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What would you do if this were your horse/responsibility?

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  • What would you do if this were your horse/responsibility?

    I have a lovely child/husband/guest/second horse that I am having some soundness issues with and am contemplating next steps. Full disclosure, retirement is definitely on the table as an option, but I wanted to hear some other thoughts and opinions.

    Horse is 20 and has never been typically, asymmetrically, head bobbing lame. He has lived out for the last ten years and always been in light, intermittent work, mostly taking guests for trail rides.

    His discomfort first manifests as short-stridedness and less willingness to go forward, along with that comes a tendency to stumble in front. More recently, he has taken a decided dislike to lunging or ring work. I have been buting him before and after riding for about 18 months and he's been on Previcoxx for around 6 months. I have changed farriers and experimented with shoeing to make him more comfortable. He is shod all around while in work, wide webs in front, rim shoes in back. Shoeing *greatly* increases his comfort and willingness to move forward. I notice that the stumbling decreases in inverse relationship to the skill of his rider, but let's face it - a horse that stumbles MORE with rank beginners is a problem. I am also aware that the root cause of stumbling can be VERY hard to pinpoint.

    Vet has watched him go and first recommended the bute and now the previcoxx. No, I have not done a complete lameness exam. That is on the table as well, of course. But I want to be realistic about not spending money to diagnose something I'm not willing to treat.

    If someone could waive a magic wand over him and tell me either "He has arthritic hocks. Inject him and see what you have." or "He has navicular/caudal heel pain. If shoeing no longer helps, retire him." I'd be fine with it. (Those are my top guesses as to what's troubling him, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was more than one thing.) But I'm reluctant to go down the diagnosis rabbit hole and hundreds/thousands of dollars later still only know that he's old and creaky and not have a good direction to go in to make him more comfortable.

    I am not opposed to retirement. He can retire here and be a pasture ornament as long as he is pasture sound comfortable.

    At this point, I have pulled his shoes, am going to give him off until spring and then reevaluate.

    So, WWYD?
    Last edited by McGurk; Dec. 2, 2018, 10:29 AM.
    The plural of anecdote is not data.

  • #2
    I would not pull his shoes. You have stated that shoes make him significantly and measurably more comfortable. So regardless of whether he is being ridden or not, this would logically make for a worsening of his discomfort, not an improvement. Ditching shoes is usually one of the last things you try, when you've run in and out of the rabbit hole 20 times and have nothing else left to try.

    If retirement is an easy, reasonable option and you do not want to spend lots of money to diagnose, I would do just that. Seems pretty simple.

    If you are willing to do at least some basics to see if those yield any results, I would at least have a vet out and do a basic set of flexions, hoof test his feet and do a set of rads of his front feet. You may get a direction to go in just for the flexions, you may not. But you have to start somewhere, and a general lameness exam including palpations and flexions is a good place to start. The fact that you know him to be sore-footed without shoes tells me taking a closer look at his feet is also a good idea.

    Beyond that, it's up to you.
    Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you have now was once among the many things that you only hoped for.


    • #3
      Hm, tough call. You are right that a horse that stumbles a lot isn't safe for an inexperienced rider. I am *guessing* navicular. Has the farrier tried any of the shoe types for navicular horses? Has the vet ever suggested Osphos? It is probably the least expensive treatment for navicular, but still in the hundreds of dollars. (I wouldn't do either until you want to bring him back into work, as long as he's comfortable in the pasture.)

      You may know that my horse exhibited similar symptoms earlier this year. The vet treated it as navicular, so first coffin joint injections and then Osphos. Both helped, but only for a few weeks. It turned out that she needed a new farrier, who gave her bigger shoes and a less upright hoof shape. She's much better now.
      You have to have experiences to gain experience.

      1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


      • #4
        To me it sounds very similar to my horse when she was first diagnosed with navicular. In our case with treatment and special shoes she’s sound, before she hurt her suspansories she was even jumping happily.
        You could try having the vet block the front and see if that helps.
        No matter what anyone could guess, even a seasoned vet, there’s always the possibility that you’ll spend money trying to figure out what’s wrong and never truly know. If you don’t want spend tons of money with the risk of just having an old creaky horse retirement seems the best choice. It sounds like you have the ability to give him a good happy retirement. Go with whatever you feel most comfortable with.


        • #5
          IF more diagnostics are the way you want (can afford) to go. I would recommend having vet pull Lyme titer and EPM bloodwork now. The stumbling makes me think EPM. The dislike to move forward, Lyme. Both should be treated sooner rather than later. If unable to afford EPM treatment, you will at least know that for all parties safety, he should no longer be ridden and the disease is progressive, so euthanasia will be a requirement at some point. Lyme treatment is less expensive.

          I think if he were my critter, before I just tossed him out for a winter vacation, I would have the vet test for both of those. If negative, it sounds like he's earned his vacation by tolerating all sorts of humans.


