It started like this, with the news scrunched into a single Tweet without a capital letter: "tina cook has withdrawn miners frolic,horse I think got btten by something waiting for official reason". Like so many Tweets, it spoke volumes.
That was back on April 23rd, before the dressage at the 2011 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials 4* in England. The "tweeter" was @BHTRadio (Badminton Horse Trials Radio) and it seemed quite mysterious that one of Britain's very top horses, an Olympic veteran, could be so affected by a bug bite.
The horse had gone through the trot up the day before, but not saddled up for dressage. What a loss to the event, and bad luck for rider Tina Cook and the horse's owners Nick and Valda Embiricos and Sarah Pelham.
"Miners Frolic has a swelling on his wither so is unable to wear a saddle," was the quote from the official news report. That's all it said.
Tina Cook and Miners Frolic are the reigning European Eventing Champions. They were members of Great Britain's World Champion Gold Medal Team at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Double bronze medalists at the 2008 Olympics. And a pair who always seemed to show up.
So when they don't show, ears go up. And now a ears around the world are way up. Where's Miners Frolic?
Somehow, that lump on Miners Frolic's withers became complicated. Two months after Badminton, he was admitted to an equine hospital in West Sussex in southern England and the vets began working overtime to save his life.
On Sunday, the British equestrian newsmagazine Horse and Hound announced that Miners Frolic has colitis, a very serious and often deadly inflammation of a horse's large intestine and bowel. The primary symptom of colitis is uncontrollable diarrhea.
I contacted the veterinary hospital where Miners Frolic is a patient and received this synopsis, which may be of interest to some of his fans:
VETERINARY STATEMENT REGARDING MINERS FROLIC
- On Monday 20th, June Miners Frolic ("Henry") was admitted to the Arundel Equine Hospital for treatment of enterocolitis and associated endotoxemia.
- This life threatening disturbance of the digestive system can be caused by stress, pathogenic bacteria, antibiotic use and other poorly understood factors. It is characterized by profuse diarrhea, fever and rapid dehydration leading to shock.
- Treatment is based around the use of large volumes of intravenous fluids to correct circulatory problems and drugs to counteract the effects of the toxins that are released from the gut into the blood stream.
- As of 27th June Miners Frolic's condition is stable but he remains seriously ill.
Earlier statements published elsewhere linked Miners Frolic's condition with the antibiotic (antimicrobial) medications that were part of his treatment program after Badminton. In reading about colitis today, I learned that the disease has been associated with virtually every form of antimicrobial medication given to horses.
Colitis associated with antibiotic medications also can vary by geographic region, so veterinarians who move around the world may find that horses in one area are more sensitive to one medication or another in one part of the world than they are in another.
Laminitis is also associated with colitis, as a result of the endotoxemia. You can think of colitis as a poisonous overload of bacteria in the horse's inflammed large colon. Some of that endotoxin may affect factors in the horse's blood stream through the bowel wall or via some other as-yet undefined mode of transfer. As with so many medical-related forms of laminitis, it can be a sudden and severe onset form of laminitis that is difficult to prevent and treat.
The best summary of colitis comes from the pen (or keyboard) of Dr. Scott Weese at the Ontario Veterinary College. He's written quite a bit on colitis and other diarrhea-based diseases and of colitis he wrote a while back, "We talk a lot about antibiotic-induced colitis/diarrhea in horses, but until you've seen it for yourself, it can be hard to believe that drugs used every day in both people and animals can have such a devastating effect on a horse. Antibiotics certainly do save lives, but unfortunately there are no 'miracle cures' that are entirely without drawbacks."
A young horse with colitis was used in research at the University of Queensland in developing a prevention protocol for the associated laminitis. The horse stood up to his hocks in an ice slurry bath while Dr. Chris Pollitt monitored activity in the horse's feet.
Do horses survive colitis? The lucky ones do, and there's every reason to believe that Miners Frolic will. Keep him and all the sick horses out there in your thoughts tonight, and thanks to everyone who's working hard to help him recover.