Another Death in the Family

December 13th, 2011

By Dan Miller



Yesterday afternoon, our Colombian Paso Fino gelding, Flash, died at the age of about nine. That amounts to three horses dead in about six months, all apparently from piroplasmosis, a tick borne disease that affects red blood cells.

First Teka died, then Flash’s daughter Sizzler and yesterday Flash.



Sizzler at 13 months


As the red blood cells deteriorate, the blood can no longer be oxygenated adequately, respiration and heartbeat accelerate to compensate for the deficiency and death, often sooner but sometimes later, results. Our worker, Daniel, had been bathing all of our horses regularly with the solution our veterinarian had prescribed for ticks and other insects. Fortunately, blood tests on two remaining horses, at least for now, show that they are not infected.

Flash was a sweet, gentle and beautiful horse.  When we bought him at the age of about four years, he had never carried a saddle.  I was the first to back him, a gradual process taking over a month.  After he had come to know me a bit we did ground work on a lounge line.  Then, he came to accept a saddle without objection. Then, a bit of my weight in his near side (left) stirrup. Then, a bit more as I put all of my weight in his near-side stirrup.  Finally, I gained the saddle without objection. With daily ground work in our training area, first on a lounge line and eventually at liberty, we got to know each other well and he came to do as I asked.  When mounted, very slight shifts in position and barely perceptible rein movements were sufficient to communicate with him.

Flash tended to be very sensitive and hence very nervous.  Once several years ago, we were working in the training area and an empty concrete sack placed on the ground by some workers who had been building a thatch-roofed shelter nearby on our finca was picked up by a gust of wind and came flying toward us.  Flash must have jumped half way across the ring to our right. It took him only a few seconds to respond to my efforts to calm him down.  I had pulled a tailor muscle and, after riding him back to where I could dismount and tether him, I was unable walk or ride for a few days without lots of pain. Flash seemed to suffer no similar discomfort and we soon got back to working together. Eventually, after trying all of the desensitizing techniques I knew and was able to discover, I was again eager to ride him most anywhere and he offered no objections.

Jeanie and Flash

Jeanie and Flash

My wife, Jeanie, also loved to ride Flash and relished his company. He was her favorite horse from the beginning, even before he became ours. She just reminded me that Flash was once part of a large herd of about twenty and that they were routinely given vitamin shots. To accomplish this, a worker corralled and immobilized them by tying them tightly to a fence. A needle was then thrown in like a dart and the syringe fastened. That causes the needle to wiggle about and is a very unpleasant; there are far easier and less traumatic ways to give intramuscular injections and our horses accept them without objection.  Jeanie saw that Flash was terrified; she went to him, covered his eyes and hugged him. He was immediately calmed, a special bond was developed and from then on he was her favorite.  His death upset both of us greatly.

As is normal with Paso Finos, Flash did not trot.  Instead, he had a lateral gait somewhat similar to that of a Tennessee Walker. The lateral gait is much smoother than a trot, a diagonal gait with lots of ups and downs. Paso Finos can go for hours without tiring themselves or their riders, at about the same speed as another horse at a trot.

Fast forward.  The veterinarian, whom we were unable to reach on December 8th due to a major Panamanian holiday, Mother’s Day, came the next morning. Flash’s red blood count was low but since I had injected him with Imidocarb-LH as the vet had previously prescribed should the same apparent illness that had killed two of our other horses appear, we all thought and hoped that Flash could recover. The vet administered a couple of IVs and injected more Imidocarb-LH. Over the next few days, Flash appeared to have ceased deteriorating but seemed to be improving very slowly if at all; despite appearing to do little more than to stabilize we anticipated a full recovery, likely to take weeks.  He ate only a little bit of grass, drank some water but refused grain. He walked only a bit and otherwise remained standing. Then, at around 3:00 p.m. yesterday, he lay down and died. He was buried yesterday afternoon.  We will both miss him very, very much.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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4 Responses to “Another Death in the Family”

  1. Tom Carter |

    Very sad, Dan, and I’m sorry for your loss. Horses are beautiful, wonderful creatures that make life better for mere humans.

  2. d |

    The heartbreak of losing one,much less,three horses is vertually,unbearable. I never heard of this disease,maybe your area needs a severe tick spraying,but,I guess,wherever you ride,you could get a tick. Horrible problem,must be the area you live in. I am terribly sorry about your huge losses.
    Question,Dan,why did your horses appear so thin? Is that a symptom of their disease? Oh well,I always like a fat horse,so I think my that’s why my husband says I fatten up everything,cats,dogs,horses,him. I hate to see thin animals. Although,Pasos are a thinner,more athletic,breed,yours seemed very thin.
    I know you and your wife are devestated,maybe it’s time to move to a more horse-friendly region? Again,I am very sorry and I feel your pain,believe me,you guys will never fully get over these losses. A true tradgedy,and a hole in your hearts,forever.

  3. Dan Miller |

    Thanks, Tom and d,

    Piroplasmosis is rare in the United States, with the exception of some southern areas. It is more common in tropical areas, but since we live up in the mountains at 3,200 feet AMSL, where temperatures rarely go about 80 degrees F., it is uncommon here; more cows than horses seem to get it.

    Our horses are frequently bathed in the anti-tick, etc. solution recommended by our vet, whom we and many others regard as the best horse vet available in the area. Aside from being more alert to early signs — a horse being even slightly off his feed seems to be the earliest — and promptly administering 10 cc of Imidocarb-LH in two intramuscular injections about an hour apart, I don’t know what else to do.

    Our vet has suggested about six pounds of grain daily, three in the morning and three in the evening. Our pastures also have grass of the most nutritious type grown here and our horses can graze in our pastures constantly, not being confined to stalls. Our grass is quite plentiful after more than six months of much rain. Even during the coming “summer” or dry season, it should remain very plentiful because, unlike most other nearby areas, we get little wind to dry it.

  4. larry |

    Once again let me express my sorry for your loss.
    It’s been a bad year for you and your four legged friends.
    I’m very attached to my animals and can relate to how you feel.
    The tropical climate of Panama is no doubt responsible for the high mortality rate among your animals.
    I’m located in an area where both tick and snake bites take a substantial toll on domestic animals. I would think that the rate would be much higher in your area.
    I’ve found that Sevan Dust #5 is really effective for flea and tick control. Snakes of course present more of a problem. A good 12gauge is a step in the right direction but not a real solution.

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