Non-weightbearing Lameness

I had a call last week on my way to a lesson from my client, asking if I could meet her at the field as her pony was very lame.

When I got there, I saw the pony standing with her front foot resting on her toe, not bearing any weight. She’d obviously been stood in that spot for a while, so I checked her leg for injuries or swelling. She has a field to herself so I could rule out a kick injury. She could’ve slipped in the field, but that’s unlikely with a front leg lameness. A twist or sprain was possible, but there was just a bit of heat from the knee down and minimal general swelling. No specific lump.

Textbooks always say to call the vet immediately if your horse has a non-weightbearing lameness, and I tend to agree, but with this mare there was no obvious injury to the leg, which made me suspect the problem was in her foot. Combined with the wet weather, my suggestion was that she had a foot abscess.

We slowly led her in, hopping along, whilst ringing her farrier to see if he could come out a check for pus. He was very busy, but told us to poultice until he came. Which was what we were going to do anyway!

We washed her legs thoroughly, prepped her bed, and applied a hot poultice. Then I left my client with instructions to poultice twice a day, check for pus, and nag her farrier until he arrived!

Pus duly came out, of which I was secretly relieved to have diagnosed correctly, and the farrier had a dig about to relieve the pressure, and release the pocket of pus.

I thought I’d already done a blog about foot abscesses, and I have. But I’ve already reblogged it so you’ll have to follow this link to read my full explanation. Perhaps I need to do a blog on poulticing next …

An Otis Update

I haven’t updated my avid readers for a while about Otis, so here goes. 

About three weeks ago he was suddenly lame again in trot, so I rested him and rang a vet who had been recommended to me to get a second opinion. I was hoping for a more supportive and proactive approach.

If I’ve learnt one thing with Otis’s lameness it’s the sad fact that if you self-insure like I do, vets just aren’t interested in helping you. They think you don’t want to spend the money on diagnostic techniques, or that you haven’t got the money. They try and dissuade you from investigating causes, even if you adamantly say you want a test run. 

Thankfully, this second vet I saw was totally supportive of the idea that I have X amount in a savings account for Otis’s vet fees and I wanted to get to the root of the problem. 

The verdict on his assessment was that Otis was 1/10ths lame on the right rein and 2/10ths lame on the left rein on a soft surface and a bit lamer on hard ground. All of which points still to the sidebone being the problem, particularly noticeable when his left forefoot hits the floor left side first, as in on a left turn. 

Otis was booked in for an MRI last Monday, which all went smoothly and the hospital, or horse-pital, were very good with him.

Then I had an agonising wait to speak to my vet a couple of days later.

Basically the MRI showed that there is no damage to the connective tissue. Which is good. The best of a few bad options. But the vet thinks that the sidebone settled down after the fracture and Otis came sound – end of October time – and I was told to bring him back into work slowly. But this aggravated the sidebone which is why is went slightly off. Then was sound at Christmas, then the walk work in January aggravated it so he was off in February and then why he has off days and sound days. His recommendation is that I turn Otis away for a few months to allow the sidebone to completely chill out and settle down. 

Whilst he was very pleased with my farrier’s work on Otis, he did suggest egg bar shoes to provide greater heel support, so after putting my farrier in touch with him, Otis was shod yesterday and then I got out some over reach boots for him to wear.

I’m currently trying to work out what the best solution is for Otis, for me, for everyone, and putting plans into place. I’ll update you when they’re fixed but until then I’d appreciate it if anyone who wants to talk about him comes armed with chocolate because with everything else going on (that’s another blog post) I’m a bit of an emotional wreck about the horses!

Life is a Rollercoaster 

You know sometimes you hear a song and you just think “yep this sums my life up perfectly right now”.

For me, I heard Life is a Rollercoaster on the radio last week and I tell you what, I feel like I am on the biggest rollercoaster in the world right now. I almost feel bipolar the extremes of emotion I am experiencing on an almost daily basis.

Otis is giving me more ups and downs than a drive through the Alps, and I wish life would just plateau for a bit so the nausea subsides. Last week he was looking and feeling great. Then last weekend he got frightened and tried to leg it down the road, leaving me uncertain about his soundness. A couple of days rest and I thought he looked fine. But then yesterday was he trotting across the field with a limp, or was it my imagination? I will find out tomorrow…

Then Matt is giving me a rollercoaster of his own. Last week I was doubtful to our chances in the competition as he hadn’t settled and I had numerous holes picked in our work. Last weekend we had a fab dressage lesson and warm up competition, scoring 71%. I felt more competition ready. In the zone.

