Miranda Prather curled up on a rubber matt next to her sick horse’s stall and pulled a horse blanket over her shoulder for warmth in the late August chill.
The barn was so quiet in the middle of the night. All she could hear was horses breathing and shifting about in their stalls. Munching hay. Sometimes a bat flew overhead as she listened in fear.
Her gelding Blue Blue Sea struggled with colic in the next stall, hanging his head in misery, sweating and trembling in the cool air.
“That night is one that I won’t soon forget. I had one prior experience with colic in horses I owned before Blue, but nothing like this,” Prather says. “I was a bit nervous about the whole thing” and I couldn’t leave him.
As the hours ticked on, Prather could only drift off for a moment or two, reawakening again and again to check on her horse. Every couple of hours she put his halter on, clipped on a lead rope, and led him out of his stall to walk around, keeping his gut moving.
As dawn was breaking, Blue spiked a 104 fever.
Race name: Blue Blue Sea
Sire: Sea Hero
Foal date: 1999“He had a look in his eye like he was unsure where he was and he seemed to have trouble standing,” she says. “When his fever shot up, he was shaking with a chill, but he was dripping in sweat.”
When morning finally came, Blue was better, and Prather hoped the worst was over. In late August 2006, it would sadly turn out that the bad part had only begun.
The ex-racehorse Thoroughbred who had raced in claimers at Rockingham and Suffolk Downs in New England, and who had never had any health problems, went downhill fast.
He dropped 300 to 400 pounds and colicked again and again.
“I was encouraged to euthanize him,” Prather recalls. “Veterinarians felt he would only live another one or two years.”
But she couldn’t put him down that easily.
Prather sent Blue for ultrasounds and blood work at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, and while most tests looked normal, a low-protein reading, led veterinarians to suspect Blue was perhaps suffering with some type of disorder that prevented him from absorbing nutrients properly.
For the next year, Blue struggled as different treatments were tried. An intense, five-day liquid wormer regimen failed to improve his condition, and after he colicked again, he was eventually placed on two types of steroids in an attempt to help him regain weight.
Blue made some progress, but still wasn’t right. And as she watched her horse struggle, Prather wrestled with the possible need for euthanasia. “I didn’t want to put him through a lot of pain and suffering just so he could be here for me,” she says. “But I didn’t want to just give up on him either.”
While keeping a close watch on her horse, she scoured the Internet for information relating to absorption disorders in horses and eventually found a veterinarian who recommended a veterinary nutritionist in California.
And this changed everything.
Blue, it turns out, is allergic to hay! Or if not hay itself, then to the mold and dust found in it. So, in December 2007, he was placed on a new feed regimen consisting of hay pellets and whey.
Blue regained his weight and thus far has survived longer than most vets predicted.
Sure, Blue will never be the dressage prospect for which Prather had hoped. But, the plain chestnut whom she purchased in March 2004 turned out to be the one horse for whom she’d do anything, and ask nothing in return.
“I’m not sure I would have done all of this for any of the other horses I’ve owned,” Prather says.
“There’s a saying that you get one special horse in your lifetime, and for me, Blue is it. There’s just something about him that tugs on me. And I can’t make the decision to let him go until he lets me know it’s time.”