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Hay is for horses – but not this horse

January 21, 2008

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

Everyone knows that horses eat hay, but one Lester Prairie horse has a medical condition that makes her stand out from the herd. She can’t digest hay.

Debbie and Dave Potts of Lester Prairie bought 7-year-old Baylee from their farrier four years ago. None of them were aware of the horse’s condition at the time.

Baylee acted just like their other horses.

The Potts family has three horses, and they like to go trail riding as often as possible during the summer.

When they were out riding, Debbie occasionally noticed that Baylee was acting as if something was bothering her.

The horse would frequently turn to her left and appeared uncomfortable.

Over time, the condition came and went, and Dave and Debbie were unable to determine what was causing it.

“Horses are like young kids. They can’t tell you what is bothering them,” Dave commented.

Debbie and Dave consulted their regular vet, but were unable to find the source of the problem.

At one point, they filmed the horse for the vet to help identify the source.

While watching the tape, they noticed that, in addition to frequently turning to her left, Baylee flicked her tail 10 times to the left for every one time to the right, as if she was trying to tell them something

“She was not misbehaving. She was just acting like something was wrong,” Debbie said.

They eventually took Baylee to the University of Minnesota Equine Center.

The vets at the equine center did some tests. The vets noticed that the horse had an abnormally large stomach. They did an ultrasound, and then a stomach scope, which involved sending a small camera through the horse’s nose and into its stomach.

What they found was enough to make anyone uncomfortable.

A basketball-sized ball of impacted hay was lodged in the horse’s stomach.

The vets began a series of lavage treatments to remove the obstruction. The process involved running a tube into the horses stomach to try to wash out the impacted hay. It took about three hours.

The condition is not common. Debbie said it was strange to hear the vets at the equine center – vets who see cases from all over the region – talking about how unique Baylee is because she can’t eat hay.

Debbie said Baylee has been the subject of two case studies done by vets at the university.

In December, she appeared on television when a film crew from Channel 9 News was filming a story about the new equine center and Baylee happened to be there.

The celebrity status generated by Baylee’s condition is something Debbie would have preferred to do without. She indicated that she would be happy if Baylee was just an ordinary horse.

Despite the challenge of her condition, Debbie was determined to keep Baylee.

“She’s an awesome trail horse. She will go anywhere, do anything, and she jumps into the trailer on her own when it is time to go. It’s hard to find horses like that,” Debbie said.

Discovering the source of the problem was only the beginning. Debbie and Dave then had to decide what to do about it.

Baylee has been completely off of hay since last May.

Because Baylee is unable to digest hay, Debbie feeds her senior pelletized food.

Buying special food for a horse that weighs 1,160 pounds is a much more daunting proposition than it is to buy food for the average cat or dog.

Baylee gets about 10 pounds of food per day.

The best price Debbie has found for the food is $11.25 for a 50-pound bag, and each bag only lasts a week.

The good news is that Baylee seems to be able to tolerate fresh green grass, so she is able to graze in the pasture with the other horses during the spring and summer.

Debbie said they will probably continue to experiment with feeding Baylee small amounts of hay and different combinations of food to see what she can tolerate.

Dave pointed out that they have an advantage now, because they know what to look for, and know how Baylee behaves when her stomach is bothering her, so they can react much more quickly.

He also had high praise for the equine center.

“We are lucky to have a facility like that so close to home,” Dave said.

In addition to the care the animals receive, Dave appreciates the center’s approach to the financial side of things.

“They would give us a worst-case scenario of what it would cost, and then we could decide whether to go ahead with treatments, and nobody was judging us,” he commented.

Debbie said they will probably be back at the equine center again in a few weeks for another check-up, but for now, Baylee seems to be doing well.

“I think now that she is lucky that she lives with someone who recognized that she wasn’t misbehaving, and her behavior was just a sign that something was bothering her,” Debbie said.

The way that the Potts family feels about animals is obvious.

Dave said one of the reasons they moved out to the country was to allow them to keep horses.

Debbie said she got her first horse when she was 14, and she dreams of living in place where the climate would allow her to ride year-around.

In addition to the horses, visitors to the Potts residence are greeted by an enormous 200-pound St. Bernard who looks like he could support a saddle and rider of his own, a 5-pound chihuahua, and an assortment of curious cats.