The Gallop Report

Sooner Goes to College

June 29, 2010

How does a college rivalry relate to a fungal infection? Read on:

Note the knots running under her left front leg. They're more visible since her coat was shaved off for vets to pull fluid out of the nodules for testing.

Every time I feed my horses, I give them all a quick check to make sure no red fluids are leaking out, all four legs are functioning properly, etc. Last weekend, as “Sooner” got one of these routine once-overs, I noticed some knots on her chest. As she wolfed down her Nutrena SafeChoice pellets, I palpated what felt like an enormous string of pearls – hard lumps of about an inch in diameter connected by a thick, hard cord. She continued eating; they weren’t painful. The knots started in the middle of her chest and ran downward, into what would be considered her armpit. My guess was that they were swollen lymph nodes, and a phone call to our veterinarian confirmed that likelihood.

Sporotrichosis – a rare fungal infection of the lymph system – was what he suspected. A phone call to the veterinary teaching hospital at Oklahoma State University, his alma mater, strengthened that suspicion, and he recommended that we go there, since this is a difficult bug to fight, and the OSU vets are trying some novel techniques.

So, driving the three hours toward Stillwater, Oklahoma, I called ahead to give the receptionist all our information. The questions she asked weren’t hard …

Breed: American Quarter Horse.
Age: 10.
Name: Uhhhh ….

I laughed as the irony of it hit me. “‘Sooner,’ I responded. “I’m so sorry.”

For readers who aren’t Big 12 Conference fans, I’ll fill you in: The University of Oklahoma Sooners (my alma mater) are arch in-state rivals of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys. And college sports are serious business around here. I can only thank my lucky stars that we aren’t in football season right now.

The receptionist laughed, too. “Maybe we should use her registered name instead,” she said, joking.

As we pulled in to OSU and unloaded, a team of six to eight students greeted us. Many of them asked a smattering of questions that could have been relevant: Does she live in a pasture or stall, had there been any recent travel, how long had the knots been there, what vaccinations has she had, were my other horses OK? As they questioned me, they took turns palpating Sooner’s lumps, as well as the other lymph node locations on her body. She tensed up at first, a little off-put by the strange place and all the people. But by the time the lead vet arrived, Sooner had decided OSU wasn’t a bad place to be; after all, this place had air conditioning and she was getting her share of wither scritches. She had cocked a hip and lowered her head.

Dr. Lyndi Gilliam had to tease us a little bit about bringing Sooner to the home of the OSU Cowboys. “Cowgirl” might have been a better name, she suggested.

But I have to give ‘em credit. Rivalry or no, they did a great job taking care of the red mare and were very thorough in their workup. Lee Talbott was the lead student who cared for Sooner and took her for twice-daily walks/grazings. Dr. Robert Carmichael called with daily briefings and helpfully answered all the questions I’d thought up since our last conversation.

As of this writing, we’re still not sure if the tentative diagnosis of sporotrichosis will stick. Lab technicians are trying to grow a fungal culture with some of the pus that was aspirated from Sooner’s knots. Those cultures take time to grow, and it is possible that we won’t get a definitive answer. In the meantime, Sooner is taking oral medication mixed in with her feed, and if those fungus-fighting meds begin working, that will also let us know we’re headed in the right direction.

Since this all started, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about sporotrichosis, and it’s an interesting bug. Also referred to as “rose gardener’s disease,” it occurs in people, too, and can be transmitted horse-to-human, although that would be rare. In order to educate America’s Horse readers, Dr. Gilliam has agreed to help us put together a story, so be on the lookout for that in an upcoming issue.

If any readers have had experience with this fungus, I’d love to hear your stories. Please leave a comment below, and you might be included in the America’s Horse article on sporotrichosis.

And stay tuned to my blog to see how Sooner’s case turns out. Whatever this bug is, it’s definitely a powerful one. I think it may even have turned a couple of Sooners into OSU fans. ;-)

Postscript: July 1, OSU got the final test results: Sooner is positive for sporotrichosis.

Happy riding!

Holly Clanahan

Holly Clanahan
Editor, America's Horse magazine