Ataxia in a Young Horse: A Matter of Time and Luck

When we got a call from our boarding stable, we weren’t expecting to hear the word “ataxia.”

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When we got a call from our boarding stable on the day of my 6-month-old Trakehner colt’s first vaccinations, one word we weren’t expecting to hear was "ataxia."

As a freelance news writer for The Horse, I’m subject to the same kind of "overdiagnosis syndrome" as anyone in the health industry–your horse coughs and you fear herpesvirus; he shivers and you think tetanus. Even so, I’ve always tried to hold true to that wise mantra taught in veterinary school: "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses–not zebras." In other words, don’t turn common clinical signs into far-fetched conclusions.

But having recently written an article on hay-induced neurologic toxicity, I didn’t handle the news well. Dragging of the hind feet and an inability to coordinate proper steps is not likely to be a situation that induces optimism, despite all our best hopes and ambitions for this weanling colt. Only a month before, German dressage judges had given him high scores in all three gaits. His new score? Grade 3 out of 5 "wobbler syndrome."

Singer was the first foal born to our champion mare and was himself a champion, already appraised at a high value. With his excellent pedigree and strong potential, the only choice left before us at the time of his weaning was whether to sell now or present him for stallion approval at age two

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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