by Laura Crum
Recently an acquaintance of mine had his very nice roan rope horse colic—and he almost lost the horse. The culprit was stones. This guy said his horse passed a total of eighty-nine stones over a two day period, ranging from pencil eraser sized to as big as your hand. Since this horse is twenty, the owner did not want to attempt surgery, so the horse was given painkillers and oil and fluids and they waited it out. The horse had colicked due to stones before, but this time he was very painful. The vet did not think he would make it. But time passed and the horse got better. And eventually the gelding seemed fine. Eighty-nine stones later (!)
We talked about this at the roping arena, of course, and we all had a story to tell about stones. Another friend told of hearing a big thunk as his horse passed manure. When he investigated, he found a baseball sized stone. And this horse never colicked.
Another friend said that he’d had to euthanise a horse due to a sudden, violent colic—the horse went downhill incredibly fast in 24 hours. The autopsy revealed a big stone.
Of course, I had to tell my “stone” story. My son’s horse, Henry, colicked three years ago. The colic never seemed very severe, but it wouldn’t go away. Every time the Banamine wore off, Henry started going down and pawing…etc. He never got extremely painful, he never cracked a sweat, his vital signs stayed pretty normal. But after 48 hours of relatively mild colic we hauled him to the equine hospital and they ultra-sounded him. They said they could see what they thought was a large pocket of small stones and sand and recommended surgery. Henry was twenty years old at the time, but I really valued him and desperately did not want my kid to lose his horse. So I opted for the surgery.
Henry got through it just fine (though I pretty much sweated/cried the entire time he was under), but when the surgeon got inside the intestine, he discovered not just the bucket full of sand/stones they expected, but also (in another place) a single BIG stone. As big as a very large cantalope—not something a horse was going to be able to pass. They had to make a second incision in his intestine to get it out.
Anyway, three months of steady rehab and ten thousand dollars later, Henry was a riding horse again, and even though I am not a wealthy person, it was all worth it to me, because Henry is such a great horse. For those who might want to know what such a stone looks like, see the photo below. We call it our “ten thousand dollar rock”.
Previous to this, I had never even seen an enterolith before, let alone been the owner of one. I knew about stones as a problem, but that problem had never come my way. I had heard that stones can be caused by feeding straight alfalfa hay, and I never feed straight alfalfa. Usually I feed a grass/alfalfa mix that’s mostly grass. But I know for a fact that Henry ate straight alfalfa hay most of his life—he only came to me as an 18 year old horse. I’d also heard that stones are far more common here on the west coast of America—that they’re practically unheard of in the East—even when people do feed straight alfalfa. Something about the minerals in the soils and water out west is apparently conducive to making stones.
So today I’d like to ask if others have had experiences with stones or if you have some info to share. I am sincerely hoping Henry does not go through another struggle—much less make another “rock” like the one on my mantle. Hopefully it took him all of twenty years to make that one—I doubt he has enough time remaining to make another. But still, it’s a worry. Any thoughts?
PS—For those who are curious about the statue, my husband bought it in a Tibetan shop in old Delhi thirty years ago, when he was traveling the world. The figure represents Chenrezig (the Tibetan name for Avalokitesvara)—the avatar of compassion. The Dalai Lama is said to be a reincarnation of this being.
I've never heard of this - but that rock is HUGE! I can see why they cause such trouble. Is it related at all to sand colic? Or is it more like a kidney stone in humans?
When I moved to Florida, I was quickly informed that my mare should be on SandClear once a month to prevent sand colic, which apparently is very common because we don't really have soil here.
Promise--What I've been told (by the vet who operated on Henry) is that they "may" be caused by sand, sort of like a pearl--the grain of sand is the seed that the body "wraps" more mineral around to make the stone. And yes, they also said it was like a kidney stone or a gallstone in humans. I do feed Henry SandClear every few months--though I have mixed feelings about this, as others have said that it LED to colic in their horses.
I've never heard about stones in horses. Great... something more to worry about ;-)
We did have a Golden Retriever who had to have surgery for stones. The vet removed a peanut butter jar full of dice-sized and large marble sized stones. She had to have a special diet afterwards.
One of the equine hospitals I've been to has a display case of huge stones - very scary. I've fortunately never had experience with them, and hope that I never will. I've also heard that alfalfa can be a cause - apparently due to mineral content. We use all grass hay, so with luck that'll keep things at bay - but as you point out you never know your horse's prior history.
Dreaming--I didn't know dogs could have stones.
Kate--I've tried feeding straight grass hay, but my horses just didn't look as good as when I feed the mix. I don't feed grain or supplements (except as needed by older horses or such) and the grass/alfalfa mix I feed keeps all four of my horses here at home looking really good.
I haven't had trouble with stones... tho' my vet has a softball size one in her office!
Shanster--Well, judging by your vet--and Kate's--I guess stones aren't just a problem in California. The vet here at the equine hospital had a huge case of them--all shapes and sizes. Kind of creepy.
I've heard feeding apple cider vinegar will "dissolve" stones, but there is the issue of getting the horse to eat it unless you add molasses or something, and if the horse is prone to ulcers, that might not be such a good idea.
I feed a psyllium product (Sand Clear is one of several commercial products out there. Have heard that powder is more effective than pellets, but I find "dissolved pellets" (they look like mucous-covered sand) floating in the water--they get stuck in the horse's mouth and he "rinses" before he drinks--which means those pellets that DO get into the gut will do the mucous thing, moving along, glomming onto sand as they head to the exit.