Then on Thursday morning he came in lame. I was gutted. Just over a week to go, and he’s not looking great. I checked the FEI rules and gave him some Bute Thursday and Friday morning, knowing he couldn’t have any from Saturday onwards because of the withdrawal period. I cancelled Sunday’s dressage lesson.

I couldn’t feel any swelling in his leg, but his flank was warm. On Friday I had a brainwave. I should see if my vet and chiropractor friend could see him. My theory was that on Wednesday, when we’d had a deluge of rain, he’d slipped in the field and tweaked himself. My friend did flexion tests and had negative results, so concluded that the heat in his flank was the cause of the lameness and the heat was a contusion (bruise to everyone else). Causes could be a kick (Otis wouldn’t dare! Would he?!), falling over, or bashing into something.

She straightened his slightly crooked pelvis anyway, as we weren’t sure if he put that out when he fell, but either way it would help him recover. 

And now I just have to wait until Monday to let the bruise dissipate, whilst crossing my fingers and toes and waiting for the next lurching move on this rollercoaster that seems to be my life at the moment.

Bittersweet

Bittersweet. That’s how I feel when I look at Otis right now. One look into his great, soft, gentle, brown eyes and my heart literally melts. He has such a look of adoration, love and trust. 

But things will never be the same as they used to be. And then I feel guilty. What should I, could I, have done? And where do we go from here?

You see, we’ve been walking in hand for six weeks and he had his vet check before I started riding. However there’s something not quite right still. On the lunge he looks great, but in a straight line there’s a niggle. So we took more x-rays and analysed them closely.

The consensus? The sidebone that was suspect in the first place actually has signs of a fracture. So we can only deduce that the fracture, which happened in the summer, hasn’t healed cleanly so is intermittently interfering with the connective tissues within the foot.  Which means that he will never be 100% sound.

Obviously I was devastated, inconsolable, depressed, sad, and all other emotions on that scale. It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with Otis’s diagnosis but now I can think straight.

It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions over the last six months. I’ve been walking through a dark tunnel, with a ray of light giving me hope. Then there’s a tunnel collapse and I lost all hope. After getting my bearings I start shifting the rocks, finding a glimmer of hope behind as I work out the problem each rock has thrown at me. 

Let’s examine each rock and see how to move it.

Firstly, he’s only got a niggle that isn’t right. So can I manage this with remedial shoeing? I spoke to my farrier, who’s opinion I trust wholeheartedly. Otis was shod on Friday, with natural balance shoes and the breakover point has been brought right under the toe to support the back of his foot. He is also going to be shod in five weeks time to prevent his toes getting too long. Fingers crossed!

Would he benefit from being fed a supplement? This weekend I’m going to be researching feed supplements. He doesn’t have arthritis so it’s not a mobility supplement he necessarily needs, but the tendons of his foot will be at risk of abrasions so a supplement that promotes repair could be beneficial. Suggestions or recommendations on a postcard please! 

This is the biggest rock. The most crushing statement the vet said to me earlier this week was; “I thought you wanted an event horse. He won’t be up to that work so you’d better look for another one. You might get him sound enough to hack and play around with.” It took all my might not to burst into tears at that point.

But now I’ve thought about the conversation I’ve realised that the vet originally asked me what we had been doing, to which I said eventing and dressage, and he has locked onto this idea that I want to event. That I want to ride around Badminton, perhaps.

I don’t. We did low key eventing because I enjoyed doing it with Otis. I don’t mind if we don’t event again. The worst thought of all is not being able to ride him again. So perhaps the vet was being pessimistic in his verdict because he thinks I want to do more with Otis, and take him right through the levels, whereas we will actually be alright with riding club level activities, or sponsored rides (if I can get him sane enough).

Besides, what does the future hold for me? As my Dad kindly pointed out last time I saw him, I’m almost past my prime and when are the grandchildren arriving? Perhaps Otis’s working life depends just as much on me as it does him.

Which leads me onto the subject of soundness. How many horses (or people for that matter) are 100% perfect in their gait? Some have asymmetric muscle tone, others have a queer movement, and others remain marginally lame after an accident or injury. They remain happy and able to do the work asked of them. They may have a mechanical imperfection, but it doesn’t affect their performance in their current job.

