Thursday, October 27, 2011

Almost... normal?

Many thanks to everyone for their comments yesterday... at this point I think we can drink our way through the day, starting with mimosas for brunch, white wine with lunch, moving on to margaritas with appetizers, followed by more wine with dinner, and finally some scotch to end the day. Party at my house, anyone?

Anyway, back to Saga... yesterday morning I dropped him off at the vet. I got a call mid-day saying that the farrier had been out to the vet clinic, and both Dr. Joyce and he had assessed Saga. There were no hot nails, and no abscesses to be found (yay!). Instead, they thought that the pad plus the pour-in gel were putting too much pressure on his sole, causing him to be lame.

So, they pulled the shoes, removed the gel, and cut out the pad, then re-applied the shoes with just a leather rim pad. The purple stuff is Durasole, which the farrier recommended I apply regularly to help form a harder sole. The chemicals in it are kinda scary, and it won't help form a thicker sole, but... maybe it's a step in the right direction?

For those who were wondering why I said that Saga had a relatively good foot before shoes were applied, hopefully this picture helps. Fat frog, relatively good heel, and the deep crack in the central sulcus is healing up. Maybe they're not the best feet EVER, but definitely much improved from what they had been. Of course, there's still the pesky problem of a thin sole and event lines that have to be dealt with... but first I need to figure out what's causing them.

As for Saga, he looks almost normal. He was stepping out well when I picked him up from the vet, and is clearly putting weight on that RF that was bothering him so much just 48 hours ago.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about diet and such, and what's causing the thin sole and event lines, and I'm working on a plan of action. I'm worried about changing too many things at once, because then I won't know where the problem lies... but on the other hand, if I don't change things (and probably pretty drastically), his feet won't get better. More on that in a day or two, when I have a better plan.

And since we missed mid-week critter and we probably all need some comedic relief, here's Elias trying (and failing) once again to sleep IN his doggy bed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I'm going to start drinking the horse's aloe vera juice myself

I swear, my horse is giving me ulcers.

Last night when I came home from work, he was almost non-weight-bearing on the RF.


I called my vet in tears. She suggested a hot nail from his new $hoe$, and asked me to bring him in. I decided to skip the ER fee and the overnight fee and opted to bring him in this morning. Last night, I set up the temporary stall, wrapped his front legs for support, and gave him 2 grams of bute.

This morning, he came out of his stall looking really quite good - no sign of lameness on the RF. I mean, it's good that he's better, but AAAARGH!

I briefly debated about skipping the vet entirely but decided that since he'd been really REALLY lame on the RF last night, it would be better to have her look at him. So I hauled him in and dropped him off. She'll see him mid-morning... and maybe she'll have some good news.

Anyone care to join me for a cool, tall glass of aloe juice?

Monday, October 24, 2011

No sole

I think I've figured out - at least in part - why Saga has been tender in his front feet.

Part of it has simply got to be diet. I'm still digging into that. But as Nic points out with every horse at Rockley, good hoof health is a combination of diet and stimulus. I think Saga went from one extreme to the other in terms of stimulus, possibly in conjunction with an accidental change in diet. Here's the timeline:
  • 3 months ago: I started riding Saga religiously with boots and squishy green pads. He felt pretty good.
  • 2 months ago: We moved to boots with firmer pads in them. Still pretty good, but it was super hot and I wasn't riding much.
  • 1 month ago: When Saga was trimmed, he had a lot of false sole, which we left on. However, my trimmer asked me to start walking him on pavement without boots to help the sole wear naturally.
Saga's RF 1 month ago, 9/14/2011. TONS of false sole, which we left on, plus a worryingly deep crack in the central sulcus. I started treating daily for thrush.

With the original LF injury, which occurred about 1.5 weeks after he was trimmed, I started doing a lot of hand-walking. During this time, the false sole wore away. About this time I had to change to alfalfa cubes, and shortly thereafter I got a new load of hay. I think that the change in diet, combined with the lack of protective false sole, is what got us to where we are today. And no, he's not improved since yesterday.

