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Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's the small things

Remember when I was complaining that nothing blog worthy was happening?
Remember when I wasn't concerned about my 50 because it was *just* a 50?
Summary of the whole sordid tale:  Farley's lame but it's probably going to be OK.
At our lesson yesterday, Farley was fine in the warm up.  When we progressed to our lesson we started off with *really* hard half halts to the left (ie - we were *really* asking for her weight to shift to her hindquarters).  After one or two, she was lame on the Left Hind.  Identical to the issue at the end of January, but more consistent.  The issue dissapears when I go to the right (left hind on the outside), gets better on hard ground, gets better if I keep her moving and "warmed up", gets worse if she stands around or is working in deep footing.  Depending on what I'm asking her to do, it's a grade 1 to an inconsistent grade 1. 
Based on her age and clinical signs the trainer and I are thinking hocks. 
I should interject at this point that I was an emotional wreck at the lesson and spent a good 20 minutes bawling and sniffling.  You see....this week marks the one year anniversary of losing Minx.  This is my first significant vet issue since Minx.  I *know* that Farley is not going to drop dead because we going to see the vet and I *know* it's just a coincidence that it's the one year anniversary, but unfortunately my emotions are not logical and the only thing I could think of yesterday was Minx, how much I missed her etc.  As a non-emotional person (I don't cry over anything EXCEPT my horses) I (obviously) felt like a lunatic that I couldn't even speak Minx's name yesterday without turning into a fountain.  Ugggg....
BTW - it's worth mentioning that Farley is not a particularly "tough" horse.  If she's in pain, she'll let me know. 
Thought #1
I think it's unlikely that it's associated with the 100 miler we did in February.  In my experience, most injuries are going to show up within 2 weeks of the event if it is a tramatic injury related to an event.  As she was deemed *perfectly* sound by 2 competent people, one whom is a *very*experienced endurance person (Becky Hart) 3 weeks after the 100, I just think it's unlikely I'm looking at soft tissue damage. 
Thought #2
This is not a new issue.  In fact, this is the 3rd time I've seen it this year.  First time was late January.  It was cold and rainy and she wasn't being worked regularly because of the weather.  I took her to a reining clinic where we ran a cow down a fence and did some work that required some SERIOUS hind end work.  During the dressage lesson, going to the left, took a couple of "funny" steps.  There was speculation about stifles etc., The weather cleared up, I was able to work her regularly and we didn't see it again so I decided not to do any further diagnostics unless it showed up again.....Second time was during the 100 (late February).  Going into the 65 mile point she was jigging like a I made it a bit hard on her and asked for some dressagey collected walks and trots.  She stood at the trailer for awhile before vetting in.  The vet put a watch on the left hind.  Nothing concrete, nothing the vet was particular worried about, but he just thought he might have seen "something"....Coming into the 100 mile point I had let her do a walk and trot with no attempt at asking for a "frame" and I vetted straight off the trail - same vet vetted her and said that whatever he saw had completely disappeared.  Now, in late March, I see it again.  This week is the first "regular" schooling week since the 100 (got 5 weeks off/hand jogging/light riding) AND the weather has turned cold again.  We've been working our dressage canter and canter transitions *extensively*.  No problems during the schooling, but in the lesson during half halt schooling, we see it again, and this time it persists throughout the lesson. 
Thought #3
Of course, now that I *know* there is some kind of issue I can look back at some of her behaviors over the last 3-4 months and see the small things... 
1.  At steep descent, she stops and asks me to get off (Has been doing this since May 2009).  I thought that it was because in training I get off a LOT and run or walk (especially down hills) and she knows that I will if she asks - but now I realize that she probably was experiencing some pain. 
2.  When plunking around her pasture she drags her hind toes (not sure when started this.  May have always done this?).  She doesn't do it under saddle, but it still makes sense if she's trying not to articulate the hocks.
3.  I've noticed that she's been resting the left hind more often than the right hind over the last week or 2.
4.  A reluctance to collect at the canter going left some day, even though that's her "good" side.
5.  The stiffness at the 100 miler in the LH that I and the vet discounted because she looked fine at the finish.  In retrospect it was the difference between asking for collection and letting her cool down before vetting....and not (see comments in above section)
6.  When turning to exit the trailer (which requires her to pivot sharply to the left) she alternates between calmly stepping and pivoting, and doing some sort of funny leap thing (I attributed it to relative exuberance in getting out of trailer...) over last couple of months. 
Conclusion #1
It's associated with work that requires her to activate her hocks and hind end (turning cows  (pivots), half halts, canter, trotting circles).  It's not showing up in regular "endurance" trail work where I'm not asking for collection.
Conclusion #2
It *may* be associated with the weather (ie when colder she's stiffer, experiencing more pain).
Conclusion #3
When worked every day (whether a little or a lot) it's not as noticeable.  After time off (standing in her pen) it's more visible. 
Conclusion #4
This seems to be an issue developing over time, unrelated to the day to day activities. 
Minx had (vet diagnosed) hock issues to the point where I was considering injections or some other type of maintenance.  So I'm not totally freaking out, but I know I have some decisions to make if that's the issue. 
As we have discussed, armchair lameness evaluations are not particularly valuable :) so I've made an appointment with a top lameness vet in the area (not my regular vet).  Monday at 9am and then hopefully I have some answers! 
OK - if it IS hocks....
I was planning on cancelling my endurance ride next Sunday and doing American River, BUT the vet over the phone today (while making appointment) said that it's really not necessary and from a soundness, drug withdrawal, and horse welfare point of view, she should be ready to go by the weekend (if it is hocks).  I'm reserving judgement - which means although I am not e-mailing the ride manager today to let her know I'm scratching, I'm perfectly ready to do it Monday after the appointment.  (I DID cancel the jump lesson this Saturday).
I think I've decided that if injections are recommended I'm going to do them.  I know there's some controversy and I'm really not a fan of medically inducing a horse to be able to perform in a sport they are not suited for, but in this case I think I'm willing to do the injections. 
I had decided with Minx NOT to do the injections, which is one reason we competed so little in endurance in 2008.  Her hocks were only on reason among many that made her unsuitable for endurance, and as she was comfortable doing non-endurance riding without treatment, I decided we would do endurance if/when she she felt better and *just* ride the rest of the time as her hocks allowed. 
Farley is different from Minx.  Farley loves endurance.  Truly loves it.  Farley won't be happy without a "job", and wants to be ridden/worked most days of the week.  Truthfully, it wasn't for dressage I might delay treatment for a while.  She seems comfortable doing endurance.  However, dressage is an important part of the routine, the dressage work I'm doing should be doable for *any* horse to do comfortably (ie we aren't doing ultra fancy dressage specific moves) so I feel like if she can't do dressage comfortably, it is NOT the answer to quit dressage - eventually the issue will start to affect our endurance riding.  Which means for this horse, I will probably at least try injections if that's the vet's recommendation.
If anyone has strong opinions or stories they don't want to share publicly in the comment section, feel free to e-mail me at
I would particular like to hear from those of you that have endurance horses that have been faced with this decision.
If it is hocks, I'm looking forward to talking to the vet about what (if anything) I did to cause this situation.  Overtraining?  Not enough rest?  Or is it just something that some horses end up dealing with?  My gut right now says that this is unrelated to the 100 miler and more related to activities (like dressage) where I'm asking her to carry her weight more on her hind end, but it will be nice to get a professional opinion. 
I'll keep you posted.  I know from dealing with this issue with Minx that it's not in the horse's best interest to have extended periods of time off, so the plan is to ride today for ~10-15 minutes and maybe go on a handwalk (to see if she's better or worse.  We rode hard enough yesterday that if something soft tissue was wrong, it should be worse today).  Tomorrow (Friday) I may lightly trail ride (walk on flat ground), Saturday will be light ground work, off on Sunday (I'm out of town) and then Monday off to the vet's!
I'm really really really hoping this is something routine and fixable/manageable.


