I’m elated to finally have a good’ish update about Simon! If you have not been following along, the short version is that he’s had ongoing soundness issues in his hind end and symptoms of pain causing him to be a bit more fractious than normal and avoiding laying down. Last fall he got hocks and a stifle injection. It took more than a month, but after those injections he started to look a lot more sound. He’s been stepping up under himself with both hind legs much better than he had in months.
In early January he collapsed in his sleep (while standing) a couple times and I scheduled another appointment with my veterinarian. A few days before that appointment I was able to get a video of him rolling and getting up. The video shows how he has quite a difficult time getting up. I’ve seen him try for 5 minutes or more and have to rest before finally being able to stand. It’s gut wrenching and so stressful to watch.
Dapper in the hunt field.
Thankfully the most recent appointment proved to be informative and we seem to be on a path towards wellness. She did another lameness exam which showed that he is in fact sound on his hinds now, but still has quite a bit of pain and/or discomfort in his back. She also noted that he was even more fidgety and sensitive to touch than he’s been the past few visits and it has gotten progressively worse every time she’s seen him. While I don’t like hearing that, it was nice to hear her confirm what I’m seeing and feeling with him. Some people see him and think he looks fine and that I’m being overly sensitive about there being issues, but hearing this from my vet confirmed my concerns.
We discussed treatment options and agreed upon back injections at the site in his spine where a couple of processes were barely touching on his radiographs from October, injections in his Sacral Iliac joint and testing for EPM. An alternative care provider I’ve used in the past told me that she thought he has EPM, but my veterinarian at the time didn’t agree so we didn’t test. He passed, and continues to pass, the balance tests for EPM, but my vet wanted to rule it out just because his struggle to stand from rolling was so pronounced.
Back injections. It is kind of freaky to see just how long the needle is for those injections! Also, evidently all the women at my veterinary clinic have amazing hair…..
While he was getting his injections we got to chatting and I asked what she thought about PEMF. I’ve read a lot about it and listened to other veterinary podcasts with mixed opinions about the efficacy of the treatment. My vet said, without pause, the PEMF would change Simon’s life if he could get it regularly. The challenge for me with PEMF previously has been finding a practitioner who is close enough to come regularly. The wheels in my head started turning because I know some horse owners who have been singing the praises of the BEMER blanket. The BEMER is more of an at-home PEMF option that produces a lower level treatment, but it’s affordable and easy enough to use for an individual to purchase. A PEMF machine easily costs upwards of $10,000 and the BEMER blanket costs less than $5,000. I asked my veterinarian what she thought about the BEMER and she reiterated that it would change Simon’s life, but she thought they were more than $15k so not really an option.
I took Simon home from that appointment with directions for 5 days off work and then to get him going again as the fitness is key to his hind end soundness. I pondered and researched the BEMER blanket and opted to pull the trigger and order one a couple days after the appointment. I worked with Hillary who is a somewhat newly minted BEMER rep and has been using it for a couple years. 10/10 recommend working with her!
It arrived the day a snow/ice storm rolled in, which was perfect since I’d be working from home for a few days. I used the BEMER on Simon twice a day for 4 days, then once a day until Coco and I left for a horse show. Because of the storm and being out of town I wasn’t able to ride him again until mid February (injections etc were in late January), but let me know tell you. He was a completely different horse than I had sat on in over a year!
Getting his BEMER on. Many thanks to Hilary for helping me with my purchase!
When a horse gradually becomes unsound or issues develop it can be difficult to pin point when things started to go south and this is very true of Simon. I don’t think his struggles are related to any one thing, but I’m confident that the wreck we had hunting in Missouri in 2020, thousands of miles in the trailer, and some conformational challenges, and recurring gut issues are what got us to where we are today. When I rode him a couple weeks after the second set of injections and after starting using the BEMER he was happy and willing to go forward with a tiny tap of my leg. For months he’s swished his tail and bobbed his head and ground his teeth every time I’ve asked him to move forward, change gaits or move off leg pressure. He was never head-bobbing lame, he never bucked, he never bolted, but there were myriad signs he was uncomfortable. Our ride this week was positively magical. I felt like I had my 2018 horse back. He even did lead changes the best he has EVER done them.
The same day as our great ride we got the EPM results and they are negative. That is good news, but I still think we have some sleuthing to do to figure out why getting up is so hard for him. I’m planning to invest in stall cameras so I can see if and when he either lays down or falls down at night. Usually only a couple mornings a week does he look like he’s lay down at all (indicated by having shavings on his coat or in his tail). I’ve asked Boot City to check when he comes in at night and he hasn’t seen him lay down yet.
Chilling while we wait for a hack class.
I don’t think keeping him sound is going to be a linear path. We may or may not need to provide the same injections again and the timeframe for repeating injections going forward will probably change. He does seem to be responding to the BEMER treatment, so I’m grateful I have that and can keep up regular treatment. Plus I can use it on Coco and Jaguar which can’t hurt them! My work plan for him is going to be doing strengthening work and staying closer to home for the next few months at least, if not longer. The long trailer rides seem to make him anxious and exacerbate his discomfort and anxiety. He’s not an obviously nervous horse so I have to pay close attention to his demeanour to determine when he’s stressed and anxious.
