The first few weeks of my new horse adventure went very well. I like this horse quite a lot. As with any new mount, it takes time to really get the feel for them and I've been taking my time doing just that. It's been perfect to be able to do mostly light rides while the horse gets used to being worked more frequently. My weekly lesson is our "hard" day but we are still taking it easy and building basics. We both have the basics and then some, but not together, and he's mostly been ridden exclusively by my coach and his trainer. Although she's a believer in training so the horse learns how to think for themselves and not micro-managing every step, there is a difference between her riding and mine, I'm sure.
All was moving along well, until it wasn't.
One night I was grooming before a ride and when I went to pick out the left-hind hoof, something strange happened. It was like he couldn't straighten his leg. It was stiff and straight and seemed very tense. Then, suddenly, the leg snapped back so hard he hit himself in the belly. Ohh-kaaay. Next time I picked up the hoof, it didn't happen, but after putting it down, waiting a bit, and trying again, it was the same thing. I recruited another boarder to watch while I jogged him out. We tried up a gentle slope first...nothing. Then, at my insistence, I jogged him on the flat sand galloping track. He would trot great, tracking up nicely, then take a weird step. I brought him to a walk and turned around and at the point of walking off straight again, it happened. The leg went straight and it was clear he was trying to move it, but couldn't. He kind of dragged it in the sand for that step and then was fine again. I'd never seen anything like it (and was scared a whole bunch!).
I walked him to where I knew one of the owners was working. I told him about what I saw and we spent a fair bit of time walking, trotting, stopping, walking again etc. It happened several more times. In a way, it was a relief to have the owner witness it so they could fully realize the extent of the issue. Have you ever gone to a vet with a problem, only to have the animal be perfectly sound or otherwise fine? It's frustrating and not helpful in figuring out what's going on, so at least this was useful.
Turns out it's his stifle. Upward fixation of the patella, to be exact. I've spent the last week or so doing research in my spare time (which doesn't amount to much!). In very simple terms, one of the ligaments of the knee becomes stressed/pulled/stretched and slips over the knee cap, causing the momentary stuck straight leg.
I thought I'd have a picture but technology is failing me tonight. Bah! I'm posting anyway.
We think he probably did something while being a typical 5 year old playing in turnout. The prognosis looks good so far. He's been fitted with wedge pads in the back to help with breakover and ease stress on the ligament. That was done the next day and he hasn't taken a step wrong or locked up since. I've also learned his farrier has already been working towards improving his toe length/lack of heel, but that's mostly a front end problem anyway.
My plan is to carefully condition him to build strength and help the ligament heal. Currently, he is in turnout from about 6am to 9pm and then in a large standing stall (ugh, I know) overnight. I'd like to get him out of the standing stall to eliminate any unnecessary stress to that ligament. He's in there because it's the easiest way to feed him extra grain/supplements twice a day and also ensure that he's resting some of the time (he's a huge player in turnout) without occupying a box stall that a paying boarder would occupy. I don't think it's horrible in general since the horses are out so long, the stalls are large enough for side-to side movement, and the horses in there do lie down all the time. I don't love it either, though.
So, we are discussing turnout options to maximize motility but that's a challenge because he needs to have his supplements and grain - he doesn't have weight to spare. Apparently it's not as easy as you might think to have someone feed him breakfast (between myself and my coach, we can handle dinner). We are looking at options to have the best of both worlds. I'm very happy with the way things are working with the owners, they are just as keen to figure out the best option for him. At this point, it seems that we will either get him a private turnout overnight (so that he can be fed in turnout) and then bring him to the "big boy" field during the day, or give him a big box stall overnight for a month or so.
Anyone out there with experience or knowlege about stifle issues, please comment! Especially with locking stifles, but I'd like to hear about it all. I'm trying to figure out what the best types of conditioning are for this and it's not something I've dealt with before. So far, I've been just doing a lot of walk/trot work and then some backing in-hand. I would love to hear some ideas!