Sidewinders Syndrome- final chapter

This was an awful week. On Wednesday, Red got a “cold” and when he sneezed, the mucus came out with some blood on it. His breathing sounded like he was breathing through a puddle of water. I had my horses scheduled for spring shots on Thursday, and I figured the veterinarian could figure out what to do then.

When the vet arrived, he said that the long term steroid use (two months) weakens the immune system, and that is likely why Red had more rain rot than normal, and why loosing a tooth seemed to have resulted in some infection and the raspy breathing. He also said giving shots, doing fecals, and getting a Coggins was not reasonable. We talked about quality of life for Red and how much time we could expect. I had known this conversation was coming. Red has been losing weight and muscle tone, and he was physically only a shadow of the horse he had been on January 7th. Although his balance seemed to be neither getting better or worse, he was so busy spinning he could not graze well. I planned on spending the weekend with him…

I added a dose of Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim tablets Thursday night to our twice-a-day steroid routine, and on Friday morning the “bubbly” sound had cleared up however Red was still breathing hard. The morning dose on Friday did not affect the breathing at all; in the evening Red was still breathing heavily.

On Saturday morning when I looked out the window, Red was lying down flat in the field. I couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not, so I went out to see. Red was breathing but he seemed exhausted. I watched him try to get up three times unsuccessfully, so I called the vet. When she arrived at my farm she found his heart and lungs were good but she said it was likely his back leg had fallen asleep from being under his weight for too long. We flipped him over and after a few minutes of resting he was able to get up with encouragement. I knew his time had come, though. At the NC State vet school today, the doctor said he was seeing 4-5 cases of Sidewinders per year. Little is know about the cause, and Red’s autopsy is likely to find nothing.

Anne and Red

This is the way I shall remember Red. He was a wonderful fellow, with good manners and a willing attitude. Before I knew him, he raced as a baby and did some eventing. For me, he did everything I wanted to try. We jumped, fox hunted, rode trails and beaches, and competed at second level dressage. During our final months together he decided he really liked his ears scratched, inside and out.

Should you ever need to talk about Sidewinders Syndrome, don’t hesitate to contact me. Email me at Sidewinders Syndrome is likely to become more commonly known as horses are living longer.

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After a month and a half, and lots of steroids…

I finally found a medical description that I can understand…

Horse Veterinarian: Doctor.A

“…sidewinders can be due to a large variety of causes, but the syndrome is usually fairly consistently defined as a neurologic deficit in the hind end including a difficulty knowing where their hind end is, AND/OR severe weakness. Often times there is also muscle wasting of the hind end. The front end is most often normal, as is their mentation (mental state) and personality.

When standing, they will often lean to one side, and when walking, they will tend to drift toward the side they are leaning to. When you pull their tail, there is little to no resistance, and they are easy to “knock off their feet” if you pull too hard.

They will often respond well to a course of antiinflammatories, but this response is transient, and will get harder to maintain with the same dose of antinflammatories. Often, the course of this condition will result in a down horse due to the weakness in the hind end. This can occur over months to years.”

One thing that was clear to me was the difference between the onset of Sidewinders and EPM. I had a young mare who developed EPM some years ago, and the symptoms “crept” into our life. She seemed fine at first. Then she got more mellow. (She was normally opinionated.) Then she started to have the balance issues. With my older thoroughbred, he went from normal to leaning precariously in a few hours.