I adore this horse and am so happy to have my horse shaped teddy bear back. I’ll do whatever I can to maintain his comfort and happiness and hopefully have many years ahead in our partnership.
The alliteration in the title is really the only funny part of this post, but I couldn’t help myself!
Last winter, Simon and I had an incident while visiting another hunt. I came off and landed on my head and Simon got wrapped in hot wire and (understandably) kind of lost his shit. We both had some time off after the incident and both seemed to get back to normalcy pretty quickly. Not long after this I was having a lesson on Coco with my jumping trainer and, while chatting, the trainer mentioned something about Simon being kind of wonky in his hind end.
All of this information sat in my head marinating for a couple months. Simon didn’t feel off and he wasn’t exhibiting any significant behaviour that would indicate he was in pain. No head bobbing. No bucking. He wasn’t girthy. However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. There were more subtle signs like being clumsier than normal. Just a feeling that he wasn’t moving out like he used to. He’s also been grumpier, not the easygoing horse I bought in 2017.
After my trip to Montana in May I scheduled a visit from a body worker for both Coco and Simon. Coco was totally fine and just enjoyed her massage (no one is surprised!). Simon, however, proved to be a bit of a hot mess! He was VERY sensitive to work on his back, more on the left than the right. His butt was sore. HIs poll was sore or at least sensitive. And his neck was sore. We made a plan to have him worked on regularly and also to have his saddle fit evaluated as soon as possible.
Trail riding in Eastern Montana on the Moore Ranch. STUNNING views!
So we did that for a few weeks and got his saddle adjusted (she assured me the saddle fits well and adjusting the flocking was all he needed) and he definitely improved, but he was still quite sore in his back and not showing enough improvement to believe that we were fixing the issue. In July he had a full lameness exam. I REALLY like my veterinarian and appreciate that she doesn’t start by throwing her entire medical bag at a problem. She did a bunch of flexions and it was pretty obvious that his hocks were sore so she recommended injections. There was no talk of doing any kinds of radiographs or scans. It was a very easy “yes” to do injections. It turned out that his hock joints were quite dry, so had likely been sore for a while. As with all joint injections he got a few days off and went back to work and definitely seemed more comfortable.
We gave it a couple weeks before he saw the body worker again. He was definitely better, but still sore in places we thought he wouldn’t be with successful injections. Ugh. We opted to put some more fitness in his plan and keep up with body work. Improvement was good, but there was still room for more.
A few weeks ago I videoed a ride to see what he looks like and noticed that his right hind wasn’t stepping up under himself like his left hind was stepping. I sent the video to my veterinarian and she agreed, so we scheduled another appointment for a second lameness exam. The appointment was a couple weeks out due to both of our travel and work schedules and in that time quite a lot of white hair was coming in on both sides of his withers indicating a possible issue with saddle fit. I sent photos to my saddle fitter (whom I love!) and she was very concerned so made an appointment to come out within a couple of days.
The angry white hairs that tattle on poor saddle fit. Photobomb by Jaguar!
The good news was that the first thing the fitter noticed was that his back had much better and stronger muscling than it had a few weeks prior. The bad news was that muscling was why the saddle was bridging and and not sitting balanced on his back. Thankfully Simon’s saddle is wool flocked so she was able to adjust the flocking for him. The gold standard of when a horse is comfortable is when he/she licks and chews. I’ll never tire of watching my saddle fitter work with my horses and after she adjusts the saddle and sets it on their back they lick and chew, when only minutes previously they were tossing their head and showing tension in their jaw. Simon licked and chewed and we were ready to roll with a well fitting saddle (while also knowing it may need to be adjusted again as his back continues to change).
In mid October Simon had his second 2021 lameness exam. My veterinarian again did flexion tests on both hind legs. I try to stay out of her way and not ask a million questions during her evaluation. She often has a veterinary student intern accompanying her so I just eavesdrop on their conversation and learn quite a lot. His symptoms indicated an issue with the hock and/or stifle joint(s) and (THANKFULLY….I think) a soft tissue injury was not suspected. Unsurprisingly she recommended doing radiographs this time around. She took images of his right hock and stifle only because there were no noticeable issues with his left hind. She found a bone spur in his hock and a less than ideally conformed stifle. Since his hocks had been injected fairly recently we opted to leave them alone for now, but she did inject his right stifle.
Taking it easy before a foxhunt. He’s the most photogenic horse I’ve ever owned. Such a handsome boy.
