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Cross-cantering Woes (*LONG*)

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  • Cross-cantering Woes (*LONG*)

    Hi guys, I'm new to posting in here, but an avid reader. Looking for some advice here. This is the background info:

    Horse is a 6yo OTTB. He is 16.3. He is sired by Jump Start and out of a Cryptoclearance mare. I mention that, because someone might know something about those lines re: lameness, that I do not. I have owned this horse for 2 years this coming May. He raced 15 times, and was off the track for almost a full year (in a field) when I bought him. He was retired because he had the SLIGHTEST bow in his LF. He never took a lame step, but was slightly warm and the ultrasound showed a small tear. He was rehabbed beautifully and turned out, it's fully set. He had been able to W/T/C both directions in the arena from last I'd say August until very recently....read on... :]

    This horse has been extensively trail ridden and has done several (10) hunter paces with me since I got him (5 the first season, 5 this season, occuring once per month). Along with flat shows, which we've stuck to W/T to ease him into the environment and allow him to master the essential gaits. We took him XC schooling twice this year and he was great. Our ultimate goal is eventing. His canter/gallop has always been very nice on a cross country - hes very comfortable and comes right back to me. I have never had any problems with him as far as lameness or issues until around July of this year.

    This horse is very much an introvert and has a GIANT heart, a pleaser through and through, which is why I am having such a hard time here. Around July, I took him to a flat show intending to do Green Horse. In a BIG ring, in warm up he was cross cantering on the left lead. Meaning, he was correct up front but would swap to the right lead in the back. I worked and worked in warm up to fix this but decided to take him down to walk trot and investigate the problem at home. He was not disciplined for it at all, because I, to this day, do not believe this is behavioral. We ended up cleaning up in W/T as usual. Got home and he was still doing this. Has been to the present day, ONLY on that side. I have checked saddle fit, had him worked on by a holistic vet using a chiropractor/accupuncture several times. She had said the time before last he was stiff through the sacral portion of his back. I thought after we resolved that, he'd be fine. Nope. Another point worth mentioning, he was barefoot at the time and also had been carrying a COLD swelling (it was almost a ball shape) on the dorsal aspect of his R knee. It flexed fine, you could palpate it and pinch it no problem, never took a lame step ever. I maintained it the way I would do his other joints every time I saw him - liniment on pretty much everything (left open). It never went away, but never seemed to bother him.

    Around the end of august/september, I became very fearful about this horse. We were on a hunter pace in September and he was laboring more than normal on hills and was pretty reluctant to go down hills straight. He would tip to the right and go down sideways, which struck me as odd. This is not my normal horse's behavior. We finished the pace and he came out of it fine but on the ride I noticed he had a bit of a head tilt. I figured it was a chiropractic issue, but in the back of my mind, I thought...EPM? We were working in the arena more after that and he was feeling rather dangerous to ride...kinda stumbly, bad in downward transitions, mostly to his bad side, the left. He has always been kind of a clumsy guy, but most of it seems to be a combination of his ADHD and being seemingly inable to stay out of his own way at times. :P I called the chiropractor and she said he wasnt in bad shape, just out in his back a tad, but nothing serious. She fixed his "crooked" head, too.

    Working more in the arena, one day before a jumper derby, we were working on the notoriously bad left lead and I went to stop him when he began cross cantering, and he completely fell down, all of his legs were down and he was struggling to right himself (it looked like he was swimming in the dirt). I miraculously stayed on and managed to stay balanced and forgiving on his face so he could get up. He trotted right off. Not a sore step. We walked a long time, and I decided to try another trot both directions to be sure he was sound after the "shock" passed. He was fine. Next morning, he was fine, no filling, change in his behavior/mood/eye etc. So we went on to the jumper derby. He was only in Starter so they topped out at 2'. He warmed up beautifully and competed beautifully - no bad steps.

