As strange as it is, in 33 years of horse ownership, I’ve never had one worked up for lameness. Usually any unsoundness has been obvious and upfront to treat. I’ve never been hard on my horses, so there usually hasn’t been much wear and tear.
Milton is a 13yo Appaloosa gelding that I’ve known since birth (actually, since conception, I know is sire, dam and grandsire on his damn’s side). I’ve owned him since he was a year old and have done all of his raising, breaking, training, and riding myself. He’s never really been a horse with lameness issues, but he also hasn’t worked terribly hard in his life. I started him too young (2yo) and I regret that as I wonder if it’s coming back to bite us now. He’s always been a quiet, agreeable boy who has also been a “kick ride” his entire riding life. This boy is never in a hurry to go anywhere. That’s not to say he can’t give me some forward, nice work when the stars align, but it takes a special combination of ample warm-up, at least somewhat consistent riding to keep him sort of fit(ish), and me really being on my game as far as asking for him to come from behind and stay in front of my leg (lots of transitions usually help).
He much prefers being ridden on grass to any kind of other footing. The lovely covered arena where I board seems to be too deep for him (he struggles…I imagine it feels like me trying to walk, jog, run on the beach). The footing seems fine for other horses, but he’s a very flat moving “daisy-clipper” kind of guy who doesn’t pick his feet up much, so it seems like he just gets bogged down in that footing. Our round pen has a harder packed footing and he usually starts out a little stiff in there but eventually works out of it. Grass is definitely his favorite and that’s what he was ridden on pretty much all of the time as a youngster except for the few shows we went to. He did fine at the shows making the switch to arena footing then.
Until today, Milton has been barefoot his entire life. Until about a year ago, he had the same farrier his entire life. I finally made the switch after moving from my farm (which I sold) to the place I board and noticed how everyone else’s horses’ feet looked so much better than Milton’s. The farrier/trimmer I use now is phenomenal and she has made some big improvements to Milton’s feet. He was NPA behind and his toes were way too long all the way around, he had some WLD going on, etc. The first few times she did him, he was pretty sore from the changes that were being made, but usually worked through it in a couple of days. And honestly, it wasn’t unusual for him to be sore after his former farrier trimmed him either. Sometimes he was, sometimes he wasn’t. There was no rhyme or reason to it that I could see.
I made the decision about a week or so ago that I wanted front shoes (my farrier only does glue-ons) on him just to see if that made him more comfortable up front and helped him want to move out more. He’d been doing well, but I wanted to be proactive and help him in any way I could.
Over the past few weeks, I got a wild hair and decided to switch his supplements around, pulling him off of his normal joint supplement (which was working fine) and putting him on yucca thinking it might…I don’t know…be some miracle thing that made him feel even better than he already did. Keep in mind, he hasn’t really been “lame” at this point other than the occasional foot soreness after trims and whenever he’s walked over rocks, etc. Riding him has been fine.
During this time, I also bought and started using the Equiband system on him to encourage him to use his hind end more properly. That really seemed to work and he actually seemed to enjoy it? Which seems weird but whatever! I was happy he liked it.
After making the change from the joint supplement to yucca, and also cutting his magnesium supplement (which he was on for calming and a tense back) in half (10g down to 5g), I noticed he was a little stiff one day in the round pen when I lunged him. Almost head bobbing. When I got on to ride him a few days later, yikes! He felt like he had four flat tires. He had absolutely NO “go” and just felt like he had forgotten how to bend or do transitions or anything. It was such a strange feeling that I got off of him and lunged him out in the field to see what was going on. Other than being VERY lazy and not at all eager to do anything above a walk (though I did get him to trot and canter), I couldn’t really see any lameness. Still, I knew he wasn’t right, so I quit and put him up, vowing I wouldn’t ride him again until he got his new shoes. In terms of what I was feeling under saddle, the only way I can describe it was that I could barely post he was so…smooth? Like there was zero thrust coming from behind and he had the emergency brake on the entire time. As I said, he’s never been a “forward thinking” horse anyway, but we had made progress and he was doing SO much better. It’s like every bit of our progress in getting him using his back in and moving forward went ‘poof’ and he felt worse than ever.
I lunged him twice this past week and both times he started out kind of questionable but worked out of it and looked okay. Not fabulous, but not horrible. Certainly not lame.