In terms of how to work him or what to do with him, I guess I need to learn by trial and error as the vet didn’t leave recommendations in this department. If I have to avoid hard ground I could jump or do dressage on a surface. There’s combined training, arena eventing, pure dressage. There’s plenty of options to pursue. Unfortunately I now feel that I’ve been signed off by the vet – possibly because he thinks I know how to bring a horse back into work, but some guidance would be helpful. I will speak to my friend, vet and chiropractor, about it to see if she can support me in creating a back to work plan for Otis. 

The next rock is the elephant in the room. Is Otis in pain? I’d hate to think I was causing him any pain by working him. Judging by the way he was rearing and cantering around his field as I poo picked on Wednesday, and the way he marches into the stable everyday I don’t think he’s in pain. So perhaps I should just monitor his behaviour and demeanour as I bring him into work. He likes working and has an active brain, so giving him a routine should help. I’ve also spoken to another friend who’s horse has had lots of foot problems, and she uses photonic light therapy on his bad days to reduce inflammation and pain. Perhaps this is a route to go down too? Again, it’s a topic to research. Yes, you can feed half a sachet of Bute a day, but I don’t like the idea of doing this long term. I’d rather try natural inflammatories, such as turmeric, or a non invasive therapy like photonics. One vet suggested de-nerving Otis’s foot. Which is pretty drastic, and I think that if he needs his foot denerving then I shouldn’t be asking this level of work for him. After all, is it fair that in order for me to enjoy the rest of his life he has to live with a permanent dead foot? 

So I’ve found some hope. Do my research, seek advice, and work out the best way to manage Otis – his level of pain, if any, and mechanical movement. I hope a combination of remedial shoes, feed supplements, photonic therapy, and the correct level and type of exercise can give him a happy, wholesome life.

I’ve been long reining Otis this week, gearing myself up to ride. But I’m scared. Is he going to feel unlevel? Is he going to feel amazing? I guess there’s only one way to find out. And I guess then at least I know which road we’re going down. 

I feel better now I have a plan, and all I’m left with now is the bittersweet taste of regret that I didn’t fully appreciate what I had.

Postscript 

I did it. I plucked up the courage to ride Otis. Of course he behaved perfectly. What did I feel? His walk felt fine although I had to stop overanalysing every stride. We had a short trot along a firm bridleway – the happy medium between hard and soft ground. He felt like a wiggly worm coming out the pub on a Friday night as he looked around. So I couldn’t tell for sure. But I guess I’ve just got to keep on going slowly.

It was great though, sitting in my comfy dressage saddle, feeling the spring in his step, and the rotund belly pushing against my leg – he’s never been so portly! Plus I got to see that view between his ears!

An Otis Update

I thought it was high time for an Otis update. 

As you know, in September I had a second opinion about his minor lameness and this vet suggested it was a collateral ligament injury and that he would need the next twelve months to recover. Obviously I was devastated, and all my big plans flew out the window.

We started six weeks of box rest, and if he was sound after six weeks great, and if not then he needed an MRI scan to confirm the extent of the damage.

I’ll be honest, the six weeks flew by in a routine of mucking out, changing rugs, grooming, skipping out, feeding. You know the drill. 

He was very well behaved, not charging out of the stable like a demon possessed nor getting stressed in his stable when everything else was turned out.


Then on Hallowe’en the six weeks was up and it was V-Day. The vet arrived nice and promptly that morning. I was already equipped with the bridle and lunge line so after a quick prod (there’s nothing to see or feel) we went out for a trot-up.

Unfortunately Otis failed to get the memo about it being a trot-up. He seemed to think it was a gallop-off! After a couple of attempts to assess his level of soundness while he skipped across the yard we decided to see him on the lunge in the school.

Ten minutes later he was still bucking, prancing, and careering around so it was time for some dope. The vet injected him with a little bit of sedative to take the edge off and then I lunged him in the school and on hard ground, and trotted him in a straight line. 

The verdict?

Sound!

Wahay!

So what’s next I hear you ask? The vet was quite negative but I agreed that I wanted to bring him back into work slowly. Besides, the dressage diva is still here to occupy me. The aim is to have him in full work by March, but I think I may leave jumping for a while longer.

Otis can be turned out during the day in a small paddock (I had already sectioned his field off, so turned him out whilst he was still under sedation to prevent the anticipated galloping around). Then twice a day he needs walking in hand. For five minutes in the first week, ten minutes in the second week, fifteen in the third and so on. 