Really. Frickin. Lame.

I did speak briefly with my vet today and she said to give him a week to get used to the shoes, but I really don't think it's getting any better. So frustrated, and bummed for my horse, who is still uncomfortable.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

More thoughts on Saga's lameness

I just returned from a weekend visit to my parent's house - the long drive gave me lots of time to think about Saga's feet. Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post... I know I'm not really a bad horse mom, but I still feel badly that Saga's been uncomfortable and I didn't know why.

And actually, I *still* don't know why. Sole sensitivity is certainly part of it, but as of tonight, he is still short on the LF, which was the original lameness issue and has been the "problem foot" from day 1. I'll call the vet in the morning, but I really do think there's something going on higher up (i.e. something that didn't block the first time). But that's another problem for another day.

Back to the foot issue... one very kind reader (you know who you are) sent me a lovely email with some thoughts on Saga's feet. She pointed out that he has event lines and that there's something going on with his medio-lateral balance, since you can see the hairline is awkward. So I started thinking about the event lines. I guess I've been super-focused on the thickness of the hoof wall, the quality of the white line, and a nice heel-first landing (which seems to produce a nice, fat frog) that I'd forgotten a few other things.

Here's Saga's LF tonight. There are definite event lines, and some of them are very close together. Assuming it takes 6-9 months to grow a new hoof, some of those lines look to be maybe 2-4 weeks apart. Odd...

Now as I understand it, event lines can be caused by changes in diet, vaccinations, and worming. Saga was vaccinated this spring, so that line should be grown out by now (or at least, down by the bottom of the foot, and likely rasped off by the farrier). He hasn't been wormed for more than 6 months (I do fecal testing and they came back negative, so no worming). He has been on the same diet for... gosh, 9 months now? Here's what he gets:
  • Free choice coastal hay
  • 1 flake alfalfa am and pm
  • PM feeding: 2 c TC Lite, 1 c Omega Horseshine, ~1 tbsp salt, 1 scoop soaked and rinsed beet pulp
That's it. Pretty simple, eh? No changes. Except... I get new hay every ~2 months, and the last new batch came around 2 weeks ago. I also generally get alfalfa 10 bales at a time, and who knows where the different batches come from. 10 bales lasts roughly 15-20 days. Last time I couldn't get baled alfalfa, so I had to switch to alfalfa cubes, which were soaked before feeding. Also, about two months ago I couldn't get my usual beet pulp, so we had about two weeks were we used another brand. So while his diet is approximately the same (i.e. he gets the same weight in feed and the same type daily, but the source may differ), it's not exactly the same.

For entertainment, I took pictures of Cash's and Red's feet tonight, because they get exactly what Saga gets.

Cash, LF. I see no event lines, do you?

Reddums LF. Event lines anyone? Anyone? (Ignore the rasp marks - those are from when we tried to do glue-on boots.)

So if Red and Cash are eating the same thing that Saga is eating, but the two of them do not have event lines and Saga does... does this mean that Saga is just super-extra-special-sensitive to changes in diet? If so, that might explain the sudden onsets of lameness followed by improvement followed by lame days followed by... you get the idea. Is he somehow missing something in his diet that the others aren't? Should I have him tested for insulin resistance? Wild speculations are welcome...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Barefoot no more

After 18 months of barefoot ups and downs, Saga is now reshod.

With pads, no less.

This is really not where I had hoped we'd end up - back where we started, only now somehow worse. I've learned a lot about hoof form and function, diet, and exercise along the way, but in the end, I guess I didn't learn enough or do it right, because it doesn't seem like Saga is going to be able to be barefoot and sound as a working horse.

