Tuesday, March 13, 2012

RH: Fixed. LF? Still NQR.

Last week, my vet was out to check Saga's right hind. The problem seemed to be the stifle (toe dragging, fluid on the joint), so we did a radiograph and ultrasounded the joint. Everything showed up fine, but we injected the joint anyway. It seems to have worked - Saga feels great behind, and there is no more telltale toe-dragging. Yay!

During the lameness exam, my vet commented that he was a little off on the LF as well. That's the leg we had all the issues with last fall - we blocked it twice and he didn't come sound, then blocked the foot a third time, which seemed to help. Radiographs of the foot showed nothing, but he's got thin soles so at the time we decided to shoe him. Whether he's been 100% with the shoes on is hard to say - he tends to shuffle on pavement to avoid slipping, but he feels great on soft surfaces. Recently the shoes came off, and now we're back to him being noticeably short on that leg (although he is not head-bobbing lame).

I've been using hoof boots, and I wanted to see if they were making much of a difference in the way he moves. I took a little video, but I'm having issues with video editing so instead I captured some stills from the video.

LF landing with boots. Flat.

 LF landing without boots. DEFINITELY toe-first.

 RF with boots. Heel first, but it's a little hard to see.

 RF, no boots. YAY for nice heel-first landing!!!

As I was looking at the stills, I noticed the difference in the angles his legs were making, so I decided to measure them. I wanted to see how much of a difference there was between the angles of right vs left, both with and without boots. I busted out with my incredibly rusty trusty trig skills (read: I found a web site with a handy calculator since I couldn't remember past the Pythagorean theorem) and did a little calculating.
  • LF without boots: 38.6 degrees
  • RF without boots: 48.2 degrees
  • LF with boots: 45.2 degrees
  • RF with boots: 47.9 degrees
Take all these measurements with a large grain of salt. To do a really good study I'd need a more accurate way to measure angles, and I'd also need a larger sample size of strides to compare. Ignoring those two tiny details, here's what I think this means:

  • For the RF, the foot with the better landing, the boots aren't making much of a difference. My measurements aren't exact, and the difference in the angles is only .3 degrees with/without boots. On the other hand, they don't appear to be hampering his movement either.
  • For the LF, the boots are making a significant difference - over 7 degrees of better range. That translates into a stride length that's over 25% larger (if I did my math right, and I might not have. Somebody please point it out to me if I messed up.).
  • Wearing boots makes the stride length more even between the LF and RF. Without boots, there was almost a 10 degree difference in angles; with boots, it was not quite 3 degrees. In other words, he is able to move his body more evenly when he wears boots.
 I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's likely that wearing boots and wearing shoes produces similar movement in this situation (that is, both shoes and boots allow for a larger LF stride, and more even stride length between the LF and  RF). While riding tonight on the tarmac, at a walk, I was constantly trying to feel if he was uneven anywhere. Maybe a tiny bit? But he was stepping out really well so maybe not? I honestly couldn't tell, and probably would not have noticed anything if I hadn't been scrutinizing every step.  This tells me that I cannot tell when my horse is uneven to the tune of 3 degrees in stride length. Ergo, he could have been just as lame in shoes as he is in boots, and I am not sure I would have been able to tell. He always felt a little uncertain in shoes on tarmac because he tended to slip. Out on grass, he looks 100% at the trot without boots, but of course that's on softer footing. I won't be able to tell how he is in boots on softer footing under saddle until later in the week.

I'm calling the vet tomorrow to make another appointment to see if we can pinpoint the problem with the LF. If past history is any indicator, the problem will not go away when the foot is blocked (although given the fact that he's noticeably better in boots, it seems logical that the problem is in the foot).  Which begs the question... where the heck is the problem??? I'm taking bets, so start speculating wildly!


  1. That is all very interesting!!! I've never thought about using measurements to find shortness... But I guess it makes sense!
    Very cool.
    My bet it is his sole... Although the sole would then logically be thinner on his LF.
    It'll be interesting to know- but I hope it's nothing bad!

    1. LL, you're probably right, he's got thin soles so it may be a bruise. I do find it interesting that the problem foot has always been the LF.

  2. Most front leg lameness is in the foot, and the idea that shoes helped would second that. But if blocking the foot does not make him sound, then you have, uhmmm, an interesting problem. I've got to admit, I haven't a clue. Other than it does not sound as if he's very lame. Here's hoping its no big deal.

    1. Laura, I sure hope it's not a big deal too... but it's been the same foot since last fall, so something is clearly going on. As you said, it's an interesting problem. I just wish we knew what it WAS!

  3. Ooof, well I hope you are able to figure it out b/c it's not for lack of thinking/trying. It's so difficult pin pointing *WHAT* sometimes and yes the different footing can be an illusion too. GOOD LUCK :)

  4. That's weird. I wonder if there is pain on the LF hoof that makes your horse want to walk on the toe. Then with the boots, maybe that prevents the pain so your horse will step flat. All of this is over my head, I really hope you can figure it out. Is it desired to have the horses step "flat" or on their heel?

    1. S. Lauren, yes, that's exactly it. Something in his LF is bothering him and causing the toe-first landing and short stride.

      Horses naturally land on their heel. That structure has developed to take the impact of the horse's body and momentum. If you want to learn alllll about horse's feet and how they work and the problems they have, I highly recommend the Rockley Farm blog. It's very informative!

  5. i know you were saying that the vet was recommending going back to shoes. i know that shoes tend to keep the compression minimized so you aren't real keen on going back to shoes. i would say that if the boots help the problem then stay with boots. at least for now.

  6. The boots do seem to be changing the "surface" so that he is able to land better, and that has to be a good thing - certainly better than going back to shoes and masking the whole thing over again...Good luck :-)