Asked a vet if it mattered if I fed psyllium once a day for a week once a month or once a week every week and he said it did not matter. What mattered was that the horse not be "whiffling" for food on the ground. That if hay bits dropped on the ground, the horse could pick those up without getting a lot of sand in the process but if there wasn't enough hay and the ground was basically bare, horses would scrounge around for anything with roots and ingest that along with the sand or dirt on the roots.
Vets can check the gut for sand. My horse sees the vet 2x a year and is "sand checked" (using the stethoscope and pushing up on the hind gut to hear the noise). So far, 13 years in the High Desert, no issues with sand in the gut OR colic.
Wow, as an Easterner I was blissfully unaware of stones.
Now someone needs to research why West Coast is more conducive--that would be an interesting blog.
I've never heard of stones. This is crazy, something else to worry about!! Luckily Sugar and I both reside very much on the East Coast.
We feed Orchard mix, I don't think that involved Alfalfa.
I sure hope not. hmm.
TB Dancer--I've never had a horse (other than Henry) have an issue with sand or stones in, lets see, almost forty years of steady horse ownership. And, as I say, Henry came to me as an 18 year old horse and had his serious colic at twenty, so I'm not sure if my horse keeping practices were part of the problem. I don't feed Sandclear or other such products other than to Henry, and all my horses are fed in big feeders--not on the ground. But anyone who supposes that a horse does not "whiffle" lots of bits of hay off the ground, or that grazing horses don't pick up bits of dirt from the roots (in season) hasn't watched many horses eat. I don't know why I haven't had much problem with sand overall (knocking on wood), but I haven't.
Alison--I was hoping someone would tell me why stones are more common on the West Coast. I've only heard the theory about the minerals in the soil and water being conducive to it.
Minus Pride--I believe alfalfa is much less common on the East Coast. But don't get me wrong--alfalfa can be a GREAT feed for horses. That's the reason I feed a hay that is mostly grass with a little alfalfa. Alfalfa has a lot of good points--its too rich for most horses fed straight, and is supposed to contribute to the stones problem. But it supplies a lot of what a horse needs and in my opinion is a healthier and more natural way to "supplement" horses than grain or the expensive supplements that are often chosen in its stead.
I'd never heard of this either, and as I read I wondered whether these horses had been eating stones!!!! But my goodness, Henry's stone is a whopper, and so perfect too. Yes, it's definitely a ten thousand dollar stone.
The next time I see my vet I'll ask whether horses over here get stones. We feed alfalfa, but apparently in some far more digestive form (no clue what that is). I hope European horses don't get them as, seriously, there's already plenty to worry about!
Francesca--I had never heard of stones until maybe fifteen years ago, when a friend of mine had a horse that died of a colic--said to be caused by a stone. Since then, as my post shows, I've heard of them all too often. If you get a chance, do find out if they occur in Europe and why your alfalfa might be more "digestable".
I grew up in California and every single horse operation I knew of fed alfalfa hay--many still do. In our "horse care" class in college, alfalfa was touted as the "perfect" feed for horses. My racehorse training in-laws in Michigan currently feed alfalfa--and are widely regarded as mavericks by the their fellow trainers back there. Alfalfa has clearly fallen from grace, as they say. And yet every time I try feeding straight grass hay, my horses lose condition and I am not happy. So I go back to what works. And my grass/alfalfa blend, which is three quarters grass, works in spades. The horses look great. Plumber, who is 22 right now, has lived with me his entire life and never had one digestive problem (knocking on wood--quite literally). So, yeah, I'm really curious about all this.
According to this article, Henry should be fine on a 25% alfalfa diet:
...oh, and it seems like it's the hard water in California that's to blame. All the precursor minerals to the enterolith crystals are present in California's water.
Thank you, Yatima--that's interesting and helpful to know.
Yep, our vet has a collection of stones. Some are close to that big. That's a big one!! I had those things, and I pray pray my horses never get one like that.
Mikey--I pray none of my horses ever has one again! And I sure hope yours don't either. The surgery--besides being expensive--embroiled me in three months of non-stop work. Henry had to live in an immaculate stall (I cleaned it three times a day), eat small feedings four times a day, be hand walked three times a day, hand grazed at least twice a day, have meds twice a day, be re-wrapped every day or so,,,etc. Then he got an incisional infection, then he got a hernia. None of that turned out to be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but talk about a lot of doctoring and recheck visits at the equine hospital. Yikes.
It's amazing that something that big was sitting inside Henry, like a time bomb. I'd heard about stones, but didn't realize they were something the horses actually produce over time. Scary. I'm so glad Henry came through all of that. How heavy is Henry's stone? It looks like it could break toes if someone dropped it on their foot.
Once Upon--Its HEAVY! I picked it up after I read your comment and it weighs significantly more than a cantalope of that size--and they ain't light. Yes, I think it could break a toe...
Henry did come through the whole ordeal wonderfully well, and I agree, its both amazing and scary that he was carrying that huge, heavy stone on so many of our early trail rides. And he never showed the slightest sign of discomfort right up until the day he colicked.
I do think that part of the reason Henry did so well was that he was in such good shape going into surgery. I'm really glad I didn't wait too long.
Wow.. I really hope everything will be okay! Wasn't aware of this danger in horses' organisms.
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