Remember how about a month ago he turned up dead lame on the left front? I hauled him in, we did a workup including blocking, but he didn't come up sound. We ended up with bute and stall rest, with no real idea of what had caused the lameness. I did a lot of handwalking and tack walking with him, and he'd alternately have great days and not so good ones, thrown in with a few really crappy ones. He came out of the stall stiff and sore but would usually walk out of it - mostly. Eventually we turned him back out and he seemed to be improving with more movement, but then he'd have another off day. I still wasn't trotting him under saddle as the LF was still short. Frustrating, but I figured he just needed a little more time.

I'd noticed changes in behavior too. He spent much of his time in one corner of the barn, not eating. He didn't go with Cash to the far hay feeders. He was late for breakfast. He wasn't as friendly as usual. When doing carrot stretches, he could touch his hip when stretching left but could barely make it past his shoulder to the right. If he stretched further than that, he had to pick up his right hind.

He was trimmed last Wednesday but we'd been doing enough handwalking that my trimmer only evened up the hoof wall with his rasp - he didn't touch the sole at all. Saga walked off no lamer than before - a normal trim.

Then Monday of this week he came up dead lame on the RF. Awesome. I called my vet and we consulted - it was almost certainly the foot, but why? And what had caused the previous LF lameness? Could he have Lyme? EPM? A broken vertebrae in his neck? Something in his shoulder? We threw out all sorts of crazy ideas, then made an appointment. It just so happened that Dr. Madelyn Ward, who I'd been trying to get in touch with to get some chiropractic work done on Saga, was in town that same day, so we made arrangements to meet at the vet clinic and do a full workup on Saga. I dropped him off last night, and Dr. Joyce looked at him first thing.

Apparently he came out of the stall almost unable to walk. He was positive to hoof testers on all four feet. He was 3/5 lame on the RF, but went sound after blocking on that foot. Unfortunately, he was then 3/5 lame on the LF, so she blocked that too. With both front feet blocked, he was 100%. Dr. Joyce took radiographs, and we discovered the problem - Saga only has about 5.5-6 mm of sole depth on each front foot. Normal horses have 12-15 mm of sole. He's basically walking on his coffin bones, the poor guy.

Dr. Ward looked at him after the blocks wore off. He was apparently completely locked up on the right on his sacrum, which explains not being able to bend right. He was also really blocked on C7, deep in his shoulder on the left, which isn't surprising given that he's been short on the LF. Dr. Ward attributed girthiness to possible abscesses or stomach upset, likely related to the discomfort in his feet.

The GOOD news (yes, there was some) was that she felt like he was super-healthy, a good weight, shiny, and had good range of motion in his joints. He was not back sore despite the issues in the sacral area. She didn't feel like there was any toxicity going on, and she thought the diet I had him on was great (though there was some concern about the NCSs in the coastal hay, with the stress it's been under from the drought here). She thought his feet were beautiful - thick, fat frogs, excellent hoof wall, no event lines. If only he actually had some sole depth.

I KNOW that horses can grow more sole. Nic proved it with Zan. The process took 6 months and I'm so glad for Zan's sake that it worked out. Saga's had 18 months to produce more sole depth, and for whatever reason, it's not happening. Probably I'm feeding him something wrong, and it's probably the hay, but I need to be realistic. I can't get hay for more than 2 months at a time, as I have no place to store it, so testing it makes little sense. And if it did test high for NSCs, what am I going to do, send it back? Hay is so scarce right now, I'm lucky to get any at all, let alone something that's not complete crap (you should SEE what they are feeding some horses, it's disgusting).

The hubby and I discussed what it would take to keep Saga barefoot. Likely I'd have to soak all the hay, and since I feed free-choice, that would be difficult. We also have the problem in the summer heat that things tend to mold very quickly, so it would be challenging to manage that. I could try giving timothy cubes since those have NCSs below 10%, but that would mean separating Saga for 1-2 hours at mealtimes so he could eat in peace. Once Taran is out of the stall, that might be doable, but right now it's not very feasible, especially not in the mornings, since as it is the boys are barely finished with their alfalfa before I have to go to work.

