At the last ride Diego wasn’t right and while out on the second loop I turned around and walked him back to camp. He was lame behind when I trotted him out, and the vet found a hard knot in the muscle of his left thigh. I thought that he’d probably pulled a muscle in there somewhere (I was thinking groin, which can take quite a while to heal fully) and didn’t worry more than normal for a day or two. But then started obsessing because he’d had that weird dogtracking issue at the previous ride (which was attributed to a small but nasty cut on the hock). He looked sound in the pasture, but finally I decided to get the vet in just in case there was something more that I was missing.
In the meantime, I was also worrying about Monster. When I brought him home from the track he was very uncharacteristically thin. He’s always been on the fat and lazy side, so I was rather shocked to see his ribs (never having seen evidence of their existence since the day he was born….). Other niggling things started to bother me about him too. He clicks, pops, snaps when he walks. It all comes from his hind end. At first I thought he was forging (hitting a hind toe against the bottom of a front hoof while walking). But I had Ana lead him around and tried to locate the source of the click. It seemed to be coming from either his stifles or his hocks. Definitely no lower than that. He seemed uncomfortable and awkward in his hind end. His hind toes started wearing off at the front. He stood with his hind end under himself and would alternate resting hind feet a bit more often than you would expect a relaxed horse to do. The scariest thing was that he didn’t seem to have much appetite. He ate, but slowly. He didn’t always finish meals. Monster has always been an enormous eater with vast enthusiasm for food. He’s been fat most of his life, even while in training at the track. Warning bells were going off all over the place.
So I called the vet to come and look at both Monster and Diego on Friday. Also Dressy who had a swollen leg. I cleaned her leg and found a little scab which I pulled off. Then scrubbed it with Prepodyne (tamed iodine) scrub. It oozed a bit and dried up. So by the time the vet got there and had a look, her leg was much better. He wasn’t too worried about her.
When he looked at Monster’s hocks, he thought he could see some unusual thickness in the joint towards the lower section. He had me trot out both Monster and Diego and did flexion tests on both of them. In a flex test, the vet picks up a hind foot, flexes the hock tightly and holds it for a minute. Then the horse is trotted out as soon as he drops the foot.
Monster was somewhat lame for the first few steps, but it was moderate. He did step right around and across with every step of the left hind at a trot. It was quite odd looking. There were no neurological symptoms apparent. I had thought that maybe it was a stifle problem, but the vet was pretty sure he was looking at a hock issue, and suggested x-rays.
Then Diego. Ana trotted him for me, so that I could watch. And I was floored. He was really lame. Not just for a few strides. But lame all the way down and back. And he was nearly as lame on the other hind after flexing it too. The vet looked really concerned. I have never had a horse flex that lame, and I didn’t know what to think. The vet suggested x-rays for him too.
I had to leave shortly after the vet visit to go to an endurance clinic for the weekend. The clinic was very good (really VERY good). But I was a complete mess and wasn’t focused on any of it. I was way too obsessed about Diego and the flex tests. I had myself totally convinced that I’d never be able to ride him again. I love riding him, and I’ve worked hard and brought him along really carefully to overcome his anxiety issues. It’s a lot of emotional investment. I should really have just stayed home and done some reading on flex tests and hock problems – I’d have been less worried if I’d known more.
So I booked the x-ray session for Wednesday of this week. Because I was completely paranoid after a weekend obsessing about hocks, I had the vet do a quick check of McCool to see if he looks like he is in good order to go to work. He had a look at his teeth and confirmed that McCool is no more than 8-9 years old. He likes his conformation (I knew that already, since he commented very favorably on McCool the last time he was here). He checked all his joints, and had me trot him out. In the end he said (at 5pm after a long day) “Soundest horse I’ve seen all day”. It surprised me just how relieved I was to hear that.
Monster was next, and he was the most amazingly angelic horse through the session. The vet and his assistant crawled around under him with the x-ray plates and the camera thingy with lots of cords snaking around his feet. Monster just rested his big head against my shoulder and napped. Once in a while he chewed thoughtfully on the end of the lead rope. He was not sedated. Just really couldn’t care less what the humans were doing. He didn’t move his feet at all. Didn’t even flick his tail at them.
Diego was not nearly so good of course. He wasn’t bad. Just moved his foot at a few inconvenient moments and shifted when he wasn’t supposed to. It would be hard for any horse to live up to Monster’s absolutely stellar behaviour anyway.
The x-ray results were completely opposite to what I expected. Diego’s were clean. At an estimated 17 years old, you’d expect to see a bit of wear and tear. But really… no. The vet gave him a shot of Polyglycan (like Adequan) anyway, just to be sure. I still think he may have a bit of a groin pull which will take time (and maybe that would explain the rather extreme flex test results). But the vet thinks he’s fundamentally sound. He told me to give him a few days off and then start back slowly with lots of walking.
Monster’s results were not nearly so happy, and kind of startling in a five year old horse that never actually raced. He has spavin in both hocks. That’s a degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). It’s in the lower two joints, which is at least a little bit positive for his prognosis. The lower joints do not really move like the upper joints do. They are starting to fuse, and if they fuse completely and solidly, then he is likely going to become sound again. It may take a tiny bit of the spring out of his hocks, but he should be quite capable of most activity… just not racing or maybe high-level jumping.
The vet is predicting that it might take anywhere from six months to several years for them to fuse completely. Or they might not fuse at all. If they do not fuse, he will not be sound. There are some more aggressive methods of getting them to fuse which could possibly be tried as well. So Monster’s future is very uncertain at the moment.
His appetite has returned for the most part, and he’s started putting some weight on. The dapples are even coming back.
Linda, who bred and owned him, is going to take him back to the farm and keep him there through his rehab. She doesn’t want me to have to pay for everything without knowing if he’ll ever be sound and comfortable. He may come back to me at the end of it. But for now, he may as well be there where there is lots of flat pasture for him (my hills are steep), and funds for NSAIDS and x-rays, and whatever else he needs.
Monster is a big, classy looking horse. 16.2hh. Big boned and correct with a long, easy stride. Horse people are always very impressed when he strolls by. The vet said that if he came sound, he knew of a place that would love to have him. When Linda spoke to the vet office today, the receptionist also mentioned that she might like to take him. At the track, many people offered to take him when he was finished racing. Of course, I spoke up for him the day he was born, so I always had first dibs. Linda says that she’s never owned a horse that so many people wanted.
His name is Charming Devil. Apparently he really is 🙂