By this time I had ceased the yucca and put him back on the joint supplement, hoping that would help him feel better.
One trouble area that I’ve always been aware of is his right hind. It’s a little more turned out (not horrible, but it is what it is) than the left hind, and it seems to be the weaker leg that doesn’t quite push as much and has less range of motion.
Today after he got his fancy (expensive) new shoes, the first thing he did was walk off sore on his fronts, which really freaked me and everyone including the farrier out. These are like Easy Boot glue-ons. His hoof is totally incased and he’s got Magic Cushion packed in them as well. I walked him around a little and he got better, so we’re thinking he was expecting to be sore (and may have been from the trim), but the more he walked around the more he at least seemed to get used to the shoes and understood that his feet wouldn’t hurt.
So I tacked up and got on and the farrier wanted to see him go. He walked fine, nice and forward, marching along, but the trot was the same feeling as I’d had the last time I’d ridden him. He just wasn’t pushing from behind at all and seemed really, really reluctant to do much. The farrier noticed when he was walking away from her that his right hind was showing a significant lack of range of motion compared to the left.
I took him out in the field and walked for a bit, then tried trotting again. He still felt sucked back and like there was just no oomph at all. I could barely get off his back to post he was moving so…shuffly? And at times it was almost impossible to keep him trotting. He also had no intentions of cantering, and this is a horse that normally loves to canter.
I went back near the barn where the farrier was and she and everyone else at the barn watched me trot him again a little. I then asked for right lead canter, and that went pretty well (pushing off with LEFT hind is easier…makes sense). I asked for left lead canter too and he did it that time, though not happily, but that’s not terribly unusual for him. He actually felt better after that, and the farrier agreed and said to go ahead and ride him, see if he worked out of it.
So back out into the big field we went and I sort of insisted that he go. The more he went, the better he got. He cantered on both leads, trotted more forward (posting was easier, there was a little oomph finally), and even trotted over a ground rail or two, though none of this was done very enthusiastically.
On top of everythig else, he has respiratory issues (undiagnosed/unscoped but all the symptoms of being a “roarer”). I’ve never had him scoped as he spent a few years as a pasture pet and his most taxing work has been w/t/c around on the rail for maybe 30-45 minutes a few times a week. But I did notice that his breathing has been a little more labored and loud the past few times I’ve ridden, and I’ve wondered if he might have allergies kicking up (again…never tested, but he’s the poster child for allergies…always itchy, hair falls out on face, scabby legs, etc.)
So, he acted like I’d ridden him into the ground by the time we were done today, and I dragged him back to the barn, hosed him off, gave him some treats and took him out to the pasture where he drank deeply in the water tank and then just went and stood over by the fence with his buddy and looked exhausted and pitiful.
So! That entire novel to say, I called the vet today and have asked for them (well, her…their lameness vet expert) to come out and do a full work-up on him. She’s coming Oct. 15, and I’m actually excited, hoping that she’ll find something that is fixable or treatable to make my boy more comfy. He’s such a good egg, and I love him so much. He tries so hard, even when he’s not feeling well, and I want to do anything I can for him.
If anyone has read this saga and has noticed any red flags for things I should make sure she looks at, tests for, etc. please let me know. I know she’s going to do the normal lameness work-up, hoof testers, flexion, blocking, ultrasound, x-ray, etc. I’m thinking about getting blood drawn to test for IR too (given the touchy front feet). I’m not sure if they can x-ray his front feet with the glue-on Easy Boots on, but that’s something that needs to be done at some point. I truly feel like the hind end, especially right hind, is an issue.
Any other bloodwork I should have done? EPM? Lyme? PSSM?
I want to leave no stone unturned. I love riding him, but if he cannot be ridden comfortably anymore, he’ll live out his days at this beautiful farm being the world’s biggest pasture pet and equine therapist for his mama (me).
Oh, and we are doing a clinic with an animal communicator tomorrow! I’m not sure how much I believe in that stuff, but it seemed like something fun to do with him that won’t tax him physically. Anything I should ask her? (Anything HE should ask her? LOL)
I wonder if I should continue to try to ride him or just stay off of him and let him rest until the vet comes?
Bless anyone who read all of this. I think I needed to get it all out so that I can give a good history to the vet in a couple of weeks. I’m grateful for any insight, advice, stories about your own NQR horses that have had similar symptoms, etc.