So, what to do. I want my horse to be comfortable. Ok, I want to RIDE my horse too, but the number one priority is his long-term comfort. We discussed using boots with pads all around, but even WITH boots and pads, he's not always comfortable. There's also concern with thrush and rubbing if they're worn long-term. Glue-ons were another option, but still with the same problem - his sole would be only minimally protected. Glue-ons also need to be replaced every few weeks and work best with a fresh trim. I'm sure I could learn to do glue-ons myself, but there's still that fresh trim issue... and realistically, glue-ons are not meant for long-term use.

Both Dr. Joyce AND Dr. Ward (who is allll about holistic horsekeeping and barefoot) said to go with shoes and pads. As you might imagine, I was really upset about this. I feel like I've worked SO HARD to have Saga barefoot and comfortable. I finally felt like we were getting to a good point, and now this (or rather, "this" has been going on in one form or another for a long time). Where did I screw up? What have I done wrong? I really feel like the world's worst horse owner - I can't even keep him comfortable.

I have no illusions about shoes. The concussive force is bad. It's likely that he's going to start landing toe-first. His hoof won't be able to function properly. He might be sound but he'll still have the problem of thin soles - shoes will only mask the underlying issue. They might be a solution, but they sure as hell aren't addressing the problem.

But what if, despite best efforts, I cannot fix the problem? If I can't get him to grow more sole, then what are my options? How do I keep him comfortable? I asked both vets this and Dr. Ward pointed out the she has a horse with exactly the same problem - great feet, but no sole depth. She keeps him shod when she must, and then if she knows she's going to have a busy (or super hot) month where she won't ride much, she pulls them. She understood my concerns and basically said that I was exactly right, but for Saga right now, shoes may be the best of a few poor options.

So here we are, front shoes with pads and a smushy gell fill-in. I'm glad he used leather pads, and I'm glad the sole will be getting some (comfy) stimulation.

But holy horse manure, did he HAVE to carve out a notch in Saga's foot to put that clip on? That makes me want to cry - he took a Dremel to my horse's beautiful hoof wall, and now look at it. Does anyone know why they do this? I've never seen this before.

On the bright side, with the exception of the notch for the clip, he barely touched Saga's feet. He didn't rasp all the way up. Dr. Joyce said he didn't trim the soles or the frog, and apparently the farrier also said that he hated to put shoes on such nice feet. This is the same farrier that made the hospital plates for Taran, and all the vet hospitals use him for remedial work, so hopefully he's going to try to keep what we've got.

I'm so torn. I feel horrible that I've let Saga down, despite my best intentions and efforts to be educated about keeping horses barefoot. I also feel horrible that my horse has been so sore and uncomfortable for so long. On the other hand... yesterday at lunch when I went to see him and meet Dr. Ward, he almost did not want to come out of the stall. He was listless and dull. At 6 pm when I came to pick him up after he'd been shod, he was bright-eyed and active. I put him out in the small arena at the vet's and he trotted off comfortably (still a bit short LF, but like 95% better). This morning when I came out to feed, he was laying down, but got up without effort and mugged me for breakfast. After breakfast, he and Cash moseyed over to the far feeders and started their usual snacking and grooming routine.

It was pretty much, you know, normal. I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with shoes and pads being the new norm.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mid-week critter: Dog in dog bed - some progress

A few weeks ago I posted about Elias having some difficulty with the concept of sleeping in his dog bed. I had no idea it was so challenging! However, we do seem to be making some progress...

See? Correct dog, with entire body (well, minus the tail) in the dog bed!!!!

Just, um, ignore the fact that he's upside-down and backwards...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

For Andrea and Gogo

Godspeed, Gogo. May you gallop pain-free in pastures that are forever green.

Andrea, hopefully your pain of loss will lessen with the passage of time, but I know you will never forget your beautiful, talented mare. She was lucky to have you.

- With much love from all of us at Wyvern Oaks -