Friday, January 31, 2020

Suspensory injury: How not to start off 2020

When I picked up riding Griffy again in late October 2019, I noticed that he'd occasionally take a weird step here and there. Sometimes he wouldn't do it for several rides, sometimes he'd take a few funny steps in a row. Most often it occurred when tracking left.

I had the vet out, and she saw something very subtle in the RF. He was slightly positive to hoof testers (we've been struggling with thrush), but only came partially sound when we blocked the foot. Flexions didn't make him worse, but radiographs showed a very thin sole (5-8mm), so we decided to start with the easy stuff and throw sneakers on and start him on hoof supplements.

The sneakers improved his foot comfort and landing tremendously, and let him use his shoulder more - but there were still some funny steps.

Tracking left, apparently OK for the moment.

Fast forward to our clinic last weekend, and I could definitely feel it at times going left. My trainer agreed. I called the clinic Monday, and Griffy went in for diagnostics on Wednesday. Here's what my vet had to say:
His blocking pattern today, combined with ultrasound findings yesterday result in very high confidence that we are dealing with a primary suspensory issue.  It is hard to say whether the small lytic area in the 4th carpal bone is real or artifact and if it is directly associated with the proximal suspensory issue.  We would only know if this is playing a role by doing MRI and/or monitoring it radiographically during his rehab period.  If it is clinically causing an issue it should change radiographically.  If it is not it will stay static.  If it is an artifact, it won't be seen consistently on follow-up radiographs.
Basically, he has chronic damage to his RF suspensory, high up behind his knee. There aren't any lesions, but the suspensory is enlarged, and there's a lot of scar tissue. We suspect he got it either whilst playing with Leo (he likes to rear up and put his legs over Leo's back, often getting one leg stuck for several seconds), or in one of his patented rear-and-put-your-front-legs-over-the-stall-door moves. He's rarely stalled, but it happens occasionally when we travel, and he gets anxious if he can't see his traveling companion.

Right on right, left on left.

Unfortunately, chronic injuries are more challenging to treat than acute ones, and have a lesser chance of recovery. Treatment options include:
  • Shockwave therapy - The mainstay for treating PSL, but it works best in the acute phase of injury.
  • Laser therapy - Uses a high-powered Class 4 laser, better for chronic injuries. Some very promising research (you can read up on it here) and my clinic has had good success with it.
  • Stem cell therapy and PRP therapy - less useful for chronic injuries, and injecting the site can cause additional inflammation.
We opted to go with laser therapy since it seemed like the best options for his type of injury. We started today, and will be doing a month of treatments three times per week, and then reevaluate. 

Safety glasses are required during laser treatments.

Hopefully this is magic.

The prognosis is guarded, and we're looking at about a 6 month recovery period. Still, I've got everything crossed that this little guy will come back. He reminds me so much of Taran, and we've made so much progress in such a short time. 

Like this one tiny pretend step of canter pirouette.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Apparently I'm running a B&B for Leo

And by B&B, I mean "Breakfast in Bed."

The Haffies keep a strict schedule around here. Breakfast is served at 6:30, then everyone snacks on hay until about 8:30, when they pause for morning naptime. Bitey face is from 9:30-10:30, then the hay is polished off, and by 1 or so it's afternoon naptime. After naptime there's browsing for leftover snacks, then more bitey-face from 3-4:30 or so, then everyone waits in the barn for me to serve dinner between 5 and 5:30.

But Leo has added a special step during morning naptime, when eating hay whilst standing becomes too exhausting. So he lays down for a bit of breakfast in bed.

Eating or napping? Why do one when you could do both? 

Sometimes the neighbor's donkeys join him.

But sometimes you just gotta stay in your plaid jammies and have breakfast in bed.

 Anybody else have one that does the eating and napping thing?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Why bending left is so hard

Strangely enough, Griffy and Leo both have the same problem: bending left is hard. If I’m completely honest, Taran had exactly the same issue.

It's almost like the problem isn't with them?

Spoiler alert, it's me

Of course, it’s not just a matter of pulling on the left rein and applying more left leg. No matter how tempting it is (or how many times I’ve tried to do it), pulling on the inside rein for more bend just shuts down the hind leg on that side. Applying more left leg SHOULD, in theory, move the horse into the outside rein, but guess what?

  • I have almost no contact in my right rein when going left. Applying more left leg gets them to move sideways, but not push into the right rein.
  • When I think I’m straight when tracking left, my horse’s shoulders are actually to the outside (stupid mirrors don’t lie and I hate them).
  • My left stirrup has more weight than my right, as does my left seat bone. Right seatbone is often MIA.

