Saga went to the vet on Tuesday for a full lameness eval. I dropped him off before work and got a call around lunch time from my vet with an update. I pounced on the phone, heart in my throat. Was it the stifle? Suspensory? Bone chip? My brain ran through all the awful possibilities, but my vet started off the conversation with...
"He's not lame."
"But... he WAS lame! Really! I swear it! On Saturday!" I'd written her a long email with the dates and details of what had been happening with him for the last 6 weeks. She'd reviewed the rads and ultrasound from March. She'd longed him for 30 minutes, WTC both directions, flexed him, and palpated him, and... nothing.
He was not positive to hoof testers. (Hooray!)
He did not respond to back or SI palpation. (Yay!)
He did not respond to palpation to any of the tendons or ligaments in either hind leg, nor was there any noticeable lameness in sand on the longe. (Woohoo!)
There was no longer any fluid over the right stifle, like there was in March before we injected the stifle. (Woot!)
So... what was the problem?
I swore up, down, and sideways that he was uneven behind at the trot, and was having trouble picking up the right canter lead. He was also having trouble in the corners on the right lead canter, and was refusing to sidepass right over a pole on the ground. She asked if I could come ride him for her, so I zipped home to grab tack, then sped out to the clinic.
I saddled him up and rode him at the trot and canter in the arena. He DID feel uneven behind... just a tiny bit, but I'm used to riding Cash, who is consistently a smidge uneven behind (due to a permanent injury), so I know what it feels like. He kicked out in the right lead canter transition, and I had to try three times to get the correct lead. (Interestingly, he never missed a lead on the longe. Hmmm.). He had some moments where his hind end sort of got away from him... I don't know how to describe it really, but it's like one leg just gets left behind for half a moment. Again, it wasn't bad, but it was there.
My vet agreed that she could see what I was talking about, and so did the other two vets that were watching. But, his footfalls were even and stride length was even. I could only feel the issue at the trot when posting - not when standing in two-point or sitting. Since I don't have an arena with cushy footing at home (I wish I did!!!), we headed out to the field where the ground is rock-hard. I trotted him again on a straightaway, and he was actually really quite good behind. Definitely not as lame as he was on Saturday, but still... something just a smidge not quite right.
We ended up flexing him on both hind legs, and he finally, FINALLY showed a few uneven steps coming out of the flexion, on both hind legs. Maybe a .5/5, but nowhere near lame enough to block. We discussed options - work him and try to make him more lame, or try hock injections. He's 12, and he raced as a 2 year old, so there's pretty much a 100% chance he's got some arthritic changes in his hocks. Besides, I'm just so tired worrying about him. So we went ahead and did it.
(And before you ask, I went through the agony of to inject or not inject years ago with Cash. I'm at peace with my decision, although I know others might have chosen differently. I believe it's the right choice for Saga given his age and current workload, and the fact that I'm monitoring him closely. 'Nuff said.)
Yesterday, on the vet's advice, I took him for a 2 mile hack. We did a teensy smidge of trot (felt pretty darn good!) and walked the rest of the way. The biggest change, though, was the fact that he walked slowly down small hills when asked, and tucked his butt under him. He also walked slowly up the same hills. His usual MO is to charge down hills with his hind end strung out behind him, so this is a HUGE difference.
I won't know for a few weeks how much of a difference the injections make, but the vet also suggested a number of exercises to help strengthen his hind end. We're supposed to walk and trot over poles or cavaletti, work on backing, and do lots and lots of transitions. We'll do some stretches too, and see if that helps his overall flexibility. I will also be working with a dressage instructor on me, since I'm a little worried that I'm causing the problems with the canter transitions!
The vet cleared him to go back to work immediately, which means that he can joust next weekend. He'll get a medium workout tomorrow, then a practice joust... and then, starting Tuesday, it'll be show time!
Fingers crossed that we've found the problem and a reasonable, sustainable solution that will keep him comfortable and still let us have some fun.