          • #6
            I'd retire him completely. For me, with a horse that age, I wouldn't throw more money after him to find out what exactly was going on. As long as he was comfortable to tool around the pasture, that would be enough for me. Sounds like shoeing is enough to keep him pasture comfortable? That would be all I'd be willing to do if he were mine.

            I'm dealing a little with a similar situation with my retired event mare. She's 16, and 100% but only on good footing. She enjoys to do a little work, trails, and pack a kid around showing her the ropes jumping. She's in Natural Balance shoes in front, and that is all I'm willing to do soundness wise right now. I'll keep her forever, and keep her comfortable of course, but I'm not going to throw my checkbook at her to get her back to 100% and competition sound.


            • #7
              When you bute him does the stumbling go away?


              • #8
                Exactly what you did, maybe left shoes on if he is more comfortable.

                A little different situation, but I just spent over 2 K over the past 6 months in xrays, injections and finally an ultrasound last night to find a possible-not-definitive cause for an on again off again issue - but that is with a 10 year old show horse. So I definitely do NOT suggest going down the rabbit hole of major diagnostics, for which you may never know the answer, in your situation

                And guess what? Her treatment is give her the winter off and reassess in the spring. I am leaving her shoes on.

                So- I would have probably left the shoes on, if he is comfortable enough and you have the means- let him chill, throw him out whatever for the winter and see how he is in the spring.

                If he is really useful- are you opposed to having the vet do a small work-up? I mean- you'd find out quick if you block low if it is foot or higher? No judgment either way, I have an old pony that was worth it "to me" to have the vet do blocks and eventually a bute trial.

                Anyway- good luck with him.
                Come to the dark side, we have cookies


                • #9
                  These were the symptoms of cervical arthritis in my childhood horse. They appeared around 20 years of age. The dislike of lunging was a major red flag later, in my current TB, who we discovered has CA as well, but is managed with injections.

                  A 'cheap' way to tell if x-rays are not an option, is a round of steroids. But neck xrays in the scheme of things are not an expensive diagnostic.
                  AETERNUM VALE, INVICTUS - 7/10/2012


                  • Original Poster

                    In re: shoes. He is comfortable and pasture sound without shoes. He needs shoes to be *ridden*; especially on any kind of hard or uneven footing. Ridden without shoes, he is ouchy and reluctant to move forward, very sensitive to gravel.

                    He has an absolutely flat paddock with a matted run in shed and good turf. Nothing hard unless the ground freezes solid. I will assess when/if the pasture freezes solid - hadn't thought about that prior to pulling shoes. Will have to see if he needs more help then.

                    If he had to have shoes to be pasture sound, that would be a different data point and decision path.

                    Bute makes him a little happier and forward moving, which reduces the stumbling, but doesn't entirely eliminate it under a novice rider. I give him 1.5 grams before and sometimes 1 gram after riding and he's every bit of 1000 pounds.
                    The plural of anecdote is not data.


                    • #11
                      I'd check the neck as is mentioned. I don't know how bad the stumbling is, but I'm loathe to give up on a child/adult-safe horse - they are worth their weight in gold It's one thing to just trip a bit, and completely another to go down on their knees.

                      Now, if he's truly unhappy to be worked, that's entirely a different story, but it sounds like he just needs some figuring out as to where the pain and stiffness is. It may be all over. Being over 40 myself, I can tell you that Advil is a godsend.


                      • Original Poster

                        Beowulf and OneGray,

                        Those are excellent ideas. I hadn't thought about a steroid trial or c-spine. Bute would make c-spine slightly better but not make it go away completely.

                        And OneGray,

                        Thanks for understanding. I don't have a competition agenda and I'm not trying to squeeze the last useful bit of life of him; but the fact of the matter is, he is a treasure and I hate to give up on him IF he can be made comfortable and happy.

                        He's ALWAYS been happiest as a trail horse and has always been really good with beginners.

                        He has not gone all the way to his knees stumbling, but it's unnerving to novice riders for sure, and I don't want to keep putting people on him and have him go all the way down.
                        The plural of anecdote is not data.


                        • #13
                          I'd get a full lameness exam by a specialist so I knew what exactly I was working with, then go from there.
                          20% off code for Hay Chix hay nets--http://682haychix.refr.cc/chelseaboda


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by McGurk View Post
                            Thanks for understanding. I don't have a competition agenda and I'm not trying to squeeze the last useful bit of life of him; but the fact of the matter is, he is a treasure and I hate to give up on him IF he can be made comfortable and happy.

                            He's ALWAYS been happiest as a trail horse and has always been really good with beginners.
                            Got it - yes I do very much understand. I've had some oldies that just weren't ready to be retired. Good luck with figuring it out. Keep us posted


                            • #15
                              A basic lameness exam is not terribly costly and will provide quite a lot of direction, even without radiographs. I'd start there. Get some solid information and proceed.

