Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Good, The Bad and Grace's Left Hock

Grace had her follow up appointment with Dr. Hills yesterday. The good news is her suspensorys are much better! The inflammation is down and she seemed more comfortable when Dr. Hills palpated them. We went ahead and x-rayed her hocks, since we both felt that her hocks is where the suspensory issue generated from.

It's been a few years since I've had x-rays done on a horse. I am really impressed by the digital x-ray technology. The digital image appears on the screen within seconds of shooting the x-ray. I worked in small animal veterinary clinics for 5 years. One of my jobs was to assist with x-rays. This usually included holding down a very angry cat who was threatening to claw out my eye balls. I had to make sure Mr. Kitty held real still on the table while we shot the x-rays. The films then had to be developed. By now Mr. Kitty was so mad he was ready to climb the walls. Sure enough the films wouldn't turn out the first time so I had to hold Mr. Kitty down all over again. I would have given my left arm for digital x-rays!

The clinic emailed me the x-rays so I will share them with you.

This is her left hock. OUCH! You can see where it is trying to fuse on one side but not the other. See the jagged bone on the inside? Dr. Hills thinks there may have been a fracture there a long time ago. Here is her right hock for comparison:

You can see how the lines go all the way through, much cleaner looking joints. This is good news as I expected to see some arthritic changes in her right hock by now.

Dr. Hills injected Grace's left hock with steroids to reduce the pain and inflammation. He told me to let her rest for the next 3-5 days with limited hand walking. Then start riding her at the walk. He said I will know in 2 weeks if the hock injections are working for her. At this point the focus is on getting the lower joints of the left hock to fuse.

We also discussed the option of injecting the left hock with alcohol. This would help speed up the fusion process, Dr. Hills said the injection is not painful. It may take anywhere from 1-3 injections to get the joint to finish fusing. We both agreed that this is plan B and we will give the steroid injections a chance to work first. I am a little leary of the alcohol injections at this point. I've been doing some research on line and have heard both good and very bad stories.

My #1 goal right now it to keep Grace comfortable. There is no doubt in my mind looking at that x-ray that she has been in pain for some time. I've held off on joint injections in the past due to cost and the chance of side effects. We did discuss IRAP as an option, which has less side effects, but after the last two vet bills, IRAP is not something I see in my immediate financial future. One of the side effects of the steroid injections is that it will increase the speed in which the hock fuses. This is something we want to have happen in this hock.

If anyone reading this has experiance with hock injections and fusing, please let me know in the comments.

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Routines

Tomorrow Grace has her 2 week follow up with Dr. Hills. We plan to take hock x-rays at that time. In the last 13 days Grace and I have fallen into a new routine.

It involves clay poultice, rubber gloves, saran wrap, standing wraps, Saratoga wraps and lots of patience! It has been several years since Grace had any time off that lasted more than a few days. Even in the winter she is worked 4 days a week. I had her up to 6 days a week before the last vet appointment where we decided to give her 6 weeks off.

First I slather her hind legs in clay poultice, then cover them in saran wrap. Not to hard to do even when she is dancing.

Next I wrap her leg with a standing wrap that has magnets over it and wrap that with a Saratoga bandage.

Then I look at the finished product and swear at myself for not paying attention in Pony Club. Why did I only stick with it until my D3 rating? Why did I have to discover boys at the age of 13? Why did I find them so much more interesting than lessons on how to wrap legs and clean tack?

Speaking of hormones, Grace when into season on Friday. She is usually so good about it I don't even notice. Add two weeks off to the first heat cycle of the spring, equals one Wild Grace!

She usually settles down when we go for our hand walks. I throw in some ground work to keep her ADD brain busy. I've lost count of the times I've said to her "that isn't walking!"

I set up a nice pen for her in my yard so she could graze in a small space. The idea behind it was that I would be able to do other things while she relaxed peacefully in her nice little pen.

See the chair outside the pen? The one with the book on it? Relaxing peacefully is not what Grace has in mind. As soon as I get 5 feet away from her she does this:

and this

That is NOT walking!

Which is why I bought these:

Timothy pellets to replace her grain with in hopes of getting the "edge" off.

I'll let you know how that goes.....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Letting go of MY agenda

I have to admit to myself that Grace has never really been 100% sound. I’m sure the woman I wrote the check too when I bought her would not agree to that, but I do remember her having a reluctance to pick up her left lead when we first rode her.
Grace loves her job so much that she does not want me to know when she hurts.
There are days I wish she was more like my last horse Bailey, he had no problem taking time off when he didn’t feel up to a ride. She has so much heart she always gives me everything she has, even if it causes pain.