After six weeks the vet will assess him. Well, either I will tell her if he’s still sound or not, or she will come and watch him trot, and then we move onto phase two which hopefully involves me sitting on!

So we have established a new routine, of feeding, mucking out, going for a walk, collecting Matt and haynet en route to the field. Then in the afternoons I catch them both, pick out feet, and go for a walk before dinner time. 

However, this is where the problems are occurring.

Otis is perfectly behaved on our walks along the road, but in the first week of turnout he broke out of his paddock twice and lost both front shoes! Oh, and broke his stall guard whilst waiting impatiently for dinner.


We also march in from the field VERY quickly, which may cause more of a problem when the track to the fields is slippery with mud.

I was starting to feel overwhelmed with Otis’s walking regime, but I think I’ve sorted myself out now. The field is a five minute walk away, and as we walk smartly down that should be included in his walking time – great. So I’m on week three now and have a 10 minute walk on the road with a 5 minute walk to the field morning and night.

Which is fine, I can find ten minutes in my day. But what happens in December, on week six, when I need to be walking him for 25 minutes on the road? It’s winter, I’m busy with work, I’ve got Matt to exercise…

But I figured it doesn’t matter. If it delays me getting back on, or starting trot work, by a fortnight then so be it. It’s still sooner than the initial year off that I was dreading. So on weekends I will walk him to the maximum. Mornings, I can probably get up to twenty five minutes fairly easily. But if I only reach 15 minutes in the afternoons then so be it. On some days I may be able to walk him for longer, such as the weekend, or I could increase the duration of his morning walks. Whatever happens, Otis will have to fit in with my crazy life and I will be honest with how much walking I’ve managed to do with the vet and then we can adjust phase two accordingly to keep him on the right track.

Life is Like a Game of Cards

“Life is like a game of cards. What’s important is not the hand you’re dealt, it’s the way you play it.” 

At the moment I feel like I’m holding a hand of twos, threes and fours. Not enough to make two of a kind, or a flush. Just rubbish.

Well, it could be worse. I don’t think I have the two of clubs. That would be life changing. Hannah Francis, now she was dealt the two of clubs. But she found the three, four, five and six of clubs to make a five card flush and leave her mark on the world.

Shall I tell you my dud card?

Otis has regressed to the original lameness so we had another vet visit today. And he has suspected collateral ligament damage. Which means an MRI scan for confirmation and then box rest and prolonged recuperation over the next twelve months. I was devastated. Hope had been slipping through the sand timer whilst I frantically tried to catch Hope. When the vet said it would be a year before I next ride him I abruptly let go of all Hope still in my hands. As soon as the vet left I gave Otis a bear hug around his neck, and dissolved into tears. A year is a very long time when you aren’t having fun.

After I’d turned him out I had to hack two horses; giving me the time I needed to gather my thoughts, get a lid on my emotions, make a plan. Both horses seemed to sense my mood and were very cuddly and on their best behaviour, giving me chance to work out how I’m going to play this hand. Firstly, I need to make time fly. And for that, I need to have fun.

First off, I realised I’m actually in a very privileged position. I still have horses to ride; I’ve been offered horses to compete all summer and have just been offered a mare to compete in the winter while her owner has an operation. That I should be grateful for.

Secondly, my Mum’s pony is coming over for boot camp in a fortnight while Mum is recuperating. A couple of weeks ago it felt daunting to take on another horse full time. But now I think that if I only have one to exercise I shall be able to pay Matt more attention. Already I have a sponsored ride lined up because he’s very good on them as opposed to Otis’s interesting interpretation of sponsored rides. And today someone asked if I wanted to do a pairs hunter trial with them later that month. Maybe I should have a go at the riding club winter dressage qualifier with him … And just have some fun.

So if Matt goes home to Mum at Christmas then I should use the free time I’ve created to work towards my Intermediate Instructor Exam which is my aim for 2017. Not as much fun I’m sure, but still a time-filler.

The prognosis for collateral ligament damage is quite good, which means that hopefully we can try and aim for medium dressage when he is better.

Another positive I realised was that Otis is still with me, I still have my best friend. I may be gutted that he’s lame and hurting and I can’t solve the problem, but ultimately he’s still alive. I realised this when I saw a friend’s  post on Facebook after she lost her mare today. 

