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Carrie Blog - Lameness Exam

A horse's livelihood is with its legs. It’s their survival but often, it’s the place that suffers injury most commonly. Carrie and I have had a number of issues about whether she is lame or not. It started a couple of years ago when a trainer noticed that she wasn’t tracking up.

Carrie has always been classed a ‘difficult’ horse to say the least so she’s had plenty of time off and a number of different trainers. One of them pointed out that she wasn’t tracking up so there could be some kind of pain that was causing her to be difficult.

I called the vet out to do an exam of her back as well but he drew the conclusion that she was two-tenths lame due to arthritis in her hock so the two options were to retire her or put her on bute for the rest of her life (neither of which sounded good to me). After that, I got a physio out who said that she didn’t believe that she had arthritis. At this point, I was truly confused so I just decided to do my own thing and slowly build up Carrie’s fitness.

Things were going really well until a couple of years later, we had the vet out on an annual health check visit. Everything was well until the vet noticed some warmth coming from Carrie’s hind fetlock. We did two weeks of bute but that didn’t really make much difference. We then did two weeks of an ice-boot, for twenty minutes, twice a day (which was not fun in winter may I add). After that, it was rest for four weeks or so.

The entire time, her fetlock was warm some days and cool others. After that, I just decided to get a lameness exam. I wanted to work with her again but didn’t want to cause any injuries. Half the time, I was so frustrated with myself wondering, did I cause this problem?

Here’s where things get interesting. The vet came out and we checked Carrie’s trot to see the severity of the lameness. The vet said that Carrie didn’t look lame. That surprised her because she’d been out a few times at this point and was a part of the entire situation. She then stressed the joints by flexing them maximally. That then showed some stiffness in her hind right leg (which was the opposite one than thought initially). Still, Carrie was acting a lot better than expected.

The vets decided to x-ray the hock first since the fetlock didn’t seem to be causing her any pain. The x-ray didn’t show that much. There were the beginning signs of arthritis but nothing major (keep in mind, she’s approaching fifteen at this point). I got the impression that the vets weren’t sure what to do so they said they could try steroids but there were options. I opted for a supplement that is expensive but there’s a lot less risk involved.

So here’s my theory. Carrie had an old injury and because of being a ‘difficult’ horse, I never looked into rehabilitation for that leg. That’s what I believe is causing the stiffness, just like it would with a human who doesn’t use a limb properly for six years. In the field, she’s lazy so didn’t put effort into a trot, which then showed up an imbalance when trotting. However, outside of the field, she was excited so actually trotted properly, hence the vet couldn’t see that she was lame. Thankfully, I don’t think Carrie has any severe problems, it is just a case of poor fitness.

There are a few other things I learned. Be sure to check your horse all over daily. That way, you know what’s normal for them and if there’s an issue, you’ll be quick to act so it won’t escalate. Get the opinions of different vets if you don’t agree with one. At the end of the day, they are humans and can have a bad day too. They know what they are doing but they can make mistakes too. Be cautious before going down certain treatment routes. They can carry risk so way up if it’s worth it.

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