The Joys of Medicating Ponies

The Eyes Have It

Juniper came to us with an eye injury. Unfortunately it was healing very slowly and developed an abscess over the top of it that is preventing any medication from getting to the actual injury, so the original injury is still not healed and now we also have to heal the abscess itself.

Some of the new drugs for fighting Juniper’s eye abscess arrived late last Tuesday, so Wednesday was day one with the stronger antibiotic for her eye itself and a broad-spectrum oral antifungal. The drugs we had been using were ointments that were pretty easy to apply. They have enough substance to stay on your finger until you position yourself and the horse (or pony) and wipe it along the eyelid, and you didn’t have to be perfect about placement. My vet was able to find the eye antifungal as an ointment (which we are still waiting for), but unfortunately the stronger eye antibiotics could only be found as eyedrops. The old medications were also given only three times a day and the new meds have to be given 4-6 times a day. So far we’ve managed five doses a day. Sort of. It turns out I suck at giving eye drops. I need one hand to hold Juniper, one hand to hold her top eyelid open, another hand to hold her bottom eyelid open, and yet another hand to squeeze the dropper. That is two more hands than I currently possess. Things have gotten a tiny big better, mostly in terms of not having to actually hold Juniper because she stands relatively still on her own. That is due entirely to positive reinforcement training, also known as clicker-training, also known as bribery, but like, intentional, well thought out, bribery.

Small digression – if people are interested, I can write more about this in a future post. A while ago I discovered Mustang Maddy and started down a clicker-training rabbit hole. I got some books and clickers for the holidays and have been working on it off-and-on with Leeloo for about two years. Super simplified summary for those of you not familiar with clicker-training: you teach your horse (or dog or dolphin or elephant or whatever) to associate a certain sound with a reward of some sort (hence “positive reinforcement training”). Then when you ask them to do a thing you use the sound as a way to communicate with them that they did the right thing. This is great because you can get the sound out IMMEDIATELY so they know exactly what the right thing is, whereas the reward might take more time to give them, and meanwhile they can get distracted and forget or not realize why they got a reward at all.

My concern was that Leeloo and I are still beginners at clicker-training and I didn’t know what she would do if she heard her clicker sound and then didn’t get a reward. I also didn’t know how I could use the clicker with one hand during this eyedrop process when the biggest issue is that I need more hands. I decided to make a random noise that I personally have never used with a horse before so Leeloo would never have heard it and hopefully neither had Juniper. There are very important guidelines and rules that should be followed when first introducing clicker-training to a horse and unfortunately Juniper and I didn’t have time or a physical location to do them in so we skipped right over them; this may be an issue long term but for now I’m hoping for the best. I started by making my sound and just giving Juniper a treat the day before we got the meds. Then on our first day with the meds I started by standing next to her and putting my hand by her eye and waiting until she stood still, then I made the sound and gave her a treat. Then I pulled the eyelid apart, waited till she stood still, made the sound, gave her a treat. Then I pulled the eyelid apart, placed the eyedropper near her eye, waited till she stood still, made the sound, gave her a treat. Then we did the actual eye drop. We are doing this every time I attempt the drops and for the first few days I would randomly go back a few steps in the middle and the end so we don’t end our time together with a drop in her eye.

Her standing is getting much better, but somehow I must have a tell for when I’m just holding the eye dropper near her eye versus planning on actually putting a drop in because she stands much better when I’m just holding it than when I plan on putting a drop in. She is also nickering for her treat as soon as she hears her “you did it right” sound, which is great because she is definitely associating the sound with the treat. She’s also associating the blue fanny pack the treats are in with treats and is trying to get them on her own (being polite about treats is one of those foundational steps we kind of skipped…).

The issue remains that I personally suck at giving eyedrops. Even with Juniper standing pretty quietly, I can’t seem to squeeze the eyedrop tube and keep it still enough to actually drop the liquid where I want it to drop. When I squeeze the tube, it moves, and the drop goes on my finger or down her face instead of in her eye. I am not the only person to suck at giving eyedrops, so the vet also sent some very tiny syringes with the idea being I could get some of the drops in the syringe and kind of spray it at her eye. We tried that on day three and somehow I suck even worse with that method than with the actual eye dropper so we’re going to stick with the eye dropper for a few more days and see if I can get any better.