Potentially I can take my three of diamonds and make a flush, or just three of a kind. I just hope I can be strong enough to get through this.

Boxing Day Hunt

When it`s Christmas all routine goes out the window doesn`t it? The horses have to put up with coming in a bit earlier, going out later, no riding (not that they will complain about that!) and we don`t know if we`re coming or going.
I was lucky enough to have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off this year, so trying to work out family commitments, Christmas dinner time, the ins and outs of drinking and not driving, I came to the conclusion that the easiest thing would be, given that the weather, after Monday`s monsoon, was fine and warm, I decided that I would rug up my horse and he could stay out. I`m lucky in the fact that he enjoys living out and doesn`t stand by the gate. Also his field is well sheltered with woods on two sides. We also decided that with the logistics of having to go to family for a 3pm dinner time he would be better having a slightly bigger feed instead of having two (not massive, as we want to avoid colic. I think I gave him 2/3rds of a scoop of Alfa instead of 1/2 scoop). This would probably be the same on Boxing Day.

O usually lives in his field with two veterans, G and T, both of whom live out all year round and are semi-retired. G had 18 months of suspensory problems and is now sound enough to do gentle hacking. G`s owner tends to feed both G and T together as T`s owner works shifts.

Now on Christmas Eve I turned O out and then he had his hard feed dinner at lunch time, and we checked they had enough hay (a slice of hay in each builder`s bag lasts about three days at the moment!) It was then that G`s owners asked if I was around on Boxing Day and if I could help them out and feed G and T. I agreed instantly, it would make it easier to feed O. At the same time G`s owners offered to feed O on Christmas Day morning, as we would be most likely there at the same time. O is top dog in the field, T is next, and poor G is at the bottom.

So there I am Boxing Day morning, with a slightly sore head and a still full tummy, walking down to the field well laden with three buckets. I spot O and call him; he marches determinedly, closely followed by G.

“Oh.” I think “Where`s T?” I scan the field but I can`t see any sign of the dark bay. I feed the other two and they munch away companionably, not even looking at each other`s dinner. They`re quite well trained that a growl of their name as they glance at one of the other buckets and they instantly return to their own feed. I wander across the field, to see if I can find T, and to check their hay bags.

Loads of hay, but the gap in the fencing, secured by slip rails, which serves as a second gateway so that we can reduce the poaching at the front of the field, wasn`t closed properly. The bottom one was on the floor.

That`s when I started to panic. I ducked under and checked the main path of the woods. Where was T? There weren`t any anomalous hoofprints and the other two weren`t at all bothered. I managed to secure the slip rail and tried ringing T`s owner, who I knew was in London with family.

This is our conversation:

Me: Hi, I was just wondering if you know where T is? I`m at the field and he`s not there. The slip rail was off …
P: He`s not there? Oh the silly pony must have taken himself for a walk. What a monster he is.
Me: So no ones brought him in? When are you coming back?
P: Unfortunately I`m about two hours away. I`ll pootle back slowly and see if I can find him.
Me: [sigh] I`ll let you know if I find him.

Next I tried ringing the yard staff. No answer. I tried again, and thankfully got an answer.

Me: I`m at the field and I`m missing T. Do you know what`s going on?
M: Oh yes… I brought him in this morning. He`s hopping lame. He`s in the riding school barn. I`ve cold hosed and given him a bute.

Phew. Panic over.

I took a detour to the riding school barn on my way back to drop the feed buckets off and collected T to take him to his stable where I fed him, gave him hay and water before ringing his owner who said he would “poodle over” to check him that evening. Then I rang G’s owner to update him.

So the net result is that O is living out 24/7 to keep G company as G won’t live in and it’s bad for his arthritis. At the moment this isn’t a problem as I planned to give him a holiday over the festive period and am busy with family, but come Wednesday when I want to get back into the swing of riding and fittening us both we will have to find another solution to keep all the horses happy – I’m lucky O doesn’t mind being in or out and isn’t likely to lose weight when in the field.

Meanwhile, T is still lame in walk and has significant heat just below his pastern which is being cold hosed. If it’s going to be long term box rest then we will borrow a companion, possibly from the riding school, so that G has company in the field at night, and O can be worked and live in at night. Additionally G can be brought in as and when necessary. If T is likely to be back in the field within a week we will have to work something out so that I can still ride O.

The politics of sharing fields!