[deck]Small clues added context to why my new horse started drooling puddles after a snowstorm[/deck]

Happy, my new Thoroughbred gelding, and I have had our share of little horse health hiccups over the past three months--call it sheer luck or catching up on 11 years of missed horse care experiences during my break from horse ownership. Or, it could be some form of poetic justice for all the researching and reporting I’ve done on horse conditions. So far we’ve had a case of shipping fever, an abscess, and one other scenario, which proved puzzling.

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Happy in the snow. Photo: Stephanie L. Church/TheHorse.com

A few Saturday mornings ago, at the end of a week where we'd been under at least six inches of snow, I got an early text to call the barn manager ASAP: Something wasn’t quite right with Happy. (Cue sinking feeling in stomach.) I called immediately, and she said my normally good eater hadn’t finished all his feed, he’d emptied both water buckets overnight, there was an inch of drool in the bottom of one of them, and his stall was much wetter than usual.

I hurried out to the barn and, indeed, a very slobbery Happy met me at the door of the stall. But he seemed bright and inquisitive, wearing an expression of, “What … is something wrong?” By that point he had finished his feed but had left slobber in the feed’s place. His vitals were normal, though I wondered if his gums were as pink as usual and if he were a little bit sweaty. It was hard to tell … I’m still getting to know what “normal” is for him.

Our vet lives next door, so—better safe than sorry—I called him out.

Happy and I stood there in his stall and waited 15 minutes for Dr. Newton to arrive: I, watching him and puzzling over the weird timing of this drooling episode. He, looking at me and wondering what the big deal was. I’ve been around horses my whole life, so I’ve seen, heard, and in some cases smelled puddles of excessive slobber (ew, right?), but it had always been in the spring when we had excess clover growing on our farm. Like I said, this time the pastures had been wearing a blanket of snow that left nothing for the horses to graze.

Going through a checklist of possibilities in my head (handy for me, we ran an article on hypersalivation last year), I noted Happy was current on his vaccinations except for botulism, but he’d had the initial shot and would be due for boosters soon. Nothing added up.

Dr. Newton arrived, looked at Happy’s mouth and his teeth (and found some sharp edges we’d correct at the next visit), and joked with me about worst-case scenarios that we knew weren’t possible (cue nervous laughter from me). We established that Happy is sensitive—he coughed when Doc gently squeezed his throat. Next, he sedated Happy and examined his larynx and airway with an endoscope: nothing unusual. So, as I stood there holding my very-drunk horse, Doc walked down to check Happy’s stall and buckets. At that very moment, the horse stabled across the aisle stuck his head out of his stall … and began drooling.

The proverbial light bulb illuminated: These horses don’t share anything but the hay. It had to be the hay. The juxtaposition of the snow with slobbers was enough to throw us off and not think of the lowest common denominator … slaframine poisoning from clover.

The juxtaposition of snow with slobbers was enough to throw us off and not think of the lowest common denominator

Sure enough, Doc examined a couple of opened bales and they contained clover—turns out we’d gotten a new shipment of hay a day or two earlier, and the more sensitive horses in the barn were just beginning to show the effects.

Generally, slobbers is more concerning to the people than it is harmful to the horse (except in very extreme circumstances), so it was just a matter of finding some other hay that didn’t contain so much clover. Within a day the threshold to Happy’s stall was puddle-free.

And so it went, a false alarm that made me thankful my barn manager has the same attitude about horse health care that I do: Pay attention to the details, and better be safe than sorry.

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Happy and I are relieved the snow and the "post-snowstorm slobbers" are gone and more riding has commenced.  Photo: Stephanie L. Church/TheHorse.com

Have you ever had an out-of-context horse health issue that puzzled you and/or your veterinarian? What did it end up being?