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Sidewinders Syndrome Update

Two days ago (day 24) we had a huge setback. Things had been going so well, and we kept reducing the steroids. We were down to once a day with a low dose. I went out to see Red and he was spinning in circles and had reversed the spin from then original direction. He could barely eat and he exhausted himself. ( This site won’t let me post a video.) Picture him grabbing a bite to eat and then spinning around. Then he cannot quite reach what he was eating before (so he cannot reach his bowl of food, or the flake of hay he was eating from before the spin.) I went from dreaming of riding him again to hoping he won’t starve to death. I called the vet. Red got a huge mega dose of intravenous steroids. I am back to large doses of steroids twice a day, and doing everything with my fingers crossed for luck. This all started on January 7 and we are at February 1 now. I thought tonight he is eating better. He can almost walk in a straight line if I help him balance as I lead…

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Sidewinders Syndrome

Sidewinders Syndrome, Sidewinders Disease, Leaners Disease

It doesn’t really matter what you want to call this. It isn’t well publicized on the Internet. My horse, Red, started walking like he was drunk. I thought he would fall over. His hind end was totally off balance and out of whack. It went from unnoticeable to awful in a few hours. He did crab walking (sidewinding). My previous post was long and probably boring, but it showed how Red progressed with steroid treatment and rest.

This is what my chiropractor noted about it, after about a week and a half:

“Here is the summary of what I found on Red last Saturday.
Sacro/pelvic: RPI (R pelvis rotated up) LAS (L pelvis rotated down)Thoraco/lumbar/ribs: L6, L5, L4, L3, L2 rotated L. L1, T18 PosteriorCervical: Occiput (base of skull) rotated on R C3, C4 on L. Limbs: checked hind limbs for any evidence on injury or pain.  None found.

Sidewinders is not a disease in itself but a symptom of anything that is interfering with the movement of the hind end.  It is called Sidewinders because of the rear not track straight but off to the side.  Usually we never can figure out the actual cause of the problem.  They can do it with orthopedic injury in pelvis or head of the femur but Red seems not to have anything like that so then we are left with neurologic reasons.  The messages are not getting from the brain to the hind end properly.  Many things can affect the nerves.  A neuritis (inflammation of the nerve) in a common cause.  We don’t know the cause of the inflammation (infection (bacterial/viral/parasitic) vs autoimmune) but treating for inflammation with drugs is often what is done and in Red’s case, thank goodness, he seems to be responding.  The chiropractic things he had going on will also affect his gait and coordination but this is secondary to whatever caused the Sidewinders in the first place but should help make his recovery better. 
I hope he’s doing well and we will see you in a few weeks. ” 

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Sidewinders Syndrome

Sidewinders Syndrome / Sidewinders Disease

Sidewinders – balance issue
This photo is from the next day, after steroids had started.

I wish I had taken photos the first night when I saw Red. I was so upset. I thought he was going to fall over. I thought he would fall on me. I called the vet at 11:30 at night in a panic.

When I researched “Sidewinders” on the Internet, I could not find much at all. I could not find horsey friends who had dealt with it. I decided I should chronicle this and perhaps help the next horsey owner who has to deal with this.

Day One  (Monday night)

I watched the bachelor from 8-11:00 and then got a feeling I should check on my horse, Red, to make sure he had enough hay and water.  He had been stall-bound due to a sprain in his right hind leg for almost a week, but it was recovering nicely. When I saw him, it looked like he was drunk in the hind end.  He could barely balance and I thought for sure he would tip over.  I called the vet at 11:30 pm and had him come out on an emergency call.  Red’s temperature was feverish, 101.6, and the vet said it looked like Sidewinder’s Syndrome.

He said he had not heard about Sidewinder’s Syndrome (a.k.a. Sidewinders Disease, Leaner’s Disease) in vet school, but one of the first horses he ever saw professionally had had it.  It was a neurological dysfunction between the head and the back end.  When he tested sight reflexes, and reactions to having his ears touched and nose touched, everything was normal, however the hind end had little control, especially the left hind foot.  The vet gave Red what he termed a “mega dose” of Dexamethazone (steroids).  The vet also told me I may have taken my last ride on Red.  

Red was to stay in the stall.  (Red’s normal routine is turnout 18-20 hours per day.)

