winter lingers on here at Bernice’s Cabin
After leaving Glacier National Park, I headed for Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. But along the way, I stopped to visit with Lady Long Rider Bernice Ende at her place in the backwoods of northern Montana near the Canadian border. She lives off of a dirt road, about 12 miles from the nearest highway and this photo shows the only way to find her place. My GPS was of no help at all–and she told me so.
Following Bernice’s directions, I drove up a 1/4-mile long driveway that amounted to little more than two tire tracks, until I came to her place–a cozy log cabin, located off the grid with no electricity and little else in terms of modern utilities. She invited me to stay overnight and I accepted.I had been impressed with Bernice ever since I wrote a Life in the Finger Lakes magazine article about her two years ago (see http://www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com/happy-trails-2/) but that impression was amplified when I saw where and how she lived. This lady cuts and splits her own firewood, heats and cooks with it, and survives on the produce she grows in a small greenhouse. In this photo, she is listening to the news on NPR while writing a memoir about one of her beloved horses, Essie Pearl, who had passed away and was buried just four days before I got there. See http://www.endeofthetrail.com/ for more information about Bernice and her ponies.
Just wanted to let you know that the blood test came back positive on Essie for EPM. Below is a description of the parasite and its symptoms. I waited to long, I thought it was something else. It only compounds the feeling of loss and sadness.
“if only, if only, I’d….”
EPM is caused by the parasite Sarcocystis neurona. The life cycle of S. neurona is well described. In order to complete its life cycle this parasite needs two hosts, a definitive and an intermediate. In the laboratory, raccoons, cats, armadillos, skunks, and sea otters have been shown to be intermediate hosts. The opossum is the definitive host of the disease, passing the parasite through feces. Horses contract EPM from contaminated feed or water. However, horses cannot pass the disease among themselves, that is, one horse cannot contract the disease from another infected horse. The horse is a dead-end, or aberrant, host of the parasite.
The most common symptoms of EPM are ataxia, general weakness with muscle spasticity. However this is not specific to EPM and is common to many other neurological disorders. Clinical signs among horses with EPM include a wide array of symptoms that may result from primary or secondary problems. Some of the signs are difficult to distinguish from other problems, such as lameness, which can be attributed to many different causes. Apparent lameness, particularly atypical lameness or slight gait asymmetry of the rear limbs are commonly caused by EPM. Focal muscle atrophy, or even generalized muscle atrophy or loss of condition may result. Secondary signs also occur with neurologic disease. Airway abnormalities, such as laryngeal hemiplegia, snoring, or airway noise of undetermined origin may result from damage to the nerves which control the throat, although this is quite uncommon.
In experimentally infected horses, very early signs included loss of appetite, decreased tongue tone, facial paresis, altered mental status, generalized weakness, and lameness.
It is thought that Sarcocystis neurona does not need to enter the CNS to cause disease, in some cases S. neurona has been found in the CNS but usually not. In cases where S. neurona is found in the CNS, white blood cells probably play a role in the parasite’s penetration of the blood brain barrier.
EPM is treatable, but irreversible damage to the nervous system is possible. It is important to identify the disease as early as possible and begin treatment with antiprotozoal drugs. There are currently three FDA approved treatments available in the US: ReBalance (sulfadiazine and pyrimethamine), Marquis (ponazuril), and Protazil (diclazuril). These drugs minimize the infection but do not kill the parasite. The use of anti-inflammatory agents such as Banamine, corticosteroids, or phenylbutazone are often used to help reduce inflammation and limit further damage to the CNS. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E may help promote the restoration of nervous tissue. Response to treatment is often variable, and treatment may be expensive. Recently, antiprotozoal treatments that kill the parasite and clear the infection have shown promise. The inflammatory component is thought responsible for the symptoms of EPM; anti inflammatory drugs that target the IL-6 pathway have been particularly effective at reversing symptoms.
Essie Pearl – 2001 to 2016
This American Life, a radio podcast many of you may be familiar with presented a story about a Japanese phone booth last night, the folding door kind with a non working rotary phone …….. on a beach. Where one can call their beloved and much missed deceased family members and friends taken by the 2005 tsunami. I listened as Japanese widows and widowers came and went, how moving. They’d found a way to stay connected, a place to talk and shed tears. Such a good idea, call them up and talk. If I could do that and could call Essie I would tell her… “I am so sorry I could not save you. I am so sorry. It will take a long time before I stop calling your name to come.”
I miss her terribly.
She was a fat, dumpy looking Norwegian Fjord with a “don’t bother me” look in her eyes standing alone in her pasture when we first met. I didn’t pay much attention to her really. But then I looked again and again and….
I bought Essie from Mark and Theodora Rice in the winter of 2007/08. Theodora, now Theodora Brennan many years a dear friend assisted at Essie’s birth, imprinted her and loved her as much as I did, well almost. She spent her first 6 years at the Rice home which has now become Theodora’s Garden (see sponsorship page). She had a beautiful home but little exercise. Her brother and mother had already been sold. Essie remained unsold because of her pushy attitude. She really did have a no nonsense, “leave me alone” look when I cast eyes on her the first time. I’d decided my Claire Dog who had walked 7000 miles (enough already) needed a horse of her own. Requirements for such a horse?….SAFE. A wide flat back – not to tall, SAFE. Six years old, perfect age. Not much training but willing, SAFE.
“Essie Pearl you beautiful girl,” that’s what I called her, “Essie Pearl you beautiful girl.”
Traveling with her always felt like traveling with something ancient. She was different, her look, her gaze, her attitude like a wise old impatient woman. The cave drawings in France? That is Essie Pearl! Twenty-one thousand miles later, my first pack horse, my first Norwegian Fjord became irreplaceable, at least I can not imagine ever having another horse as good as her. Her combination of temperament and physical attributes specific to long riding makes me think so. It also takes a lot of time and years. Damn she was good. Whether pack or lead horse she had it down. She knew what to do. She preferred being in front next to me. Her favorite traveling position had Claire leading the troupe, me at her left side walking with her (not to fast, slightly behind her ears) and Spirit, packing, at her right rear. There came over her a look of pure contentment, like everything is just as it should be for Essie. Ears forward, alert, interested. We were doing it right.
Her picket and rope skills – astonishing. Her traffic skills – second to none. Nine years we traveled together. She was easy to pad and pack and treated her most precious cargo, Claire dog, with great care. She was an “easy keeper.” But my oh my she could be cantankerous. Down right vicious when it came to food. She had her own way of doing things and just as soon it be kept that way.
She swam in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, three of the great lakes, crossed Death Valley (Mojave Desert) the Sonora Desert and the Little Red Desert of Wyoming. She made two Canadian trips, traveled from Texas to Calgary. She crossed the United States twice the Rocky Mountains nine times the Cascades four.
I like to think it beat a long, slow, uninteresting life as a pasture potato.
Essie Pearl you beautiful girl! To me you shall remain the greatest long riding horse that ever lived!
And Thank you, to all you who have sent condolences, cards and reassurance. Thank you