    Over the past two months since, he had seemingly fallen apart. I became worried riding him, as he felt like you do before you crash on your bicycle, that wobbly uncertain feeling.. even at the walk. He was dragging his RH toe, too.. The vet was called and I planned to pull blood for EPM. I was sure that was it... He passed EVERY neuro test we put him through on the ground and showed no inconsistencies. She suggested we hold off on the blood for EPM since it's not the most accurate anyways. Instead, we did flexions on all 4 limbs. Sure enough, he was SLIGHTLY positive in his R front (where the knee swelling was) and the R Hind. We then decided to xrayparts of both legs (knee, foot, hock). What we found was strange (to me). The knee, which I suspected maybe a floating chip/OCD, was CLEAN as can be - just some narrowing joint spaces (likely from racing). The foot was clean as can be. The hock has a spur in it but nothing serious and the joint spaces narrow as well. I immediately put him on OCD Pellets after speaking with Dr Beebe at DOCS Products, he advised my horse should benefit from the supplement with his conditions. The vet also suggested we maybe inject the hock. But first, we wanted to really be sure he was balanced. I had my farrier come and check him out. He was 5 degrees different in his front feet. He's always had one foot with a higher heel than the other (it is NOT a club foot, trust me)...common racehorse affliction due to bad trimming/shoeing their entire lives. We were able to take the recurring flare off the RF (we assume the flare kept coming back to compensate for the swelling), and place two regular steel rim shoes on up front only. The right foot was given a 2 degree rim wedge pad to help bring him up, too. He was balanced with matching angles up front and behind. front differed from hinds by 1-2 degrees.

    Vet came again for follow up/to inject, we jogged and re-flexed him. She said he was at 90% and was shocked how much the shoes alone helped. We decided to just inject the knee (with hopes of just killing the swelling and maybe never having to repeat inject), as he was still kinda "throwing" it out at the trot. So, we did. The swelling was gone the next day and has stayed away. In fact, his legs are the tightest they've ever been.

    We went back to work and I really started working at W/T with collection. He is doing FANTASTIC and when he's engaged he doesnt feel dangerous/wonky at all. His right lead canter remains beautiful. On his left, though, he is STILL crossfiring. He does it both at liberty, under saddle, and on the lunge.

    I should also mention, when riding, he is in a Bates Caprilli CC with air panels. I used a Thinline pad on him, too. Has never had signs of pain where the saddle sits.

    Recently, he has become rather testy during grooming and saddling on the right side. I began giving him Sore No More massages (using the liniment) and covering with his blanket (that formula is safe to cover/wrap, FYI :]) over his back, behind his shoulders.

    He has been carrying himself BEAUTIFULLY at the walk and trot but that Left lead is killing us. He becomes very strung out and leans a bit, begins cross cantering and when i attempt to collect him he just breaks to a trot and gives me those bad transitions strung out horses do. -___-

    The massage therapist is coming this Saturday (Dec 8) to work on him for the first time. She plans to spend 1.5 hours on him. I am hoping and PRAYING this helps. I have spent around $1,000 in diagnostics so far. I know this is not his fault. Under saddle he moves his haunches readily and yields nicely, I can take him in walk and trot circles, merely THINK where I want to go, and he does it. This is really strange. My only other health worry is Lyme. I may pursue a blood sample and send to Cornell...

    Another odd thing.. He tracks up fantastic in the walk and trot with that left hind leg but refuses to weight it cantering. He even seems to set himself up over crossrails (we arent doing ANYTHING remotely seriously right now) to land on the Right lead. If I do manage to get him to land on the Left lead, he is immediately cross cantering.

    My next thought is to maybe get him going on the right lead, until he really relaxes, come across the arena and ask for a simple change to the left lead and see if he can do it...

    Any advice or anyone having similar problems? I am open to all forms of feedback (except negative, lol, I really spare little expense to fix my horse, so I don't think I'm really doing wrong by him). I am a former surgical technician and have been around racehorses and show horses my entire life, but this truly has me stumped??

  • #2
    I would look very closely at the stifles and the SI, which it does not sound like you have done. (Apologies if you have and I just missed it.)


