Allie has Recurrent Airway Obstruction or RAO or Heaves or COPD - basically she is having an allergic reaction to something in her environment resulting in inflammation and mucous build up in her airways.
So that's what has been causing her exercise intolerance and the reason why she's been coughing on and off for months.
My theory (and I mentioned this to the vet and she says it's possible) is that allies immune system went from taking a big hit with her surgery and multiple si us infections to being in overdrive (this paired with her itch which is also an allergic reaction make me think this). She got itch initially after she stopped getting recurring sinus infections. It's just never gone away when the itch season ends. And now this.
So treatment is 80% management - trying to reduce or avoid altogether her exposure to allergens. So wetting down feed and hay, no stabling, not riding her in dusty arenas and not riding her with other horses (that stir up dust), not keeping her in the grassy paddock where she keeps flaring up, etc etc. Then medicating when she has a flare up. We are trying to find the meds that work for her - at the moment she's on Clenbuterol which is a bronchodilator. She can have that for up to two weeks and if it works alone then fantastic. It has a two week swab time so to compete I would need to treat any flare ups and get her off it two weeks prior to the event.
If the Clenbuterol doesn't work then she will need to be tried on a series of corticosteroids until we find the one that works. To be honest I would like her to go on steroids to also help her skin initially. But that's not the way the vet wants to treat so I'm following her lead.
The vet says this might be seasonal or it could be a year round thing. We don't know yet. If it's seasonal it's easier to manage because you know when she might get sick and you just medicate during that time and don't compete then.
Other things I'm doing (vet suggested and also from my own research) is upping her omega 3 intake (omega 3 has an anti inflammatory effect) as I think it is out of ratio with omega 6 in her diet right now (she is on sunflower seeds which are high in omega 6 and omega 6 has an inflammatory effect). There's been some research that shows feeding high amounts of linseed can help treat itch conditions due to anti inflammatory properties. So I've added linseed to her diet. I'm also putting her back on a toxin binder for mycotoxins in case that's part of what she's having an allergic reaction to. It won't hurt her adding these and might help.
Long term I'm thinking I need to have a hard look at what exactly my goals are. I'm not getting any younger and we would like to have another child when Evie is about 5 so I've only got a small window where I can get out and compete and really work on my riding before the next big break from riding. But I want to ride Allie, not some other horse. I want to compete Allie. And that might prove very tricky if I need to manage her allergen exposure and medications and all the perfect timing that will entail.
Some of my friends think I should just send her away to spell for a few years and work with a second horse (either buy or lease). My vet says that there are plenty of competition horses being successfully managed and are quite competitive out there, even at the higher levels. My husband thinks I should have given up on Allie by now and sell her on (who the hell would have her? Just the bloody doggers I'm thinking). My sister thinks this is my heart horse and I have the dedication to make this work so to keep trying with Allie for my dream with her.
Right now, I'm a bit emotionally spent (although my cup is rarely full in that department since having a kid. She still wakes 2-3 times a night screaming and needs resettling. She is still on the boob and she is a temper throwing little darling right now who hates being separated from me. I'm fucking spent). I'm so sick of paying vet bills, taking her to the vet, stopping and stalling, scratching from comps, hopping on after a good spell only to have her cough her guts up during a ride so I just get off in tears. Do I want that to be my life for the rest of Allies time on the planet? Can I mentally handle that for years on end? I don't know.
I'm sorry for being a Debbie downer. Allie should have been named Ballymount Rollercoaster.