Johnni … a thoroughbred-trakehner cross … presented Wobbler’s systems very suddenly at ten-months old and was diagnosed at a “level 3” by our local veterinarian. I was aware of the existence of this affliction having seen a case some years before at Washington State University in Pullman, but had no knowledge of it’s cause nor of treatment. I knew however that it’s occurrence was dire for our young horse … and we were devastated.
Our veterinarian -with who I have a twenty-something year relationship -is well aware of our commitment to our horses and quickly described the cause of Johnni’s rather drunken stagger … and most importantly, she offered hope that the affliction could conceivably be treated and that the diagnosis did not automatically mean a death sentence for him. She put us in contact with a veterinary clinic in Balzac, just outside Calgary,Alberta and some 9 hours drive from our farm, and we lost no time in contacting the Moore Clinic and in arranging to have them examine Johnni and hopefully, perform the surgery that would be necessary to alleviate his “disease”. Euthanization without a good fight was never an option for our horse and we set about learning as much as we could about Wobbler’s in the week prior to transporting him to Calgary. We also modified our angle-haul trailer as best we could to try to make the long trip as easy as possible for the wobbly baby.
The trailer trip was fortunately relatively uneventful and in spite of the fact that Johnni’s longest ride to that date had been a 10 minute trip with his mother to another farm, he was a trooper. We made numerous stops to allow him to rest and drink, and arrived late in the day at the Moore Clinic where we were met by both the prospective surgeon, Dr. Scott, and a veterinary neurologist, Dr. Evans. After a brief exam and confirmation of the “level 3” diagnosis we’d received at home, Johnni was scheduled for a myelogram the following day.
Needless to say we spent a very tense day in the city waiting for “the call” … and we were thrilled to learn that Johnni was up and on his feet and ready to be visited. Uor elation was short-lived however, when Dr. Evans reviewed the x-rays with us a short time later and pointed out the degree of vertebrae constriction that was causing the “problem”. Johnni had not one but 3 vertebra constricting his spinal cord, and, it was decided, were we to proceed with surgery we would require the willingness and availability of a true expert and pioneer in the treatment of Wobbler’s horses, Dr. Barrie Grant who based his practice in California.
Luck was on our side again since my local veterinarian knew and had spoken with Dr. Grant about Johnni, and he agreed to fly to Calgary to perform the surgery -with the help of his assistant as well as Dr. Scott and Dr. Evans and their support staff at the Moore Clinic. A date was set … and we waited, again rather tensely, for Johnni’s operation which was to take place some 4 weeks later.
By the time “the date” arrived, Johnni’s weight had been dropped to a minimum and he had spent much of that time confined to a stall. He bore little resemblance to the well-developed 10 month old we had left 4 weeks earlier, but he was no worse than the level 3 he had evidenced originally and we were hopeful. In fact I have to say that in spite of the delicacy of the surgery he was to undergo, it never occurred to me that he would not survive …
My husband, being of much stronger constitution than I and far less prone to bouts of “nerves” made sure that he was present before and during surgery and was fascinated by the whole event. I had decided to go ahead with a planned trip to Ireland and was pacing back and forth in a hotel in Galway when he phoned … 1:00 am Irish time … to report that the surgery was complete and that Johnni was in “recovery” … and I was still pacing when, 45 minutes later he called again to say that he was on his feet and was being attended by a host of clinic staff. The worst was over …
Johnni spent the next 3 months as a resident of the Moore Clinic. We visited him from time to time throughout the summer but were well pleased with the attention he received from the staff and optimistic about his future. We had decided that we would be satisfied to bring him home as a “pasture ornament” and we knew early on that he would at least be mobile and “stagger free”.
The trailer ride home was again uneventful, and there wasn’t a dry eye when we led Johnni up to the door to load him and he climbed in, carefully lifting the hind feet in sequence for the trip. He had been unable to do that prior to his surgery …
Johnni was again “confined to barracks” for his first month at home. He was then allowed access to his small adjoining paddock for the next month and to a larger one for a subsequent 4 week period … at which time, 6 months after his surgery, the fused vertebrae were deemed “set” and he was allowed out with his stable mates. That was January. By early spring he was regaining his muscle tone [He was very week when he was released from the clinic] and learning to re-balance himself with his “stiff” neck. A year later he was back to behaving like a normal two-year old … galloping, bucking, kicking and playing.
Johnni is now 4. He is health and happy and shows no evidence of his “affliction” other than the stiffness in his neck. His Trakehener bloodlines destined him for a career in dressage and he has regained the beautiful floating trot that he inherited from his mother and, happily, the wonderful friendly personality that definitely comes from the sires side of the gene pool. We have begun his training slowly, will take our time and see where his future leads. At the very least he will be a wonderful pleasure horse.
We were fortunate … Of that we have no doubt … and our experience and results were positive. Johnni had the best possible attention and care and has thrived, even with 3 metal baskets in his neck, and we are eternally grateful to all the veterinarians that played a part in his story. We are always happy to share our experience with anyone contemplating the fate of a Wobbler’s victim and to encourage them to consider the option of surgery if at all possible. It isn’t inexpensive … but it’s always worth a try.