The oral antifungal medication is going a little better at least. Day one we had to give a loading dose of 19 pills which I mixed in her food, added half a chopped-up apple to, and fed her, hoping she’d fall for it. She did not. She took a bite, spit it out, tried a second bite, spit that out, and then wandered away to eat grass. I went inside for molasses and added some, then added a little more, then added a little more. Sugar is as bad for horses as it is for people, and because Juniper most likely has Equine Cushing’s disease (more accurately called pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction or PPID) she may have some insulin issues, which is why sugar is extra not good for her. However, if I tried and failed too many times to get her to eat her meds she would just stop trying and then I would be out 19 very expensive pills. Luckily the overload of molasses was enough, and she ate it all up on the second try. She only needs seven pills a day for the rest of the time (three weeks for this med) and I was hoping the apple alone would be enough; it was not. I didn’t have to use as much molasses the second day, but still more than I liked. I started measuring it on day three instead of just pouring it out until it looks like enough. Having tried several times, I have it down to just a half tablespoon of molasses. The best variation so far is to let the pills soften up first (Juniper’s food is soaked so there is enough water in there to soften up the pills), but keep them spaced apart from each other, then put a little molasses directly on each of the softened up pills, then mush them around with everything else.

Complicating everything is that Leeloo thinks that when I’m in their space, I’m there for her, and nobody else. To be fair, that has been true for the last 13 years. She’s not mean to Juniper, but when I go up to Juniper, Leeloo comes up to me and Juniper moves away a few steps. I then step closer to Juniper, Leeloo then steps closer to me, and then Juniper moves away a few steps. The result is a ridiculous slow-motion chase around the shelter area which is where they are usually hanging out during the day.

I don’t have a barn (yet) and I still haven’t gotten my hay shelter built so my make-shift barn isn’t actually useable as such, being currently full of hay. This means the only place where I can actually separate the two of them is the round pen. That would be okay, except (A) there is no shelter so if it’s raining that means I’m attempting to put in eyedrops in the rain (B) there is ton of grass in there so Juniper is pretty distracted by all the food and (C) it is SUPER extra buggy in the front of our house where the round pen is. I have no idea why, but every single kind of bug is worse up there. The mosquitoes, the flies, and those stupid f*ing midges or gnats. I am coming to hate them more than any other bug (other than ticks which will always remain enemy number one) because they love to divebomb my face, and actively fly into my nose, my ears, my eyes, and my mouth. I have had at least three fly into my mouth while I was trying to blow them out of my eyes. They drive all of us crazy! As if trying to give eyedrops to a pony wasn’t hard enough trying to do it while you are both being swarmed by gnats is miserable. This, along with the rapidly shortening days, is why I feel very strongly that I need a barn. Nate keeps reminding me that I don’t actually *need* a barn, I *want* a barn, but after the last few days of giving eye meds it feels like a need to me!


Video proof that the bugs are awful! 

Leeloo and Juniper feel the same way I do about the bugs and would also like a barn.  Now we just need one of us to win the lottery!

Looking for a Baby Maker

Leeloo Needs More Friends

Juniper would like Leeloo to get more friends. Having Leeloo’s full and undivided attention is getting to be a bit much for her.

Because it is just the two of them and Leeloo is used to being with a herd at all times Leeloo insists that the two of them be together at all times, not just within sight, but together. Leeloo also hates bugs almost as much as I do which means she wants to be hiding in the slightly less buggy shelter area most of the daylight hours. Juniper on the other hand doesn’t mind the bugs if she can be shoving food in her face and would rather be out eating all day. But because Leeloo is who she is, and has no one else but Juniper, that means that Juniper has to be where Leeloo wants to be, and that is in the shelters and not eating for much of the day. They are not starving by any means, I have been picking up enough poop every day to know that, but Juniper would definitely be eating more if she had a chance. For Juniper’s sanity we really need to find Leeloo more friends.