Day 2  (Tuesday)

I gave him more Dexamethazone the following morning (about 11 hours later).  Red’s fever was down in the morning, and his appetite was good, but he was still walking in his drunken manner.  He was leaning his butt against the stall wall to rest his hind end.  He would not let me pick either of his back feet. I talked with the vet around lunchtime.  He told me that typically the syndrome would get worse in the first day or two, and then I might see some improvement.  I asked about putting him in a paddock, but he said Red was safer in his stall.  If he fell into a fence, or a “walk-thru post” I would have even more problems.

I took Red out on a lead line to graze on some grass, but I soon found I was afraid he would fall on me.  He was walking in circles, always to the left.  I got him back in the stall safely. 

I dosed him with steroids again in the evening.  

Day 3  (Wednesday)

Red got more steroids in the morning.  I was desperately looking for signs of improvement.  At first I thought he wasn’t leaning on the stall, but a moment later we was on it again.  He was still turning only one way.  His appetite was good. 

I took him out to graze and it seemed like he was walking better until we stopped, and then the “drunk hind end” appeared again.  He grazed in only in circles to the left.  I did not really think he would fall on me, but maybe I was just getting used to it. 

Red got more steroids in the evening.

Day 4  (Thursday)

When I went out for the morning dose of steroids and feed, I again found Red with his butt off the wall.  It seemed like his hind-end weight was a little better distributed, too.  When I threw some hay in the corner of the stall, he turned to the right.  I was afraid to read too much into that, so I checked him again later in the morning and when I entered the stall I asked out of habit for him to “back up” and he did!  I took him out for hand grazing and he seemed to be walking better.  He grazed in whichever direction the grass looked better instead of always going to the left.  When I really looked at his walk though, his front and hind ends were not on the same track.  

More steroids in the evening.

Day 5  (Friday) – Not much change…  Appetite down; avoiding grain. Dexamethazone down to 4 cc twice a day.

Day 6  (Saturday) – Not much change…  Appetite down; avoiding grain. In the evening he was leaning on the wall of his stall again.

Day 7 (Sunday)

Red ate some of his feed overnight.  He was still dragging his right hind foot a little bit.  Otherwise no changes.  I took him out to hand graze around lunchtime.  He walks pretty well, with a slight irregularity in the back strides, but when he is grazing he still has that funny inward step.

Red felt good enough to sneak out of his stall when I was feeding.  I let him graze quietly in the field for a couple of hours while his pasture mate was in the barn.  Then I caught him and put him in his stall and her back out.  (He did not want to come in, and I did not want to make him run, so we walked around the edge of the field until he got into a corner and I could catch him.  He considered spinning and running, but apparently thought better of it.)

Day 8 (Monday, start of week 2) – Not much change…  Wants hay, avoiding grain. Dexamethazone down to 3 cc twice a day.

Day 9  (Tuesday) Not much change…  Wants hay, avoiding grain.

The vet came to check on Red.  He was pleased with the progress.  Red is still not tracking correctly at the walk or trot.  Red does allow his feet to be picked.  Front end still tests normally; hind end still out of whack.  However he is allowed to go outside now except in slippery weather, and to be in the field with his stablemate.  Continue Dexamethazone as planned until gone.  (Will change to a different steroid after Dex is gone.)

Day 10  (Wednesday) – Dexamethazone down to 3 cc once a day.

Today both of my horses were scheduled for chiropractic.  The vet did not want me to have Red adjusted, however my gut feeling was that it would not hurt.  My equine chiropractor used to be a small animal vet, and transitioned to chiropractic since she was spending a lot of time doing chiropractic with her veterinary clients.  I have used her for years for my horses, and I had confidence in her judgement.  (My vet also had confidence in her.)  

I told her in advance that Red had Sidewinders syndrome and she checked to see if anything new was learned about it recently.  She found that one group, perhaps in England, had found that it could be related to a protein in the horse’s system, but it was not conclusive.  She asked if Red had been tested for EPM, and I said no, that this did not behave like EPM.  My previous experience with my young mare had EPM develop slowly over time, first with a personality change (mellowing) followed later by the balance symptoms.  This time, Red’s condition went from normal to “drunk” in less than 24 hours.  

