Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Right-Front Plague

It seems to me that I am plagued by horses with right front leg problems.

After a few days off, a couple romps in the pasture and a gram of Bute, I groomed little Emmy up yesterday afternoon and took her for a trial ride...she was, of course, still lame and actually may have felt worse that she did before. Tracking to the right, she feels okay (not perfect, but acceptable for "cold weather Emmy") but to the left she feels terrible. It's not consistent at all, making the lameness hard to pin point. Down the long side (aka on a straight line) she feels fine for the most part. Not actually "lame" per say, but I do occasionally feel her want to bulge her left shoulder in. On a circle though or around a corner (to the left) on a loose rein she's pretty much dead lame. She's dropping her left shoulder terribly and trying to wheel herself around the turn. If I take up my rein contact and ask her to go round and actually lift her shoulder, she does feel better and no longer limps, but she still doesn't feel's almost like she's not connecting through her body at all. If I could picture what she looks like, she would have an arched head and neck and a dropped spine still. Plus, she trots about 20 feet and then wants to walk...which is SO not like her. Emmy is an off the track Thoroughbred and she's always been HOT to ride...especially when she hasn't been in work lately. I know that she's an old lady now, but I also know her personality and she's just not been right lately.

Probably five years ago, Emmy started with a mysterious right front leg lameness. It happened the year before I left for college, back when I was at our old barn (where we met Johnny, although this was long before I ever decided to ride him) which had no arena of any sorts. I was riding Emmy out in the grass when it started to rain. Being big-bad-young-and-dumb me, I decided that we were going to tough it out and keep working on our striding over some poles. The grass got wet from us cantering over it and turned into mud. We finished our ride and I dried her off and put her away. The next day, she was dead lame in the right front. I can't remember if there was heat in her foot or not back then, but there was definitely no swelling anywhere. It took almost the entire winter to make her sound again (this was in the fall). The vet and farrier (without xrays) couldn't find anything wrong with her. The next year she was fine and went to school with me, where she was first half leased by E. However, the next late spring/early summer, it happened again. She was lame all summer and I started to ride Johnny instead (who also had a bad right front leg, go figure). Near the end of the summer, she just one day went sound. That fall, I left her home and took Johnny to school with me (E leased him) instead for the first semester, thinking that it was just time to retire Emmy. Come winter break, she was right as rain and my parents were tired of taking care of she joined Johnny up at school. She was fine for the rest of that year and E eventually switched her lease back to Emmy for the rest of the school year. That next summer, Emmy fractured her hind splint bone (doing god knows what) and again, spent most of the summer sitting out. I focused my attention on Johnny and near the end of the summer (July-ish) Emmy was back in work and doing great. School came around again (Junior year) and I took both Emmy and Johnny back to school with me. E continued her lease on Emmy until, once again, Emmy went lame late in the winter. She bounced back fairly quickly this time though and everything was fine until E dropped her lease for good due to financial reasons and I was faced with finding Johnny a new home.  Emmy stayed sound for the rest of the school year and in April, with Johnny happy in his new home, the bf bought Cool. We finished out the spring at the boarding barn, renovated the barn at bf's house, put up fencing and brought the two horses home. Summer came and Emmy was lame again. This time, I called out our new vet to look at her. She found Emmy to have a mild loss of flexion in her right front ankle, but an actual flex test came back negative. Out of my own curiosity, I had the vet draw a lyme tester, wondering if perhaps Emmy's sporadic lameness was actually the symptom of illness. I was actually praying that it was going to be. It wasn't; the tester came back negative. By the end of the summer, she was sound again though. This time it lasted until the next spring, when after a day of light jumping, she was dead lame.

At that point, after years of dealing with this lameness issue, I was both fed up and heartbroken. Again, I consulted a veterinarian who offered four different options that we could take to try and resolve the issue once and for all. Option 1 was to take an xray, ideally of both the fetlock and the hoof and check for bony changes. Option 2 was to do nerve blocks to localize the area of pain, since we really didn't know if this was a deep hoof issue or a fetlock issue. Option 3 was to inject the fetlock and see if that helped. Option 4 was to do options 1-3 (although not necessarily in that order).

Obviously, if money were unlimited and not an issue, I would have taken the fourth option to do nerve blocks to localize an area, then xrays to check the bones and then inject as necessary. But, as for most of us horse owners, the budget is not unlimited and option 4 was off the table right away. My next thought was that just willy-nilly injecting the fetlock was probably not the best use of my limited money, so that option was off the table also. What if we injected the fetlock only to find out that the problem was actually in the foot? Xrays were kind of in the same boat for me. While the correct way to diagnose would be to take an xray, we still didn't know what area we were even supposed to be looking in, so the xrays for both the ankle and the fetlock would eat up my entire "Emmy Vet" budget, leaving nothing left for any type of treatment. In the end, after a lot of debating and calculating, I decided that blocking out her foot would be the best use of my money. It was the most cost effective method of actually finding which area we should even be treating. Two nerve blocks into her foot would render the entire region below her fetlock numb. If she went sound, we would know that the problem was in her foot. If she was still lame, we would know that the problem was in her fetlock. (I entertained the idea of xrays for a little while until I decided that I had nothing to compare them previous xrays of either regions to even know if what we were looking at was something new. Who knows what that horses fetlock looks like? And whose to say that it hasn't always looked like that?) It took me about a week to decide all of this (meanwhile Emmy was on stall rest) and when I finally made up my mind and called the vet, Emmy miraculously decided to be sound.

Everyone knows that nerve blocks don't work on a sound horse.

So that was where it ended. Emmy was back in business again, I showed her twice and jumped her and she never took a lame step.

Until now.

And here we are, back to square one. Since I don't have ultra steady employment right now, the nerve blocks and injections are off the table for a while, and little Emmy and I are back to bute, bandages, ice and poultice. I still have no idea what I'm even trying to treat, but I am trying.

I'm wondering if she maybe has a floating bone chip in the fetlock that occasionally gets stuck? Or if there is a ligament in the foot or fetlock that she strained back in the mud those 5 years ago and just keeps re-injuring? The farrier took a look at her last time he was out and put money on a ligament strain in the fetlock from hyperflexion of the joint. I'm still not sure, but it's always a possibility.



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