Friday, November 30, 2012

Saga update: And now there are bone cysts

Saga was doing really well earlier this week. His limp was barely noticeable. He was going out with Cash during the day into the tiny barn area, hanging out, and eating hay. He even had two whole days without standing wraps on – the first time since this all started! I had a post planned entitled “Look Ma, no wraps!” and everything…

… and then he got worse again.

First there was a little swelling, and the limp was more pronounced. Cold-hosing and Surpass didn’t help. The limp and swelling both got progressively worse. My vet recommended putting him back on 2g/bute/day and keeping him in. It didn’t help. This morning, he was sweating from the pain, despite it being in the low 60s. His limp was very bad. I called the vet, stuffed him in the trailer, and off we went.

The good news is that the fetlock joint is not infected again, just inflamed. We injected it with steroids to try to calm things down some. The bad news is that there are two cysts on the pastern that now show up on radiographs. Likely they were caused by some sort of blunt force trauma, but of course there was never a mark on him. Still, we finally have a reason for what’s causing the irritation and inflammation in the fetlock joint.

I didn’t know anything about bone cysts, so I did a little digging on Google. Conservative treatment, especially in older horses, is generally useless. They improve with box rest but as soon as more motion is required, the cyst irritates the nearby joint. In Saga’s case, “more motion” appears to be hanging out in a tiny paddock.  I found one article that said only 35% of older horses return to work with surgery. That’s not good, y’all. He’s not a surgical candidate, and he’s got a ton of other stuff going on around that joint – bone lesion, lesion on the sesamoid ligament, and of course the arthritis in the joint itself, caused by the infection.

We opted to inject the joint with steroids, in hopes that would calm the inflammation and improve his comfort level. In some cases that seems to help; in other cases it does nothing. We’ll reevaluate in a week and see where he’s at. If it helps him AND it lasts for a reasonable amount of time (~6 months), that’s something I’m willing to do.  If it doesn’t help him, or only helps for a short period of time… well, I’m not going to let him stand around in pain.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Like an extension of your own body

Maybe you've had a ride like this - those magical rides when the horse seems to be an extension of your own body, where you think a movement and it happens underneath you. Mine tonight happened with Red, in the "arena" where we ride. I was just out to do a little walk and trot, and prove that Red could still canter on the left lead (we went foxhunting Friday and I noticed he pulled the right lead almost exclusively). Nothing too exciting, just a nice evening hack. This was really my first serious ride since Saga got hurt, so I was looking for a little pick-me-up.

Red's got a ton of training, and is a great all-around horse, but he's a tricky fellow to ride. He's gaited, and shifting gears into walk/trot/canter (instead of walk/foxwalk/foxtrot/trot/canter) can be a challenge. He was trained to gait by steady rein pressure (with a 7 inch shanked gaited horse bit, ick) and by sitting on your seat pockets, so you cannot ride him with much contact at all, and you can't be heavy in your seat. He's also sort of like riding a noodle - the slightest half-halt on one rein or the other will have his neck practically bent in half if your timing is off. Downward transitions must be ridden ever-so-delicately, otherwise you'll find yourself eating his ears as he sits down, screeches to a halt, and throws up his head. He's good with laterals at the walk, but at the trot your timing must be perfect, or his legs seem to get tangled up and he shifts into gaiting. I've learned how to work around these things over the years, by playing around with nearly everything in my "toolchest" of tricks. I've never worked with a dressage trainer who has ridden a gaited horse, so everything I've figured out has been by trial and error (mostly a whole lot of error). I've always felt like I'm speaking English and he's speaking Russian or Chinese or some other incomprehensible (to me) language, so there's been a lot of clashing of heads and frustration over the years, but we have mostly come to an understanding. Of course, I'm not perfect, and neither is he, but we've been working together long enough that we get each other and are willing to let some things slide.

We warmed up with a little trotwork, and my contact was horribly unsteady, reins flopping at points. His neck and jaw were locked solid to the left (an old trick, precursor to some truly naughty behavior) and he was a complete noodle to the right. We took a break, and I decided to work on some stuff at the walk to see if we could get our act together. We started with a little shoulder in, and then worked toward walk squares (with 45 degree turns-on-the-haunches at every corner). I focused on using my body to slow him down, riding with my abs/core and not my hands. He responded by lightning his shoulders and shifting his weight back, becoming more and more responsive. We did a few rein-backs, then some 8 meter voltes into a haunches-in. This is a hard movement for him, so even a few steps of trying are a huge win. He started off doing more of a shoulder-out than a true haunches in, but eventually I got my aids and my weight situated, and he was brilliant. We then moved to 5 meter haunches-in circles, something that are a breeze with Oberon but I've never tried with Red before. And you know what? He really tried for me. Sure, they weren't perfect, but there were steps where I could really feel his shoulders swing over and his back come up. What a feeling!