Compound that with the fact that Griffy’s right hind is his weaker one, and that his right long back muscle is also weaker, and our imbalances complement each other in exactly the wrong way. Leo is more even (ah, to be young!) so his strengths compensate some for my weaknesses, but that's not an excuse for me.

I’ve been focusing a lot on keeping Griffy’s shoulders about 10 degrees to the inside when tracking left, pushing them over with my outside thigh, and holding a tiny bit of counter-flexion. When I do that, he’s actually straight, even though from the saddle it looks like I’m doing shoulder fore. To the right, I’ve been riding a slight haunches in at all gaits, and then taking that shape towards the quarter line and back out again. In the canter especially, this is HARD for both of us, and Griffy would really prefer just to swap leads (he uh, has a clean accidental change from right to left). He’s trying though, and all this body contortion stuff is new to him, so I’ve been pleased with our progress.

You can see how far his shoulders are to the outside here - and I'm actively trying to ride them in!

I’ve also been very lucky to ride with a biomechanics instructor who has worked extensively with Mary Wanless. On Griffy, I can’t sit on my right seat bone in part because there’s no back muscle underneath me. We talked a little while about how to sort of “suck his back up” into my seat bone, and I have to say the words didn’t really resonate with me. But as we walked to the left, I played around, trying to find ANY increased contact between my seat bone and his back. I finally figured out that a combination of slight counter-flex, nudging inside (left) leg, and lengthening my right side muscles, plus pushing my right hip a bit forward (I naturally sit/stand/exist with it rolled a bit back, I don’t know why) got my seat bone in touch with his back. It was challenging and took a lot of focus to keep the contact, but we both got better over time.

When we switched to going right, it immediately became apparent that “bending” right actually caused his right back muscle to drop out from under me, and I collapsed my right side muscles as well. So much complementary fail there! Pushing my right hip a bit forward while being careful to keep Griffy’s body straight ensured that his back muscle and my seatbone stayed connected.

Pretty dang obvious why my right seatbone doesn't make any contact... sigh.

As ever, so much to work on. It’s hard to change habits and body positions, and I find it challenging to focus on one thing without letting all the other things fall apart. At least the boys are patient!

What are you struggling most with biomechanically (for either you or your horse) right now?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Fancy 'flinger fotos

I didn't do much showing in 2019, but I did manage to get both Leo and Griffy to a local schooling show mid-December.

Griffy is sort of a surprise on the dressage scene - I really hadn't ridden him for the last year, since hubby was busy jousting with him. Then Griffy decided he was done with jousting (he never really loved it, then decided he would just rather not) so after many discussions we decided to find him a nice dressage-only home. After all, Leo was my dressage pony and I really cannot campaign two horses (famous last words). We took Griffy to some lessons with the goal of making a sales video, and while riding for the video I did all of 1-3 and most of the second level movements... so I uh, now have two dressage Haffies?

For this show, I rode Griffy in 1-3 and 2-1. Griffy has an odd issue with drag stripes (it's almost like they make him dizzy?), so naturally we were slated to go first after the arena had been dragged. This made for some rather interesting movements, especially our drunk centerlines with our salsa halts. Otherwise the tests weren't too bad, considering I'd been riding him for less than 3 weeks, and he had not shown in 18 months. We certainly need a lot of refinement, and more of everything, but the bones are solid and he tried hard. We scored in the high 60s on both tests, which I felt was super generous, especially in light of quite a few mistakes.

Griffy 2-1

I rode Leo in Training 3 and 1-1, which was kind of a stretch for him as he's going through a growth spurt and his balance is kind of a hot mess. He was SUPER good in warmup - there was construction going on right outside the arena, which made Griffy really anxious, but Leo ignored it completely. The geometry in the tests was pretty questionable in places (losing the shoulders will do that), but overall they were much smoother than our previous attempt when we showed in September. Both tests also earned scores in the high 60s, which I again thought was overly generous.

Leo 1-1

All fancy 'flinger fotos courtesy of Wellman Photography, used with purchase.

So fancy! Much trot. WTF inside hand?

That hair tho...

I absolutely love pics taken after the final halt where riders are petting their ponies. 

Speaking of hair... Leo is giving his big brother Griffy a run for his shampoo commercial.

That hind end almost compensates for the escaped shoulder

Almost square-ish!

Massive shout-out to MC for being the #1Haflinger Holder for the entire day - the boys are unfortunately herd-bound enough that she had to stand in the warmup arena holding one whilst I rode and showed the other.