She predicted that Red could get worse over the next day or so, but by Friday it should be back to where we started or better.  She encouraged me to turn him out as I had been doing.

What she found with Red was that his butt was sore in places consistent with catching/balancing himself over and over as his body tipped, and walking with one foot doing most of the work.  (She had lots of technical lingo as to what was out of whack back there.)  However one additional thing that was interesting was that at the back of his skull the Atlas bone was not in place.  She said that was the spot where the nerves go back through the neck, to the spine, and to the butt.  

See how Red has all of his weight on his right hind? At least he did not need a wall for support…

Like always, first thing Red did on turnout was roll.  She said that was okay, because the job of the chiropractor is to facilitate getting bones in place and the rolling will often help the muscles settle everything into place even more.  She will see him again in four weeks.

Day 11  (Thursday) – Red seemed the same.  Trotted out of stall; happy to be free.  Most of the time he is steady at the walk and trot, however as you watch for a while you see the unsteadiness is still there, especially on turns.

Day 14 (Sunday) –  Bumped the Dex steroids back up since no improvement was noted.  We will wean him back off gradually again, and then switch to a better long term steroid.

Day 16 (Tuesday)- Red is tracking up at the walk.  His stride seems almost normal.  I saw him canter across the field today, which was the first canter I had seen him try through all of this. More to follow…

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2837 Horsemans Ridge Horse Facilities

Keep your horses in style…

The house is lovely, and sits at the front of the property near the street, however your horses will be much more interested in the barn, which is only a few steps away from the back yard.

Barn with tack room and wash stall

Two large stalls with doors to both the center aisle and the exterior are ready for your horses. There is a large wash stall and a tack/feed room, too. Two more areas, on either side of the aisle, can be used for hay storage or could be two additional stalls.

Two finished stalls

There are paddock areas adjacent to the barn which are perfect when you need to keep a horse off the grass. Two distinct pastures, divided by board fencing, allow for rotation or separating horses.

Additional facilities include a three car, detached garage which is perfect for covered storage of farm equipment.

For more information,  email me at You could also call me, if that is more convenient, at 919-303-3588. Finally, if this horse farm at 2837 Horsemans Ridge is not the right farm for you, check out other central North Carolina horse farms for sale:

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2837 Horsemans Ridge Drive

2837 Horsemans Ridge Drive, Clayton, NC

One and a half story home with mature landscaping and year-round color. Ready for horses with a barn and riding ring.
Ready for your horses in Johnston County, NC

Under contract…$410,000

      This tasteful, one-and-a-half story home is a small horse farm located in Johnston County, North Carolina, just five minutes from the Wake County line.  This property is ready for your horses and the neighborhood is horse friendly. Stone accents and a covered front porch give a welcoming first impression for friends and family.  Inside you can greet your guests in the foyer and entertain them in the dining room and the open family areas.  The home has an unfinished basement which can be used as a workshop or for home schooling, and it is designed to include an additional bedroom and an office area.  The home features a first-floor master suite which has two walk-in closets and two bathrooms.

The great room features a stone fireplace and has room for a large TV in the corner or on a wall.
Great room with Stone Fireplace

      The great room is open to the kitchen table area.  A decorative stone fireplace is the focal point as you enter from the foyer.  There is a half bath on the first floor for convenience.

You will find a loft, full bath, and two bedrooms upstairs which provide privacy for teenagers or guests.

The horse facilities include a two-stall barn with a wash stall, tack room and room for hay storage or two more stalls. The are divided pastures and a riding ring. Three extra garage bays in a detached garage give covered storage for farm equipment or a workshop for the mechanic in your household.

For more information,  email me at You could also call me, if that is more convenient, at 919-303-3588. Finally, if this horse farm at 2837 Horsemans Ridge is not the right farm for you, check out other central North Carolina horse farms for sale at

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