While we were at it, my veterinarian suggested getting radiographs of Simon’s back. This was a funny conversation. My veterinarian also rides and she told me that she did radiographs of her horse’s back, just because she can, and found a few spinous processes touching. Now she’s always worried his back hurts even though he is completely asymptomatic for kissing spines. She confessed that sometimes she regrets having taken the radiographs when they weren’t warranted. So when she asked me if I wanted to get radios of Simon’s back I told her I didn’t unless she thought it necessary. We laughed and she said she thought we should just to be sure if any of his back soreness was related to that and not his hind end hurting (fun fact; a LOT of horse back pain is a result of hind end lameness).
So, she would take a radiograph of Simon’s back and we’d all run to the computer to see what it showed. The first one, of his withers, was perfectly clear. YAY. The second one, of his mid back, showed only 2 vertebrae close enough to each other with an ever so slight indication of rubbing. Not enough to diagnose kissing spines, though. YAY. The last one, of the last 1/3 of his back towards his hip showed no impingement whatsoever. The veterinary takeaway is that the 2 vertebrae with the narrow joint space may be slightly uncomfortable since they sit directly under where the saddle sits, but most likely that will resolve with alleviating pain in his right hind and getting him super fit.
The overall takeaway from the exams are these:
- Simon will always require maintenance in his hocks and stifles
- He shouldn’t do a lot of jumping and small circles
- Foxhunting is really kind of the perfect job for him with these issues
- He should be kept as fit as possible and equibands were recommended
- His maintenance probably won’t be linear
Thankfully this is a good job for Simon! He’s such a good boy in the hunt field!
I went into this second lameness exam with my eyes wide open to the fact that he may come out of it requiring extensive time off, full retirement, some kind of surgery, or some other really extensive issue. I’m moderately relieved to find what we found and know that it’s manageable and he can keep his same job. I’m a little bummed that he probably won’t be able to do the Take2 Hunters because he is SUCH a lovely mover and jumper, but we haven’t completely written that off. As chill as he is, he may be able to school over fences very little and be calm enough to show.
Onward and upward!
Sterling’s legs have gotten a LOT of attention over the past week! As I posted previously he was crazy lame last Tuesday evening with what we suspected to be cellulitis. The vet came to see him on Wednesday afternoon and confirmed the cellulitis AND that it was caused by a 3″ deep puncture wound. So that “scrape” was actually 3″ deep and had hit the bone. The vet was concerned that there was damage to the bone, but wanted to wait a few days to see if there were symptoms to indicate bone damage. Sterling got put on a regimen of antibiotics twice a day, steroids with a pain killer for four days, then every other day for eight days, cold hosing twice daily, a furazone/DMSO sweat application and leg wrapping if/when the swelling moved from his forearm down to the cannon bone and finally medication IN the puncture wound.
Sterling’s much improved leg.
His lameness improved within 24 hours of treatment and by Sunday evening the swelling was nearly entirely gone. Hallelujah! He HATES the oral antibiotic, but isn’t a complete jerk about letting me give it to him. He also really hates the powder medication on his feed, but after pawing at it, flipping his feed pan over and pouting in the corner for about an hour, he usually finishes it, too. I combine applesauce with his feed when he gets to powder and, in my head, it helps the meds taste better. By Day 4 he wasn’t going to let me stick anything else in the puncture wound, which was fine because the wound scabbed over entirely by Day 5.
My regular vet had been out of town for the cellulitis/puncture fiasco, but had been scheduled to come over this week to look at some soreness Sterling had in his back at the last horse show. After a full lameness evaluation my vet concluded that Sterling has soreness in his hocks that he is compensating for and is causing the back pain. This isn’t terribly uncommon for a horse of Sterling’s age (11) so I wasn’t surprised that we will now be doing hock injections a couple times a year.
Hock injection number 1.
For these injections the horse is sedated to prevent any unnecessary wiggling while being stabbed in the hock. Each hock gets two injections, one on the inside and one on the outside. It is an intra-articular injection which means it goes directly into the joint to reduce inflammation and pain. Most likely the injections will need to continue for the rest of his life at an interval of about every 6 months, but that may depend on his work load. Most people in the sport horse world will tell you that joint injections are a matter of “when” not “if” they need to happen.
You can see here where the injection was done. The hair is wet and there is some blood.
After the injections my vet recommended that Sterling stay in his stall for the day and he can resume work again after about three days. Considering the puncture wound/cellulitis issue combined with the hock injections I’m probably going to wait to ride him until next week.
The aftermath of injections.
Another one of the joys of having a grey/white horse is that after something like injections you can see the blood, even though there was hardly any. His poor hind legs look like he participated in some weird ritual leaving him with four small blood spots on the same part of each hind leg. He’s so done with me fussing with his legs that I didn’t want to fight with him to wash them off.
Now that his cellulitis swelling is completely gone and he’s one dose away from finishing his oral antibiotics I’ll get him cleaned up soon. He’s not the best horse patient (that would be Coco), but he isn’t horrible (Jaguar is HORRIBLE to do his teeth. HORRIBLE). I’m looking forward to riding him next week. Daylight Savings PLUS a sound horse make me happy. 🙂
I’ll have an update on Coco’s vet visit later, too. She didn’t want to be left out of all the fun.