Heart of a champion: World-class dressage horse back in competition after successful treatment for atrial fibrillation

Heart of a champion: World-class dressage horse back in competition after successful treatment for atrial fibrillation

Udon P is back in fine form after undergoing treatment at University of Florida.
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Dec 14, 2015
By dvm360.com staff

Udon P executing a half pass maneuver during a Grand Prix freestyle test at the Dressage at Devon horse show in September 2014. (Photos courtesy of Kelly Layne)Udon P, a world-class dressage horse treated successfully at the University of Florida for an irregular heartbeat, has returned to international competition, according to a press release from the University of Florida.

In April 2014, Udon P, known by his stable name Noodles, was a rising star in the world of dressage. He was competing at the Grand Prix level and had recently won an international freestyle event, in which the horse’s movements are choreographed to music, in Wellington, Florida.

“In the four international competitions known as the Concours Dressage International, he competed in nine tests with scores as high as 73.6 percent,” says his trainer Kelly Layne. “We were having an exceptional first season at the international Grand Prix.”

However Udon P started showing signs of distress, including bleeding from the nose, coughing and unexpected gait changes, shortly before Layne and her husband, Steve, were going to fly the horse to Normandy, France, to represent Australia in the World Equestrian Games.

“Noodles loves to canter, so we were very concerned,” Layne says. “It became impossible to train.”

The Laynes’ veterinarian, Meg Miller Turpin, DVM, diagnosed atrial fibrillation. She referred the horse to UF’s Large Animal Hospital for a procedure known as electrical cardioversion.

A public struggle and triumph

The Laynes pulled Udon P from competition and focused on their horse’s health. Although the horse sailed through the procedure, his recovery back home in Wellington was somewhat rocky, says Layne.

“We had OK days and some not very good days. However, his heart was strong and remained in normal rhythm at 40 to 42 beats per minute,” she says.

Chris Sanchez, DVM, PhD, an associate professor of large animal internal medicine at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of Udon P’s care team says this was a unique case in terms of how his owners handled it. “He’s a high-level athlete, but what’s interesting to me is the fact that his owner, in concert with his trainer, embraced his problem, when many people would rather not discuss their animal’s health conditions publicly,” says Sanchez. “This horse’s owners took the opposite approach—they have taken this as a learning opportunity and even developed a heart-themed freestyle for his return to competition.”

“Not many horses go through what he has and then fight their way back into the international competition arena,” Layne says. “We should definitely reward and celebrate the horses that have this kind of moxie.”

A quickening of the heart

Rider and trainer Kelly Layne strokes Udon P after he successfully completed a Grand Prix freestyle half pass test during the Dressage at Devon horse show in September 2014.About six weeks after Udon P’s discharge from UF, a large thunderstorm brought gusty, cool air to Wellington. For Layne, it was a pivotal event.

“Perhaps it was the combination of the cooler weather and the storm, or maybe it was just time, but Noodles switched on and since that moment has never missed a beat, both figuratively and literally,” she says.

To celebrate Udon P’s return to competition, Layne collaborated with a British composer to create a freestyle routine consisting of songs that have the heart as a theme. The routine was first performed in January, when Udon P was back in competition.

“We wanted to dedicate this freestyle to his big heart that wouldn’t give up,” says Layne. “Probably the most emotional song in it is ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ from the movie ‘Titanic.’ Everyone involved has been touched by this amazing horse.”

The owners have even created a children’s book inspired by Noodles, Ulme of the Alentejo.

Udon P is “coming along nicely” for the 2016 competitive season, but Layne is equally excited about her horse’s continued good health and attitude.

“Pretty amazingly, he has just not had any health issues for the past 14 months,” she says. “Not many horses enter the arena with such willingness and enthusiasm.”

Layne hopes he’ll pick up where he left off before his cardiac problem disrupted their training and that the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood will qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.