Very long story but my lovely young Hanoverian, who turns 5 in a couple weeks and was supposed to be my next GP dressage horse, was just “diagnosed” with DSLD by nuchal ligament biopsy.
“Diagnosed” is in quotes because I am not convinced this test is all that solid. You can see my post on the DSLD in warmbloods thread for details on that (https://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/f…-crosses/page6). The short version is that experienced vets disagree on its value, especially the value of a “positive” result (which isn’t even called “positive” actually, it’s more like “consistent with” or in my case “suggestive of”). There has never been a peer-reviewed study of this procedure even though it’s been around for at least a decade. I did it because it was relatively inexpensive and I thought that negative result would provide peace of mind whereas a “positive” result would be a gamechanger. Now though I’m not sure how much stock to put in it. So part of my problem is that it’s not clear to me how certain this diagnosis is.
Part two is that the horse is significantly lame and has had all recommended diagnostics, short of an MRI. He has been 3-3.5/5 lame on the LF since mid-October, and also had a bilateral hind neurectomy for proximal suspensory desmitis in December. The LF lameness blocks to the heel. X-rays of the front feet show osteoarthritis of the LF coffin joint (concerning in a horse his age), mild bilateral navicular bone changes (eh, lots of horses have weird navicular findings), and coffin wing fractures of both coffin bones (considered an incidental finding). We did try injecting the LF coffin joint but there was no lasting improvement, if any at all.
It’s now 4 months post-neurectomy and while the hind end is better (not 100%), the LF is still 3 or 3.5/5 lame. I have now seen four very experienced lameness specialists and it is clear that the next diagnostic step is an MRI of the front feet. They don’t all recommend it though. One of the vets would do it on his horse because he’d want answers, two of the vets wouldn’t put any more money into him, and one of them didn’t offer a strong recommendation either way. He is not insured (kicking myself for that right now) so the $3k MRI would be out of pocket. I can afford it and wouldn’t hesitate to spend that if the LF were his only problem, but combined with the hind end issues and the possible DSLD, I am not sure it makes sense.
The “hind end issues” are as follows: all of the vets concur to varying degrees that he will never be a performance horse due to his hind end conformation and the fact that he was already lame enough behind to have an arguably unsuccessful neurectomy at the age of 4, before he was even working hard. So no matter how much money I pour into his LF, they think he is unlikely to be sound behind. I have had horses beat the odds before so in my rainbow and butterfly moments pre-DSLD “diagnosis” I hoped that he could be a lovely trail and lower level dressage horse. That is not what I want for myself but perhaps I could find a free lease situation through my trainer or other connections (giving up ownership of a horse with such limitations makes me uncomfortable, as I worry he’d end up in a bad place, but I might consider it if I knew the person and felt I could keep track of him). He’s a lovely mover with the most amazing brain in the world who is very safe, fun, and comfortable to ride so at least he has that going for him, but it’s also part of what makes this so shitty.
The recent DSLD “diagnosis” threw a wrench in my idea to try to make him sound for lower levels … perhaps it is just time to give up?
I think my options are:
Shell out for the MRI. At least then I will have a diagnosis. If he has a degenerative disease process, I can give up on anything but supportive care. If he has a traumatic injury that could heal, I can treat that within reason and see how the hind end is then.
Turn him out for 6-12 months and hope he improves. The problem with this is that he has only gotten worse with rest/turnout over the last 6 months (from subtle lameness to distinct head-bob on LF), and 6-12 months of board/care at home or elsewhere will cost at least as much as an MRI, and I still won’t have an actual diagnosis. (I don’t have enough land for 24/7 turnout on grass at home.)
Give up and send him to a retirement home. It won’t cost much if any less than keeping him at home. I won’t be able to afford a riding horse until he dies or gets so painful from the DSLD that he needs to be put down (I already have one retired horse, my 22-year-old who’s been mine since he was 4 and certainly earned a home for life). If he does have DSLD, I’m worried about not being able to monitor the progression of his condition from afar.
Give up and euthanize him. The DSLD diagnosis makes this more of an option but I still think it’s premature when he’s happy and getting around okay. Yes, I do know some horses live a long time with DSLD (in various degrees of pain, I’m sure) but since he is already lame I don’t think he has very good prospects even with special shoeing, etc. I’m aware of the DSLD Yahoo group but skeptical of the Chinese herbs protocol.
Give up and donate him for research. My trainer and one of the vets mentioned it but this literally makes me ill. He is an “innocent” with a puppy dog personality who has had nothing but love and good care, and I can’t stand the thought of him being poked and prodded until the end of his days, even for a good cause. If he had a clear case of DSLD and someone reputable wanted to take him for research on that, I might be more inclined.
Thanks for reading. WWYD?