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!