Lameness and My Mare Jessie
The topic is: How do YOU decide medical issues involving your horse. How much weight do you place on quality of life issues? How much do you place on usability of your horse? And, finally, how much weight do you place on the cost of evaluation and treatment?
I want you to tell me about your stories and situations, so here is my story. My Foundation Quarter Horse mare Jessie means everything. I got her in 2007, when I was 53. She was 7 years old, had 90 days of professional training put on her, and had had 2 foals. She was and is a perfect fit.
We spent our first 3 years working through the Downunder Horsemanship Beginner and Intermediate Series (Riding with Confidence and Gaining Respect and Control on the Ground back then). With Clinton's help, I learned most of what I know about horsemanship on Jessie. We competed in trail classes and team sorting. We rode everywhere, and she was a rock star. She is strong-willed, but I always felt safe on her. One key moment with Jessie I remember happened in the saddle. We were loping over some uneven ground and I lost my balance and was way off to one side. I felt her kind of dip down and move underneath me to keep the situation from getting worse. She picked me up, and it's a moment in horsemanship I will not forget.
My logbook entry.
On one of our rides she stepped into a gopher hole and bumped her shoulder. She limped for about a month, but finally improved and we were riding again. I keep a diary or logbook of sorts for the horses and there is an entry in March 2014 of a "sign of limp @ trot in right front. Not severe." In April I noted a right rear lameness, and by May there were no more notations.
My next entry (for lameness) was in February 2016. On one of our regular rides on the Kern River we stopped at a local bar for a beer and burger. It was about a 3-mile ride out. After standing tied while we ate, we got mounted for the ride home and Jessie was noticeably limping. The limp got worse, and I gave her Bute as an anti-inflammatory. After talking with the farrier, we thought she might have a sole bruise. I applied a sole toughener product to her hooves.
While things improved, she continued with occasional lameness. In April 2016, a vet evaluated her situation. Ultrasound, nerve blocking, and x-rays offered no definitive diagnosis. The next level of testing was an MRI at a cost of about $2,000. There was no guarantee it would determine exactly what was going on either. I declined the additional testing. The vet recommended modified shoes, Prevocox, and stall rest. Jessie has never worn shoes and I didn't take the shoeing recommendation either. The cost of this exam was around $500.
There is a place here in Bakersfield, Equine Spa & Wellness Center, that uses swim therapy. I had tried to do a podcast with Mia the owner, but I botched the audio and we never got back together. Then, she sent me a promotional email about a summer special - a month of swimming for $700. We had two trips planned for late June and early July. This would be the perfect time to send Jessie to therapy.
They started her off with one minute walking on the first day. By the end of the month she was trotting underwater for 15 minutes. She also was on the hot-walker and another device, the Equi-vibe (I think).
Anyway, by the time we got back, she was in great shape. There was no noticeable limp or any sign of lameness. I took her on a trail ride in the nearby mountains and she went up and down the grades like a billy goat.
After a wet winter, a friend invited us to ride the foothills near her home. It was January 2019, and a group of us set off and rode for about 2 hours. It was the first ride Jessie had had in at least a month. Problems showed up after the first hour and got worse on our way back to the ranch. She was quite sore the next day.
Over the next few months she would get better, then relapse. We walked on most of our rides and never far at that. The limp continued. Sometimes I saw it on the right. Sometimes I saw it on the left. Finally, realizing it wasn't getting better, I tried another vet.
It was a carbon copy of the what the first vet had done 3 years earlier. First, try to identify the lameness. Then, block the spot he thinks was lame. Here, it was the left front. Once numb, Jessie showed lameness in her right front. Then there were x-rays that showed healthy navicular bones. After two hours of examination, The vet said the same as the first. It looked like navicular, but wasn't. However, he would treat it like it was. We would use the egg-butt shoes, and Bute. Only instead of stall rest, his suggestion was to work her.
This made sense. When I looked back over my notes, I noticed all of her lameness episodes showed up early in the year after a layoff. The work Jessie did at Equine Spa was low-impact but intense. She got conditioned and improved.
So far it is too early to tell. The special shoes with the gel insoles were $165. I purchased 200 grams of Bute for about $100. The second vet exam was $1,000, but included vaccinations for all of our horses.
The Bute has made her visibly more comfortable and I am happy about that. We get to ride at least 4 times a week. Jessie was clumsy on the new shoes at first. They really change the angle of her feet. She's getting better. More importantly, I am doing something instead of nothing, and I am getting to ride her again. And I get comfort in both of those things.
I'm not the best community builder. I will need your help for that. I'm not the best at conversation. Let's change it up together. I hope you will join me.
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