Written by Kim Miller
Liz Halliday-Sharp had every reason to be on a high last summer. Deniro Z was proving true her prediction about becoming a top international eventing partner. They’d earned the reserve spot on the U.S. team’s World Equestrian Games roster and they were sailing their way to what could have been a top 5 finish at the Millstreet International Horse Trials CICO3* in Ireland.
But in the final phase, show jumping, something felt amiss. “He was just not himself,” says Liz of the 11 year old KWPN she’d brought along since he was a very green 7-year-old. “He was jumping to the left a little and he had three rails down. He never has three rails down!”
Despite his slightly off behavior that day, Liz “never in a 1,000 years would have thought he had ulcers.” During the thorough exam triggered by Liz’s intuition, Deniro’s response to palpation of acupuncture points related to ulcers indicated a problem. An endoscopic exam confirmed ulcers, and bad ones, at that. Equine gastric ulcer syndrome is typically rated on a 0-3 grading system, and Deniro was diagnosed as having grade 1-2 ulcers throughout his stomach.
Poor coat condition, girthiness, general grumpiness and weight loss are classic ulcer symptoms, but Deniro had none of them. “He’s always been a happy, wonderful horse.” That’s a familiar story with ulcers, especially in competition horses for whom travel and show stress is a regular reality despite best management practices. Stress triggers extra acid production, some of which is needed for digesting food, but excess amounts eat away the stomach lining to cause ulcers. Chewing for the horse’s natural 16 hour-a-day ideal produces saliva that helps protect the stomach lining, but consuming forage with the wrong nutrient balance causes problems of its own.
Deniro’s condition responded well to treatment with omeprazole injections, and his veterinarian recommended diet changes for the equally important step of preventing a recurrence. The main diet changes were a switch to Kentucky Equine Research’s low-starch Re-Leve Feed and to steaming hay with a Haygain Hay Steamer instead of feeding haylage.
Halliday-Sharp Eventing’s string of top eventers and young horses split their time between training bases in South England’s East Sussex and Ocala, Florida. In England, Deniro and many of his stablemates used to get their forage through haylage, a moist, nutrient and protein-rich form of hay that is vacuum-packed shortly after harvest. Its high protein and sugar content are not healthy for ulcer-prone horses.
Liz had already been considering a switch to steamed hay. Top eventers throughout the world were among Haygain’s earliest adopters. At the Millstreet competition, in particular, she noticed steamers throughout the stabling area. Steaming hay is primarily known for protecting the horse’s vulnerable respiratory system: helping prevent ulcers is one of its additional benefits. For Liz’s horses, Haygain’s one-hour steaming process makes hay of a more tummy-friendly nutrient content taste great and adds water to it, providing the extra water content they had previously benefited from with haylage.
Deniro’s enthusiasm for steamed hay and its common sense and scientifically proven benefits inspired Liz to put all her horses on it, Stateside and in England. “Deniro prefers it to anything else,” Liz reports. She’s now a believer in steamed hay’s role in their overall well-being. “I like the idea that it’s dust and bug free and they all seem to love it.” Her barn staff is happily on board, too. “We had been soaking our hay and that was a real nightmare. They love not having to do that anymore and the horses are happy and healthy.”
Back On Course
Owned by Ocala Horse Properties, Deniro Z is back in full work and slated to resume competing in February. “Touch wood, we are on track with where we want to be,” Liz says.
The Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event in April is the first major target in a hopeful path to representing the States at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Being named to the US Equestrian’s Development Pre-Elite Training List was a great way to close 2018 and begin this year knowing that team selectors continue their keen focus on and faith in the pair.
Liz was the first to have faith in Deniro. When she bought him as a sales prospect, he had no eventing experience and not much training. Their first year together in Florida, he hinted at his future by winning a 1* competition, then continued to finish well consistently from then on. By the time of his ulcer diagnosis, Deniro had amassed wins in six international competitions and finished eighth in his first 4*, the sport’s top level, at the Luhmuhlen Horse Trials in Germany.