Juniper’s preference – grazing

Leeloo’s preference – hiding from the bugs in the shelter



I have some strong feelings on who this next friend needs to be. I have wanted to have a horse farm my entire life, specifically I have wanted to work with foals and young horses. I had my first opportunity when Leeloo was born and have loved almost all of it; the injuries, illnesses, and mystery lameness not so much, though I have learned a ton. My goal when we moved here was to start a very, very, small horse breeding and training operation. I had hoped to have a new foal every other year and work with them slowly over several years and then sell one sane, sound, well trained, six- or seven-year-old every other year. VERY small operation. But to do that I need a mare worth breeding. I love Leeloo, she is one of the best horses ever, and I would love to have many of her qualities in future horses. However, the sheer quantity of lameness issues she has dealt with, some with clear sources and some without, combined with some of the soundness issues her sisters have had, makes me unwilling to breed her. I never, ever, want to have to go through the pain, heartache, and money that I have gone through with Leeloo again and the chance that there might be a genetic component to her various lameness issues is just too high to risk passing on to another generation. Therefore, I need to find a mare worth breeding.

I have learned that means different things to different people, this is what I mean when I say that: I’m looking for a mare with good conformation and a good personality.

Conformation. There is a lot of information on what good conformation looks like – this post by the U of M extension has a really nice summary. I’m looking for everything they mention plus I want a pretty head and good feet. A “pretty head” is a little harder to pin down than good confirmation, but I did find this website that articulates it fairly well. I think Leeloo has a pretty head, but of course I am biased. Good feet can be a bit trickier to identify because the condition of a horse’s hoof is a combination of conformation, genetics, nutrition, environment, and farrier care. Bad farrier care, bad environment, or bad nutrition can ruin perfectly good feet. That being said after having a horse that had to be shod year-round and dealing with Leeloo’s various feet issues, having good feet is a must. I read an article in the American Quarter Horse Journal (it was an actual physical magazine so I can’t link it) about one of the founding studs of the Quarter Horse breed. He was a really talented racehorse and a popular stud, but they mentioned in passing that he had bad feet. My immediate thought was, and you just bred that trait into how many future generations? So, I’m looking for good confirmation, good feet, and a pretty head.

Personality. I think a foal picks up much of their early personality and behavior from their dam. Leeloo’s dam Annie was a sweet, friendly, smart, willing mare who loved to be around people (she was a lapdog that somehow got born into a horse body) and I believe Leeloo got that from her both through her genetics and through learned behavior; by watching how Annie interacted with the world and people around her. That’s not to say you can’t ruin a perfectly good-natured horse by treating it poorly or that a horse that starts out as a bull-headed a** can’t eventually become a friendly and willing partner. But starting out with a foal who already likes and trusts people because their mom likes and trusts people makes the job easier. So, I’m looking for a sweet, smart, and willing mare. 

Things I don’t care as much about.

Height – I am a tall person and most of my height is in my torso, so when I’m sitting on a horse I look even taller. If I ever start showing again it’s important that the horse and I “make a pretty picture” and since I’m 90% torso I look stupid on short horses. Not to say shorter horses aren’t great, we just look very disproportionate. So, I’d like a horse that is at least 15’1 hands high and not taller than 17 hands. I know that in some performance-based events (like barrel racing) shorter horses are preferred which is why my height range has expanded from my long-term preference of 16 hands or so.

Color – I have always been partial to buckskins, duns, bays, and roans. But in the end color doesn’t matter, good confirmation and personality matter. Also, Leeloo is a chestnut and Annie was a gray and I love/loved them completely so who cares about color

Breeding – I think too many people get caught up with certain bloodlines and in the end a good horse is a good horse. A horse can have the “best” (as in most expensive or most famous) breeding and be just a so-so or worse horse. I do however want a registered mare because I think long-term it gives more options for what to do with her and how I can market and sell future offspring.

I have just recently started searching for this dream mare, having been preoccupied with the seemingly never-ending fence saga, I’ve gotten a few leads but so far they haven’t panned out, or have been out of my price range. I had always assumed I would be getting a Quarter Horse or an Appendix since those are the horses I have had so far in my life and most of the people I showed with while growing up had Quarter Horses or Appendixes. However, two of my last three leads were Paints and one of the neighbors who I’ve started to get to know better shows her horse at Paint shows. Is the universe telling me to get a Paint?