This last winter was one of our best so far. We were able to ride 4-5 days a week even hauling to an indoor arena during the shortest days. Drill team practice started in March; Grace has been a super star at practices. Both practices were on a Monday night, by Friday of the same week she had crashed. Both Friday’s I had a lesson with Sarah. At the last lesson, she could not walk without showing discomfort. Grace wasn’t noticeably lame, but she was sucked up in her gut and coughing. Not a respiratory cough that I could link to anything, more of a trying to get comfortable in her body cough, not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me. I’ve been thinking the cough is a response to ulcers, almost like an acid reflux. I’ve been treating her with a product that coats her esophagus and her stomach, but still she would stop, pull her head to her front hoofs and cough.

Sarah recommended we give Grace time off to heal, not just a few weeks, but several months. I knew when she said it, that she was right, but I just wasn’t ready that day. Grace had been doing so well up until the last few weeks, the last time I ran a barrel pattern with her it was so much better than last year, I was so excited about getting her to some races this year. The drill team pattern was really coming together. Grace’s position was on the outside of the wagon wheel, she got to go fast this year! The rodeo was only a few months away; weekly practices would be starting in two weeks. I somewhat emotionally explained to Sarah that I had heard what she was saying, but I just wasn’t ready. It would be easier if Grace was 3 legged lame, then Sarah explained that whatever was going on with Grace, was an unsoundness, the mare was clearly in pain. I had gone against Sarah’s advice concerning Grace in the past, it didn’t turn out well. I knew in my heart that I was not going to put my mare, the horse who I consider to be my best friend through that again. Sarah and I agreed to give it two weeks, and then we would reassess. In the meantime I was committed to giving Grace a week off, I would also increase the amount of ulcer treatment she was getting.

The weather was bad for the week I gave Grace off. I read the Twilight series in 5 days.
I was guarded around Grace, crazy as it sounds, I did not want her to pretend to be better just for me. I pulled her out of the pasture every day and brushed her. She still seemed sucked up in her gut. It was better by the end of the week, but I still felt that she could crash again. In the meantime I had called a horse communicator. Yes, I am that crazy! The communicator confirmed that Grace was in pain. She said her hind end hurt and her front end was sore because she had started leaning on it, Grace also had a headache. Grace told her 3 times that she wants to have a baby. She also talked about her love of barrel racing and the rodeo arena. The communicator said that Grace wanted her hocks injected. I wasn’t too sure about that one; it seemed like a really specific request that had a human influence behind it. After the session with the communicator, I scheduled a vet visit for Grace.

Ever told the vet that you talked to a horse communicator? Ever wondered if you really are as crazy as everyone around you must think you are? Actually Dr.Hills took it really well, like something he hears every day. We talked about the coughing and my theory about ulcers. From the physical exam he did not see any outward signs of respiratory distress or ulcers. He commented more than once on how good she looked, he said her weight and body condition were perfect. He did want to closely evaluate her hind end lameness. We started a series of flexion tests; I fully expected her hocks to be an issue. She has arthritis in her left hock that this vet diagnosed in the past. He told me that he believes that her left hock may be fused at this point, something we could confirm with x-rays. What surprised us both was her reaction to him palpating her suspensory ligaments. She wanted nothing to do with it. The Dr. Hills explained to me that the treatment for her hocks verses suspensorys would almost contradict each other. While he would like to see her continue to exercise for her hocks, if her suspensories were involved, she would need rest. I agreed to have them ultrasounded. The good news is that there are no tears or strains. Both ligaments are inflamed and thicker than they should be. We discussed shock wave therapy, which would reduce the inflammation, pain and increase the healing time. Grace had her first treatment while we were at the clinic. Dr. Hills plans to recheck Grace in two weeks; we will spend more time on her hocks at that appointment as we both agree that this is where things started. It became very clear to me during the appointment that Grace would be taking the next 6 weeks off. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I now had a direction, and an entire summer of unscheduled weekends.

My focus is now on getting Grace better. Dr. Hills cleared us for hand walking over the next 6 weeks. I am already thinking of what it will be like to bring her back in the fall, stronger and sounder than ever before. Right now my pressing concern is keeping her brain busy during this down time. By the end of last week she was pacing the fence line, not something that will help keep her sound. Sarah had already started us on some in hand exercises over the winter. I could hear the wheels turning in her head last night on the phone as we discussed a game plan for Grace’s recovery. I sent an email out to the drill team last night, letting them know of my decision to step down. I ordered a set of magnetic standing wraps this morning. I am headed to Walmart to get Grace her own roll of saran wrap and I have to remember to check my supply of clay poultice when I get home. That little mare is going to make a horseman out of me someday.