We moved back up to trot and magically, we were steady in the bridle and no longer running around. We did several brilliant shoulder-ins each direction - smooth and round and steady. Of course we lost all connection as soon as I forgot about my inside leg, but I'd ride quietly until he got his balance back and then we tried again. He was so right there for me, I decided to ask for a little lengthen trot. He'd take a few big steps, break to a stride of canter, then come back for a few more big steps. Not great, but I've really never asked him before, so his effort was really nice. We finally got around to left lead canter, which was at times was flat and disjointed - but again, I rode quietly and supported him and let him find his own balance. We had a nice downward transition and took a walk break, then did a little more walk lateral work. We finished with a lovely hop up and down a stone embankment, which he did calmly and quietly.

I used to have these kinds of rides all the time on Cash, where I'd think "hey, we could do a 10 meter circle at B" and suddenly, he'd be doing it. The smallest shift of weight, a hip forward, a leg back, and he'd be flowing into some new movement. I got to share all his power, all of the amazing things he could do with his body, and he allowed me command all that was his. Maybe that's what riding an upper-level schoolmaster is like - I've never ridden one, but I can imagine.  It's when, at some point along the way, the rides stop being work, and start being an amazing partnership.

I want that again.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

No holiday is complete without a major appliance failing!

My parents and kiddo #2 are visiting for Thanksgiving - kiddo #1 is half a country away at school, and we're missing her very much today. My Dad, who was never a Boy Scout but is nonetheless always prepared for just about anything, decided to bring his trusty toolkit with him. (Yes, we have an entire workshop full of tools. No, they weren't enough for my Dad.) It's a good thing he did, because just about as soon as my Mom got in the kitchen, the garbage disposal failed fantastically, spewing nasty water everywhere.

I should note that several Thanksgivings ago at our old house, our garbage disposal failed after my Mom put cantaloupe peels through it. So we have a long-standing family history of appliances dying on major holidays. It's kind of like things breaking when my hubby leaves - you just sort of expect it!

 Good thing my Dad brought his toolkit, eh?

And here's my Dad, my Hubby, and Kiddo #2 fixing things. Kiddo #2 got to put some of his new-found electrical engineering skills to use when he dissected the old disposal.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Thanksgiving with their family and friends. I'm thankful for my wonderful family, especially my husband, who not only gets up a 6 a.m. with me every day to feed, throw hay to the horses, and fill water buckets, but doesn't cringe too much when he sees Saga's vet bills on the credit card statement. I'm thankful that my parents are both in good health and came to visit us, and that both our kiddos are happy with the latest stage in their lives, as bona fide college students, and are making their own way in the world as mostly-responsible adults. I'm also very thankful for my very amazing extended family from all over the world - Australia, France, Germany, Maine, Idaho, North Carolina, Washington DC, and Dallas, Texas. We've been in touch with them today and it's great to hear from all of them, each celebrating this day in their own way.

I hope everyone out there in blogland is having a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving with their family and friends!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Saga's diagnosis - a triple whammy

After a nerve-wracking weekend thinking of all the horrible things that the vet COULD find in Saga's  follow-up checkup - up to and including fractured sesamoid bones - I was pretty much prepared to have to put him down. He'd have good days when I thought he was getting better, and then bad days when, even with the splint on, he was limping horribly. I really felt like he wasn't getting better consistently, and he was starting to go bonkers in his stall, even with Cash up in the barn to keep him company.

We xrayed Saga for the fourth time in 6 weeks... and finally, we saw something. There are arthritic changes in the fetlock joint, as one would expect with the massive infection in the joint a month ago. These changes will probably continue to get worse over time, but they can be managed with steroid injections.