  1. So sorry to hear about Farley being off, my fingers are crossed it's something easy to manage/fix. I'm looking forward to the update.

  2. Is it possible she is developing some arthritis in the hocks? All those symptoms sound like mine (hips) and boy is it worse when the weather gets cold-actually during barometric pressure changes. However, the more I move the better I feel and my vet(I mean PT) says you have to keep moving to be able to keep moving. Sounds so much like Farley. At least, that is manageable. Wishing you lots of luck. I love to read about your endurance rides. Always wanted to do that, but I think being over 60 is a little late to start.

  3. LOVE YOUR QUESTION!!!! And ... yes I have had this experience. My mare, Montoya, began endurance as a nine year old. She did hundreds, multi-days, etc. As she neared her mid teens she started to get "stiff" in the front end. At around 16 years of age I started thinking about retiring her. My vet thought it was a little arthritis since she:
    1. was worse with no exercise
    2. worse when it was cold
    3. worse after standing around
    4. worse when asked to pivot tightly on that foot
    5. would work out of it if started slowly

    So ... I started using Adequan once a month and/or two weeks before a ride. I cannot tell you what a gigantic difference it made. She was still competing at 20 years old! I gave her the injections myself IM. I ordered it from Allivet (my vet writes out the Rx and I email it with my order) which keeps the cost down to about $45 a vial. I had such a good result that I began using it on my 5 year old monthly as well, even though he's sound as a dollar.

    Injecting the joint works for many horses, but it is expensive and I've heard that it can lose its efficacy at some point. Ask your vet about it, but also check on Adequan injections (they're MUCH simpler and cheaper, too).

    Good luck!

  4. My gelding was diagnosed with slight arthritis in the lower hock joint at the racetrack, we did the injections and it helped.

    My vet said that he should be exercised and that it may or may not ever fuse. I was concerned about using injections but was told me the hock joint his spavin was in was a "low motion" joint, so it should not be a problem.
    I probably wouldn't have done the injections if he had a knee or ankle problem or something in a high range of motion joint, because of the fear that the injections would become less effective over time and he would essentially wear out faster- or develop big ankles.
    I recently read something about a new treatment to help the hock fuse more effectively, I believe it was using some sort of alcohol injected into the joint to speed up fusing, it did sound like the treatment might be somewhat painful however.
    I hope you get a good diagnosis Monday, hocks can be very frustrating!!!
    Karen W.

  5. all of you have been very encouraging.... thanks :) I can imagine worst case scenerios all by myself thank you very much...but the good outcomes? For some reason my mind leaps over a high probability of success right into the doom and gloom tragedies.

    I like the idea of adequan. I actually asked my vet about using it as a prevantative about 2 years ago and he really didn't seem too enthusiastic about it so I didn't persue it. I know my trainer isn't totally impressed with it, but I've heard it totally works for other people so if the vet mentions it, I haven't ruled it out.

    I just don't feel like Farley is old at 11 and it's so unfair that she already has arthritis! :( Although like my trainer keeps telling me - this is perferable to a soft tissue injury! Is it selfish to wish I didn't have an injury at all?


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