Wednesdays are always pretty hectic for me because my class schedule calls for 3 riding classes and 3 academic classes, four of which (riding class, academic class, IHSA practice and another riding class) are separated by a mere 15 minutes. It all makes for a very tiring day! I start at 9:15 in the morning and get back from my last dressage class around 6:45pm, eat a quick dinner and head out to my barn around 7:15pm to take care of Emmy and Johnny.
Today was one of those REALLY tiring days. The temperatures have dropped back down so it was really cold outside, not to mention that I was sore from working out at the gym last night and from riding 3 times already today. I just needed a day off, so I went to the barn, turned out the horses, cleaned stalls and decided not to ride anyone else tonight. Emmy needs the day off...she's an old lady now and she doesn't need to get ridden every day. She's perfectly happy to go out in the snow, roll, come back in and pass out in her shavings. Johnny on the other hand, is getting fit again after his month off and has had a bit of extra energy to burn recently. Instead of riding him, I decided to stick him on the lunge line for a bit to play. I would have preferred to just free lunge him, but A was working her new OTTB project in the the arena so that wasn't going to work.
Of course, Johnny had quite a bit of energy in him and so he was having a grand old time bucking and playing on the lunge. He was cantering around when all of the sudden his left hind leg snapped off the ground and he almost fell flat on his face. Instead of cantering he was suddenly bunny hopping behind with both hind legs as if he couldn't put the left one on the ground the right way. Next thing he stopped dead and parked out with a look on his face that seemed to say "OH MY GOD."
My first thought was that he had tied up. I have no idea why, but that was the first thing that came to my mind because it didn't seem like he could move his hind legs. I read once that you should never make a tied up horse move, so I stood there and waited to see if he would take another step on his own. He didn't, but after a minute his face softened and his ears perked back up. Tentatively I clucked to him and he took a step forward and walked normally. He walked halfway around the circle before he decided that he needed to take care of some unfinished business and out of no where exploded into an encore of leaps and bucks. He went another lap and then broke back to the trot. I let him trot a lap or two before I asked him to woah.
I checked over all of his legs, back and neck. There was no heat, swelling, tenderness or soreness anywhere. Clearly he wasn't injured and I was racking my brain to figure out what the problem might be. It wasn't until I turned him around to take him back to his stall that I heard his stifle click and it suddenly hit me. His stifle had locked! I had always suspected that he might have some sort of stifle problem just based on the way he moves and the fact that when you walk him, you can hear his left stifle clicking every time the leg swings forward. It had always been a minor concern on the back burner in my mind, but since it never seemed to bother him at all, it had slipped from my mind into something that was just deemed "normal" for him. Emmy, for example, has tendons in her hind legs that click with every step. Every person who rides her notices the sound except me. I've heard her tendons click for almost 8 years and it's become almost irrelevant information. Nothing ever bothers her or hinders her performance...its just the way she is.
I've never actually seen a stifle lock, although I know quite a few people who have dealt with it before. After doing some research tonight about the physical symptoms I'm 99% certain that is what happened to Johnny. The stifle "clicking" or "popping" is a common symptom associated with upward flexion of the patella (UFP) and his sudden inability to swing the leg forward combined with his sudden stop to stand stretched out are the classic signs of a locked stifle. I placed a phone call to my old trainer on the way home from the barn and described the situation to her. She agrees that Johnny's stifle definitely locked. She suggested some exercises (hill work is the best but it's winter in Ohio so that's pretty much out of the question) to help strengthen his quadriceps and help pull his patella back into place. Hopefully that will be enough to do the trick, but if it happens again I might have to actually call a vet out and maybe have it blistered...something I would really prefer not to do. I'll post updates as we go along.
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