I have never been a fan of winter and, apparently, neither is my horse. As I am writing this, there is really little to complain about weatherwise, as it is about 50 degrees today and we have rain instead of snow. However, I still dislike the lack of sun we experience in the winter and the havoc it is reaping on my horse's airways.
Unfortunately, Harley has been coughing since the New Year. He just can't seem to shake it. I am in communication with my vet and I have already treated him with a round of medication. This did help, but his problem is persistent and sporadic. One day I go to visit him and he barely coughs at all, the next day he is coughing before I pull him from the paddock. It doesn't matter if he is in the barn or outside. His cough does not seem to be brought on by hay or exercise. His airway is definitely on high alert right now. Needless to say, this has made riding difficult, but wouldn't you know, he still wants to get up and go. I am sure that an allergy-induced cough presents itself in different ways in each patient (FYI: My horse is on immunotherapy shots for his condition). Harley's case is interesting, if not perplexing. I tried to ride him on New Year's Day, because it is my tradition to always ride on New Year's Day, and we never made it out of the walk. He had one coughing fit after another, so I called it quits. Between coughs, he had this beautiful, forward walk and was stretching into the bridle. I did not force him to work. He wanted to work. I think he would have continued if I hadn't been the one to say, "stop".
Once he was on medication and the cough seemed to be going away, I decided to ride him again. Please understand that I am not trying to make an uncomfortable horse work. I wouldn't even describe him as uncomfortable or unhappy, except when he is coughing. He loves activity and wants to go out and ride. In between coughs, he is his normal self. He doesn't weeze, sputter, or sound like he is out of breath. He just has a dry, annoying cough. Poor boy.
When we ride, he only does as much as he wants to, which surprisingly includes trotting and cantering. After walking for ten minutes and sitting through a coughing fit, I decided that we might as well give up for the day, but then Harley told me otherwise. He did this little hop and ear flick that means he wants to trot. I told him to go ahead if that was what he really wanted, fully expecting him to cough again. He did cough a couple more times, but nothing like the fit he had at the walk. Within a few minutes I could hardly believe my own sighs of relief, Harley was moving out, stretching his neck and back and making circuit after circuit around the ring without a cough. He was feeling so good that I almost didn't want to stop him for a walk break.
Next he asked to canter with another signature Harley move (a head raise and a different ear flick). I gave him the go ahead and he went off immediately. He coughed a few times and then found his rhythm. I could actually hear his breathing, regular and clear. He was so energetic and thrilled to be cantering that, again, I had to be the one to tell him we should probably end on a high note. Since then I have ridden him a few times with the same horse-centered approach. This makes him happy, which makes me happy, of course. I am still the one who cries "uncle".
Despite his good attitude and work ethic, I told my vet that he was still experiencing issues with the cough, even though we finished the medication. I asked her to recommend something that he could take daily and she said to try "Cough-Free". He is currently on MSM pellets, which I guess are not doing much for his cough. I have also tried SmartBreathe pellets, but I do not know if they worked. It is so difficult to tell, unless you remove the supplement and the symptoms reappear. The Cough-Free is priced between the MSM and SmartBreathe, so I am giving it a try; I just wish it came in a pellet. I read online that some horses reject the herbal scent and flavor. Cross your fingers that Harley eats it and it leaves him "free"!