Unfortunately, the other thing we saw was a bone lesion on the pastern, just under the fetlock joint. Oddly enough, Cash has ALSO a bone lesion on his left hock, just under the joint where the suspensory connects. This is what sidelined him from jumping all those years ago, and also what eventually caused me to retire him from all but light dressage work. Basically the lesion will reattach with rest, but as soon as there is enough motion in the area, the lesion will reappear. For Cash, the breaking point was any collection or extension work, which basically limited him to Training Level dressage movements. Of course, the fetlock is a much more mobile joint than the hock, which means it's likely that the healing/reinjury cycle will be constant. One wrong step, or even a moment of trotting, may be enough to exacerbate Saga's bone lesion. Time will tell.

There's also the lesion on the sesamoid ligament that we have to worry about too, so pretty much we're looking at three problems together - on top of the joint infection, which we've managed to take care of. Taken together, these are career-ending, and it's extremely likely (because of the bone lesion) that Saga will never be rideable again. My vet does think that he will be pasture sound in a month or two, so there is some hope for that.

We're taking it one day at a time. We've weaned him off the splint, and he's going out in the barn with Cash during the day. The two of them hang out and eat hay, and pick on each other a little bit (it's very cute). Saga is standing with weight on both front feet now, pretty constantly. He'll take a few steps that look almost normal, then he'll take one where it's obvious something is horribly wrong. He only makes left-hand turns, where the injured right leg is on the outside. I've seen him try to go right, and he literally has to hop around (like a canter pirouette) to do it. He cannot trot, although he really seems to want to at times. He's still wearing standing wraps pretty much all the time, but we're going to start to wean him off of those as well, and the bute. Whether or not he will ever get any better than this only time will tell, but as long as he continues to improve we're going to give him the chance.

I've starting thinking about horse shopping again, but to be honest, my heart really isn't in it. I have two broken horses, and although neither one of them got hurt while doing something riding-related, I still feel responsible. How is it that people keep horses sound and eventing at 16+, I have absolutely no idea. Plus, the thought of starting over is hard. Saga and I were really starting to form a solid team, a good partnership... and now that's gone.

Go hug your horses, y'all.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Finally, some hope

It seems like this week has been about taking one step forward, only to end up taking two steps back. Sunday, I took Saga to the vet. We took new rads, on the suspicion that he HAD to have a fracture somewhere to be so incredibly lame. The rads were clean. We checked to make sure the infection wasn't back in his fetlock joint - and while the white blood cell count was a little high, the numbers were more in line with inflammation rather than infection, but we put some antibiotic in there just in case.

Monday and Tuesday Saga got about 20-30 minutes of hand grazing 10 feet from his stall, and both times, he was noticeably worse after. Since then, he has literally not been out of his stall... and he seems to be doing markedly better. He's standing solidly on his RF now, at least some of the time, and when he moves around the stall the limp is not as painfully evident as it was. He's not sweating constantly from the pain anymore either, so that's good. I'm re-wrapping the RF every other day with standing wraps, then putting the splint on over it, then duct-taping the whole mess together. It's ungainly but it seems to help him be more comfortable, and he's being a saint about the whole process, thank goodness.

The wrap, pre-splint (this is actually the gamgee wrap the vet put on, but at $50 per wrap, I'm now using plain standing wraps. DIY and all that!)

Here's the splint that hubby made (the vet was impressed... we could have a sideline business!) The bottom corners are cut out so that the PVC won't put pressure on his heel bulbs.

Here's how the splint fits on. It has to touch the ground at the bottom in order to provide support.

Saga models the finished duct-taped mass while Fuzzypony fills his water buckets. He has been getting immense amounts of joy out of messing with the hose while his buckets are being filled.
The plan right now is to keep him in the stall with the splint on for another week and a half or so, then take rads again. Assuming we see nothing, then we'll start trying to wean him off the splint, a few hours at a time. If that works, we'll see about some hand-grazing and then plan from there. Long-term, the goal is to get him to a pasture at one of two retirement facilities that I've found nearby - with Cash as his buddy. Of course, if we take him out of the splint and he gets worse again, or we start hand-grazing and he gets worse again, then the question becomes how long we want to keep trying to fix him when we really have no idea what we're up against.

The really strange thing is, even if he has a tiiiiny hairline fracture on a sesamoid bone (which often don't show up on rads for several weeks after they've happened) it should not be causing him this much pain. I'm more inclined to think that all this is caused by some combination of the lesion in the ligament that we DO know about, the infection in the fetlock (which seems to have cleared up, thank goodness), and probably something going on (DDFT or impar ligament) in the foot that we cannot see. But of course, this is all pure speculation. We really have very little to go off of, except how lame he is. Poor pony.