My horse used to cough, had heave lines, white mucus coming out her nose, little tiny unexplained lumps on her side…I thought I was going to have to put her down. I was desperate! I tried everything, acupuncture, herbs of all sorts and yes of course, I tried the vet first. So I tried everything, eventually including the drugs. I would like to add here that my horse had the problem in the fall and winter with it being particularly bad in the spring, but not so much of a problem in the summer except when it rained. The symptoms all cleared up in the summer ….she had free access to her 5 acre field from her “loafing” box stall, year round except when the weather wasn’t very nice. Our case baffled the vet because I was using the very best square baled hay and cleaned my stalls regularly, had had horses all my life with the good fortune of never having a cougher, had cleaned out my barn to extreme and it was a big barn with only two horses!!. (I still had to deal with a sick horse and peoples look of “oh yeah” when I had to say my horse coughed and try to defend myself that it wasn’t because of my bad hay and ammonia soaked stalls) . SO this went on over a period of years with my horse going from a minor occasional cough in the spring, eventually with it continuing to get worse. Then deciding whatever was wrong with my horse I couldn’t seem to permanently fix, I got another horse. This horse came to my place fine, but within a year started to cough as well, particularly in the spring also. I cannot put in words the weak feeling I felt when she started the coughing as well. So back to the vet…..beyond panic and desperation…what to do???? Well he said” I can’t explain it, but another person had had the same problem. She built a new equine barn and the coughing gradually went away, I‘ve seen it happen in a few cases…I’m not saying build a new barn…..”. So continuing on with my desperation I mulled over the idea of a new barn…the cost, my husbands look of “you got to be kidding!!” and my own hesitation….so one day my riding instructor had come by for my lesson (it was summer and my newer horse was okay then) and she went through my barn. She said” I have no idea what could be wrong with your barn, it seems fine to me….but there IS a weird smell”. At this point in time I had started to suspect my barn may indeed be the problem, but the symptoms were too occasional and intermittent. So I did “THE BARN TEST”. It was summer; I was desperate… so I just locked my horses out. After about two weeks …..the cough was pretty well gone!!!!!!!!!!!! To the point even my poor beleaguered husband had to admit a new barn may be …..well, not a solution, but perhaps something to consider. But what was wrong with the barn?? The “smell” kept bugging me …I do not have a particularly good nose but yes, I could smell something now that she mentioned it. What was it???? So in the “THE SNIFF TEST” I realized what “smelled”….my barn was a pole barn and they had used railway ties as the poles – those heavily laden, rot resistant, creosote, oil infused, PCB, PAH etc. contaminated LAST forever poles. Turns out the symptoms of creosote poisoning are:
Shortness of breath, cough. - Skin and eye irritation.
- Irritation of nose and throat. Contact with skin or mucous membranes may induce an intense burning and itching with local erythema, grayish yellow to bronze pigmentation, papular & vesicular eruptions, and gangrene
- Symptoms of systemic illness included salivation, vomiting, respiratory difficulties, thready pulse, vertigo, headache, loss of pupillary reflexes, hypothermia, cyanosis, and mild convulsions.
So we built a new barn – by ourselves- and I may add, carpenters we aren’t, but all carpenters have been impressed J…but my horses after one winter in it…yes…they are cured!!! There is the very occasional cough, but my vet had said that it takes awhile for the horse to get whatever it is out of their system, with the longer they have been exposed taking longer for them to stop coughing. It is now “THE SPRING TEST” and Yayayayayaahoo….I have healthy horses!!!!!!!
We sometimes do not think of barns as “homes”. Perhaps we need to start looking at out barns differently… perhaps we need to start thinking if we wouldn’t put something in my home for health reasons …..I probably shouldn’t put it in my horses home either or it may make them sick too, .......duh.