    • #3
      Vague lameness, head tilt, falling down, ataxia ("wobbly" feeling) are all CLASSIC signs pointing straight at neurological disease (some of which have intermittent "come-and-go" type signs, but chronically progressive). I would JUMP on some more diagnostics - a neurologic horse that has fallen down once can and will do so again, and you don't want to get injured when they fall on top of you!

      I would take x-rays of the skull and cervical spine to rule out some kind of vestibular disease (which would cause head tilt, ataxia etc, and can be caused by anything impinging on the vestibulocochlear nerve) and cervical vertebral malformations ("Wobbler's"), both of which can cause the kind of signs you're describing. Equine motor neuron disease is another possibility that you may want to rule out. Wobbler's may additionally require a myelogram for definitive diagnosis, but some can be obvious on rads alone.

      Is your horse current on his vaccinations? Other differentials for this include the viral encephalitides - EEE/WEE/VEE, but those are typically accompanied by other systemic signs. EHV is also a player, but again, would have accompanying systemic signs.

      EPM is a possibility also, but as you said, the diagnostics are not definitive - a horse positive on CSF and serology only means that he has been exposed to S. neurona, not that he is having disease caused by it. You have to diagnose EPM based on clinical signs, ruling out all other causes of neuro disease, and interpretation of CSF and antibody serology in light of clinical signs, which increase the positive predictive value that the horse has EPM.

      What I mean is that a horse that has NO clinical signs with positive serology has a low positive predictive value of having EPM, but a horse with positive serology AND clinical signs suggestive of EPM has a higher positive predictive value of having EPM. Response to treatment is another way to "diagnose" EPM - i.e. if the horse responds to treatment there is a high likelihood he has EPM (or another disease that responds to anti-protozoal treatment).

      Everything you described screams neuro disease at me. Just remember that horses in early stage of neuro disease often have those intermittent signs that you can't see all the time, so just because it isn't staring you in the face doesn't mean it isn't there.


      • Original Poster

        Originally posted by Simkie View Post
        I would look very closely at the stifles and the SI, which it does not sound like you have done. (Apologies if you have and I just missed it.)
        You're right though, the chiro mentioned he had sacral issues a while ago but it never really solved it. Stifles were good in tests -backing pivoting palpations flexions etc. but perhaps should investigate both further? Massage therapist should be able to pinpoint both right?


        • #5
          Also, I would x-ray the neck, just to be sure. I had a horse at my old barn who was treated for EPM due to his ongoing neuro issues. Fine, not fine, fine, not fine, etc. he ended up having x-rays of his neck done, only to fine evidence of previous trauma. When bothered, it affected the spinal cord, causing the neuro issues.

          (NOT saying this is what is up with your horse, just keep it in mind.)
          "On the back of a horse I felt whole, complete, connected to that vital place in the center of me...and the chaos within me found balance."


          • #6
            ditto on the neurological concerns!

            also, the fact that he avoids his left lead suggests to me that his RIGHT hind is the problem. When cantering on the left lead, the strike-off limb is the right hind.

            Good luck on successfully fixing the problem in what sounds like a lovely horse.


            • #7
              Ditto the neck xrays. He might have some arthritis going on on hte right side of his neck. How good are his carrot stretches? Does he flex better one way or another?


              • #8
                Originally posted by jsn0506 View Post
                You're right though, the chiro mentioned he had sacral issues a while ago but it never really solved it. Stifles were good in tests -backing pivoting palpations flexions etc. but perhaps should investigate both further? Massage therapist should be able to pinpoint both right?
                Your horse has some serious, concerning issues. Unless you've got god's gift in massage therapists and chiropractors, use your VET. If you don't like your vet, or have some trust issue with your vet, get a new one. With everything that's going on, you need a top notch diagnostician.

                If the horse is insured (or if you can pony up the dollars) I'd send him in for a bone scan, as that will kill a LOT of birds with one stone.