                              Maybe the lameness exam will point strongly to the hocks, or to navicular. Maybe it will show that there's nothing really terribly amiss in the big leg joints, but that he's neurologically not quite normal. Maybe it will show not much at all, but that still tells you something about what *doesn't* hurt. But not doing one at all because you're concerned about going down the rabbit hole of gazillion dollar tests is tossing the baby with the bathwater.


                              • #16
                                Just curious, What does your vet suggest as a first step for diagnostics having seen him and known him?

                                I like the idea of the winter off but wonder if trying something to see if you can narrow down the general pain area might make the decision on what to do moving forward a little easier?


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by McGurk View Post
                                  No, I have not done a complete lameness exam.

                                  But I'm reluctant to go down the diagnosis rabbit hole and hundreds of dollars later still only know that he's old and creaky and not have a good direction to go in to make him more comfortable.
                                  Or you could sit there and continue to wonder what's wrong with him....

                                  And I mean no sarcasm at all by saying that. I would 100% take him in for a lameness exam, hands down. Go find out what you are dealing with!! Only then will you know how you want to proceed.

                                  But you gotta find out what's wrong with him first! And personally, I'd take him now while the problems are active. It will be easier for the vet to examine him. (of course, stop all pain meds a few days before you go in)

                                  Something to bear in mind too, a horse that is truly a SAFE child horse, or a horse that you can throw anyone on, well, they can really be worth their weight in gold. It may be less expensive to maintain what you have, than to purchase a "replacement" that fits the bill.

                                  Side note - be careful about using BOTH bute and previcox together. Obviously, I assume that your vet has given you the okay to do this, but it could potential wreck havoc on the digestive system. Might be a good idea to proactively treat for ulcers if you will be continuing to do those medications together on the days he is ridden.

                                  When a horse stumbles in front, or when they NEED shoes to be comfortable, the first thing I think is "heel pain". But when a horse doesn't want to go around on a circle like for lunging, then I think hocks or stifles or both. With an older horse, it could obviously be a combination of things that are bothering the horse. If his hocks hurt, he might be trying to compensate by traveling more on his front end. If his front feet also hurt, well that's going to make him stumble more by overloading them more. And thus you have a snowball effect.

                                  It is not enough to know how to ride; one must know how to fall.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    To be clear, this horse is seen by a vet who knows and understands him on a regular basis. Two years ago, I asked about a lameness workup because what I was seeing make me think hocks and I was thinking perhaps injections.

                                    My vet encouraged me to go the supportive route first before flexions, nerve blocks and radiographs, his rationale being we might find bony changes in the hocks and inject them and discover he was coping with the hock arthritis just fine and something else was causing the mild behavior changes. At this horse's age/miles on the odometer, clinical findings and a diagnosis mean you've found something, not the you've found THE thing or even the dominant thing.

                                    Last vet appointment in May I asked the same questions; he watched the horse move on a straight line and on a lunge line and we started the Previcoxx. He was also negative to hoof testers for heel pain for both the vet and farrier. Shoeing changes were a little later this year - more rolled toe, more support behind, etc.

                                    So yes, I agree, it's probably time to do a more focused workup. But it's not as if I've been without veterinary advice in this process.

                                    Beau159, funny, when I see horses dragging toes I tend to assume a root cause of hocks/hind end, and making them more comfortable using themselves/stepping under cures the stumble. But yes, heel pain can and does create some of the same issues, but we partially ruled that out with previous responses to hoof testers. (No, not totally - some horses with heel pain don't react, and that could be different six months later.)
                                    The plural of anecdote is not data.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by McGurk View Post
                                      I notice that the stumbling decreases in inverse relationship to the skill of his rider, but let's face it - a horse that stumbles MORE with rank beginners is a problem.
                                      There was a thread here earlier this year on subtle lameness and how riders can hold the horse together enough to make NQR look sounder. I can imagine a more experience rider influencing the horse's balance and movement to help him not stumble so much.

                                      Have you tried taking him OFF bute and previcox? To see if there is any visible area of pain/discomfort?

                                      If it were my horse, I'd set a dollar amount I was comfortable spending on diagnostics, and ask vet to look him over with that in mind. If you suspect hocks or heels, I'd ask vet what they think about starting there, or if they have other thoughts on the matter.

                                      If unwilling to spend ANY money, and I've been there with my old retired creaky horse, then retirement seems like a good plan. Or turning him out for a few months, as long as he's comfortable, and seeing how he's like after that.


                                      • #20
                                        Here is the thread https://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/f...e-for-lameness

                                        Might be worth looking over or at the videos, see if your horse resembles any of them and their diagnostics.