom and a few that were all her own. This mare was not stoic, her pain was obvious and hard. Anyone could tell Sage had ulcers, she was screaming for help.

Sage had been donated to a riding program for retraining after repeatedly injuring her previous owner. Ulcers can make horses act crazy, no surprise she was in trouble under saddle.

She was not mine to train, she was not mine to help. Sage was none of my business.

I bit my tongue for a while. When I did speak to her trainer in private she didn’t disagree with my assessment. Over the next few weeks Sage looked just as uncomfortable as the first day, a combination of dull and tense. I was told the ulcers were not being treated, but she was under saddle with a new owner. Eventually, I broke professional boundaries and spoke to her new owner as well, with no success for Sage.

A few months later I saw Sage and her owner at a riding clinic. After a dangerous hour the clinician said he felt Sage could never be normal under saddle.

He’s almost right. Training can’t heal physical injuries like lameness or ulcers but treatment can. Our first responsibility is to make sure that a horse’s resistance in training isn’t a result of a physical issue. Sage wasn’t given that help.

I got a call that Sage had colic and I agreed to haul her to the clinic. Have you witnessed the pain of colic? Her normal pain didn’t prepare her for this.  She fought courageously and the vet did his very best. I held the lead rope while Sage was euthanized.  At the very end, I did help her with the pain.

Sometimes we do everything we can to help our horses and we lose them anyway. It’s a small comfort to know we did our best. No such comfort for Sage.

She was not mine to train, she was not mine to help. Sage was none of my business.

I’m thinking of Sage as I prepare to give a talk on Equine Gastric Ulcers at an Equine Education Day this weekend. (Read my ulcer articles.) I have experience helping  horses suffering with ulcers. Statistics say that 60% to 90% of performance horses have ulcers so victims aren’t hard to find.

Some folks are probably tired of hearing me always trying to spread the word about managing equine ulcers. Maybe they think, “Who died and made Anna the ulcer police?”

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm

(Photo: Sunset with Grace.)

8 comments on “Equine Gastric Ulcers… and Sage.

  1. Tisa Meisel says:

    Thank you Anna. I sure hope this message gets to the people who need it the most.

  2. Many trainers (I’ve noticed) are resistant to the idea a horse in their program could have ulcers. I believe the thinking is “No way am I stressing this horse out enough to cause an ulcer.” This baffles me. Why would it automatically be the trainer’s fault? And if training can be adjusted to support healing, why not? I don’t understand why addressing an ulcer, or a few ulcers, in a performance barn would ruin a trainers reputation. In my mind, it means trainer is on top of things, and cares.

    I had a terrible experience with this also: I agreed to oversee all horse’s care except training, while owner was out of country. Too long a story to go into. But outcome was better. Trainer was furious when I followed suggestion by owner-scheduled acupuncturist to put horse on ulcer meds. (???) Scoping by a vet would have been uncomfortable, expensive, and yes, ultimately a concrete dx. Trying suggested herbal meds first was less expensive, and did the job. Complete 360 in horse. Horse was off work/in turn out for 5 days (in horse’s schedule anyway). Trainer did not lose any income. Nor was trainer blamed in any way!

    A month after meds started, horse was happy, amazing under saddle, and looked great.

    Owner returned, sees amazing horse, gets trainer report, thinks I’m uneducated for treating an ulcer that didn’t exist. Got acupuncture report, said “well, it’s not from a vet…”

    Owner is absolutely correct. I have no way to definitively say “ulcer”. I could have been wrong. I mean that: I could have been wrong.

    I don’t regret my call for a second, even if wrong. I paid for meds, no one was harmed, and the horse got better. It was worth my peace of mind.

    Keep educating people! Many horse people don’t need a vet to dx colic…we can learn to suspect ulcers, know the signs, and make treatment or further testing decisions from there.

    • Thank you for this considered response. I agree that the sooner we can get past any imagined ‘shame’ and get on to getting the best, happiest work, the better. True for horses and also trainers who want the best, happiest results. I appreciate your remarks… and I am thinking the owner of that horse was too. Sometimes a diagnosis is shown true by improvement after treatment. For once, hindsight working for the best.

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  4. […] well-documented connection between ulcers and colic, the leading cause of premature equine death. (read here- I owe this lovely, sad mare a […]

  5. […] well-documented connection between ulcers and colic, the leading cause of premature equine death. (read here – I owe this lovely, sad mare a […]

  6. Its the first time i’ve heard you talk about ulcers. it’s all an education to me, that I am grateful for.The position you were put in was difficult. I am proud of you both, literary horse too. Simply you did the right thing by speaking up, that’s about all you can do..
    A sad story Anna, that needs to be told and I thank you for telling it. It just makes me want to know more. It seems that horses are so susceptible to ailments.. at the rescue, Cornish gold has EPM. I want to try the natural thing from Effective Pet wellness. Its not my business and I know nothing about horses but I just want to do anything to help.Right now its on the $1000 meds.
    well any way, I love you and your blog and keep on blogging what ever you like.Ulcers, behavior, listening. It all helps me, I’m just trying to learn how to be the best for the horse around the horse, and to stay safe.

  7. Anna Blake says:

    Thanks for reading. Ulcers are something I talk about constantly in training. So common, so important.

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