                • Original Poster

                  Well, I haven't given the massage therapist a chance yet. If he shows no improvement, I will go back to my vet. I trust her very much. The thing is, the neuro thing really stood out to me, HOWEVER, once he passed the exams & his poll was adjusted, we didn't go forward. I don't rule it out. He is UTD on vaccinations, & I did think of ehv but he was vaccinated for it.

                  Here's another thing, guys...could assymetrical muscle memory be something too? He's so used to carrying himself on feet that are 5° different, I wonder if now that he's balanced, it's going to take a while to resolve that, & maybe as a result he's sore on that side?

                  Additionally, once I realized I was allowing him to be strung out under saddle..I revamped the training program & really for him to carry himself & collect, he hasn't felt neuro at ALL under saddle. I admittedly neglected that when I was retraining him (I know, that's bad but I'm redeeming myself).. Once he's engaged & using himself he moves perfectly walk & trot & right lead canter.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by jsn0506 View Post
                    The thing is, the neuro thing really stood out to me, HOWEVER, once he passed the exams & his poll was adjusted, we didn't go forward. I don't rule it out. He is UTD on vaccinations, & I did think of ehv but he was vaccinated for it.
                    There isn't a "pass" or "fail" for a neuro exam, simply, the day the vet came out to examine your horse, she did not see any evidence of neurological disease (that you mentioned, anyway). A Grade I neuro disease is characterized as having intermittent clinical signs, i.e. you may see them one day, and not on another day. I would absolutely pursue this - there are things you can do to arrest neurological damage in some disease processes if you catch them early enough, but once enough damage has been done, it is permanent.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by jsn0506 View Post
                      He is UTD on vaccinations, & I did think of ehv but he was vaccinated for it.
                      The vaccine does ZERO to cover the horse for the neuro form of the virus. ZERO.

                      I'd haul the horse to a big veterinary hospital and have him evaluated.

                      Massage therapists and chiropractors and the like are *supportive* therapies. You need a *diagnosis*--which is going to come from a vet.

                      Neuro problems can be super subtle and tricky to diagnose and identify. You need someone experienced in evaluating horses for subtle neuro stuff before you can say for certain that the horse is not neurological.


                      • #12
                        I second the suggestion to check the SI region -- cross cantering, reluctance to "sit" on hills, shifting hindquarters to one side were what my horse presented with. Add on superficial muscle soreness over the loin/ under saddle region due to trying to carry himself straight. Had a known previous accident that could have led to SI injury (fell in wash rack). We did four months with a DVM chiropractor who is very experienced (started improvement) and then SI injection (accelerated improvement), plus stretching and maintenance chiro. Has been a huge difference.

                        I had noticed that a Legend injection would *totally* change his way of going, even when something like Bute didn't -- which was part of what set me off looking for a pain-related cause for his behavior.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Simkie View Post
                          Your horse has some serious, concerning issues. Unless you've got god's gift in massage therapists and chiropractors, use your VET. If you don't like your vet, or have some trust issue with your vet, get a new one. With everything that's going on, you need a top notch diagnostician.

                          If the horse is insured (or if you can pony up the dollars) I'd send him in for a bone scan, as that will kill a LOT of birds with one stone.

                          Sometimes a simple ultrasound on the R hind can show surprising things.
                          Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                          Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                          • #14
                            100% agree the issue sounds neurologic. I, like many above posters, recommend Xrays to rule out Wobbler's. I had to put down a gorgeous, well-bred 3yo WB with that condition. He was intermittantly fine, but on the "not good" days, he was a danger to himself and others. Good luck. Dealing with neurologic issues is no fun at all!
                            A good man can make you feel sexy, strong, and able to take on the world.... oh, sorry.... that's wine...wine does that...



