Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Begininng Somewhat Stifled.

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!


Anonymous said...

Yup, it's stifle and not uncommon. Maisie had this issue (not the reason we retired her) - it is sometimes caused by conformation. The solution is conditioning the muscles so they support the stifle joint - lots of slow, careful conditioning work, initially mostly in straight lines and with only gentle curves. Lungeing is a very bad idea. Walking at first and then lots, and lots, and lots of trotting, and if you've got inclines/hills - not steep ones but nice long ones - once the horse is fitter, lots of trotting up hills.

Most horses with this issue do just fine (I'd stay well away from the people who advise injections and/or surgery) but the horse needs to get and stay conditioned. Good luck!

Once Upon an Equine said...

It's always something with these critters, isn't it. I've not experienced this and am relieved to read Kate's comment. I hope the turnout and gradual conditioning help him return to normal.

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

Personally I would have no issues injecting a stifle if it was called for. I would rather knock out inflammation then leave it there and make it more comfortable for the horse to properly condition the muscles supporting the joint.

The main key to UFP is conditioning. Easy hill work, or if you don't have hills a lot of walking and then trotting over cavaletti are great for stifles. UFP is not uncommon and is typically very manageable. For horses with stifle issues 24/7 turnout is ideal, but the good news is that he is getting lots of turnout time already. I personally wouldn't choose a standing stall for any horse but I don't think they are the end of the world either. If you've ever visited the Royal Mews (the Queen's stables) in London you will see lots of happy horses in standing stalls.

Laura said...

Too bad about the stifle issue - glad that the owners are being cooperative though...

Endurance lady has dealt with stifle issues before - I know she did a lot of backing with her - in hand at first and then under saddle. Walking and trotting over poles helps too, I think... I'll ask her about what she did for conditioning next time I see her.

RuckusButt said...

You guys are awesome, thank you! Your comments are especially reassuring, Kate and Melissa. It's nice to know I'm on the right track. We have one hill that is particularly good for this as it's a long and gentle slope but with enough incline to get that butt working. We'll be visiting it regularly as well as mixing in caveletti, poles etc.

He hasn't had a single recurrence of tripping or locking while I've been with him this week, so I'm encouraged.

RuckusButt said...

Melissa, I also appreciate your comment about standing stalls. I thought I was going to take some heat for saying they aren't horrible. Not preferrable, but not cruel either.