                            • #15
                              My OTTB had a really bad SI issue when I first got him. For him it was his left side. I worked with my Chiropractor (who is also a retired vet) and together we reset him and had him in a rehab program to strengthen the SI. The first thing that caught our attention was that he had a "hitch" in his gait. I could not feel or see it but someone else caught it, thank goodness. When the Chiropractor came out he pointed out the muscle atrophy between both sides which was very evident. Some other things he told me were signs were his left hind toe dragged, cross cantering on the lead, reluctance to place full weight on limb. He would easily cross canter like you boy and not think twice and when I could start him correctly on the lead once we hit a circle he would immediately switch the hind and cross canter. Another point it was visible was hills. I had to have him in a field for the first couple months with NO hills. We couldn't graduate to hills until he could complete his exercise with no "hitch."

                              It took a good year and lots of Chiropractic visits to set him straight. It started in 2009 and the last time I had the Chiropractor was March 2011. There are days that he is stiff so we take it light but otherwise no issues. And he also still continues to drag with his left hind, but notice its much better with shoes on. I also use Sore no more religiously but add the back on track blanket which makes a big difference to him.

                              Good luck with your guy and I hope the visit will help him!!!
                              Calm & Collected, 13, OTTB
                              Forrest Gump (Catasauqua) , 17, OTTB
                              Little Bit Indian, 29, TB
                              Owner of Spur of the Moment, Custom made spur straps! Find us on Facebook


                              • #16
                                I would treat the horse for Lyme's. doxycylcine (I think its 50 pills 2x/day for a few weeks?) Lyme's has a crazy variety of manifestations. I have experienced a similar scenario to yours. Where a horse's body just kind of 'stops working so well.' Hind end not cantering correctly was also the main noticeable issue.
                                "Friend" me !



                                • #17
                                  I'm with the crowd who says...

                                  1. This is SERIOUS

                                  2. Time for the vet and the homeo-this or ancient-Chinese-that

                                  3. It sounds neuro and I'd be checking the neck and spine

                                  I don't think it will HURT to treat for lyme, or even just to pull blood and check. But I subsume that under #2.

                                  Sounds like a darling horse and a very attentive owner. I hope you can get to the bottom of this!
                                  "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"


                                  • #18
                                    I owned this horse. He could.not.hold.a.lead.for.anything. Always swapped out behind after a few strides. Started stumbling, having back pain. Yes, I could put him in a frame and he would be more balanced, but he really was just an accident waiting to happen. One day he went off on a bucking fit (and that was NOT his personality). We treated for EPM even though the test was negative. Also tried different shoes. Tried EPSM diet. Tried NSAIDs, gabapentin, pentosan. Tons of chiro. Radiographed every joint he had. After spending $1000's on various treatments and diagnostics, we eventually had to put him down. We suspect that he had broken his hip/sacrum at some point and it healed with arthritis and nerve impingement - but I couldn't afford the bone scan which would've been most helpful. On rectal palpation there was some irregularity to the bone (I recommend you ask your vet to do this). The reason that we believe it was his sacrum is because he was sooo much better after SI injections. But, after 6 months that wore off and he was back to being painful.

                                    Sorry to tell a sad tale; I hope you have a better outcome. I know all too well how frustrated you are. All I can say is that if you have the money, get him in to a respected referral hospital for the full work up - including bone scan, neck rads, spinal tap for EPM, etc. and don't delay! Don't waste any more money on massage and chiro. These are adjunct therapies to be used once you have a diagnosis and a primary treatment plan. Spend your money on finding out what's wrong!


                                    • #19
                                      Agree with justhoofit and others. Get the most complete workup from a specialist clinic or hospital that you can afford. It is possible that there is something relatively minor here that you can fix, but there is enough evidence that it could be something that, left untreated, could result in a catastrophic accident hurting you, or him, or both.
                                      The big man -- my lost prince

                                      The little brother, now my main man


                                      • #20
                                        I also agree that it's time for the vet to take over... However, have you had anyone on the ground video tape you riding? My horse was having some problems swapping leads behind, tripping, actually fell down a couple of times. Turned out to be a locking stifle. His stifle would lock but he would trip up front. So difficult to figure out what was happening because it happened so fast. It wasn't until watching a video (and slowing it down) that I was able to see what was really happening. I had his stifles blistered and no trouble since careful rehab after that (following vet's orders about riding after the blister).