Last Monday, just over a week ago, I hauled Kwintus to a horse clinic right across Switzerland. I took him to a little town called Niederlenz located in the German-speaking part of the country. Unfortunately, the problem with his broken and infected tooth, resolved by a three hour operation in the horse clinic in the Valais earlier this month, was not the end of his tribulations. Now my horse needed
infiltrations in his neck as well.
I’d already had Kwintus neck infiltrated with corticoids two and a half years ago, when one of the country’s leading vets detected that my horse’s increasing stumbling problem had nothing to do with his front legs, but was caused by a deterioration of cartilage between his 6th and 7th vertebra.
Kwintus’ symptoms were strange, similar to what happens when someone stands behind you and knocks your knee forwards. As you can imagine, this is not the most reassuring of feelings when you’re riding, and my trainer, my daughter and I were increasingly concerned that he might suddenly go down onto his knees. Also, his neck would sometimes “lock” to one side after he’d been ridden, and we’d have to get him to reach down low (usually with a little carrot incentive), then slowly make him stretch to one side and then the other in order for his neck to release. These symptoms disappeared almost completely after the corticoid infiltrations, although Kwintus has always been prone to stumbling. A later conversation with Tamara, one of his previous owners, confirmed he’d done it to some extent throughout his life, that she’d had him x-rayed and ultra-sounded from his head to his toes, but that none of these investigations ever revealed anything conclusive.
Kwintus was 15 when we bought him, and I remember wondering what was up with his knees occasionally “giving way” the first time I saw him ridden in the yard in Germany, but when a thorough vet check revealed nothing, I put it down to a possible unevenness in the floor of that indoor arena. But when the symptoms gradually got worse over the following twelve months, to the point where he began to feel unsafe to ride, I had to investigate. Local vets were stumped, and it was only when my trainer managed to convince one of the top vets in Switzerland to come and take a look at Kwintus that the mystery was solved. He watched him trot, touched his neck, and knew immediately what was wrong. Amazing!
An appointment at the clinic in Niederlenz was made, and we hauled Kwintus across the country, infiltrated his neck, and after a couple of weeks of walking him in hand, and lunging him long and low, my daughter and I were able to ride him again without him “losing one of his front legs” underneath us. Nevertheless, Kwintus has never been a horse you can trot and canter on a long, loose rein. He’s always needed a constant contact, especially on the outside rein, in order to keep his balance. It’s a bit of a drag, but there it is; all horses have “something”, Kwintus has this, and everything else about him is fabulous.
Of course, the effects of corticoid infiltrations don’t last forever; usually the treatment needs repeating within six months to a year. Kwintus, however, was fine for two years, but gradually, particularly over the summer, the stumbling began again. Small, almost insignificant trips at first (the dangerous thing about this kind of problem is that, as a rider, you get used to it, learn to deal with it), until one day, when I was trotting down the long side of the outside arena, he practically fell on his knees, almost ejecting me head first onto one the “cross country steps” that border the arena. A few days later, he did the same thing again, this time while trotting down the diagonal. Again, I almost came off. Alarmed, I dismounted and called my trainer, who called the “super vet”, who advised us to reschedule a trip to the Swiss German clinic.
But scheduling this was problematic as, almost simultaneously, we discovered that Kwintus needed to have one of his back molars removed, so had to wait until he’d had that operation before we could take him right across the country for infiltrations at the other clinic. The idea of having both proceedings done within ten days of each other bothered me, but at the same time I knew that the more we delayed the infiltrations the longer he’d be off work, which with a horse his age is not ideal. When older horses lose muscle tone and condition it is much harder to build them up again. I also knew that the infiltrations might not work the same magic as last time, and that if Kwintus continued to stumble badly he’d have to be retired. Also, retiring him without infiltrating him was inconceivable since he’d be in constant discomfort. I gave it some thought, discussed it with my trainer, and with Kwintus’ best interests at heart, ten days after his tooth operation, hauled him across the country for treatment.
To rule out any other problems I also had the clinic perform flexion tests, blockage tests, as well as an x-ray of his left shoulder (he’s often a little stiff on this side). Everything was perfect, which was already a big relief. Finally, neck x-rays revealed a serious loss of cartilage between his 6th and 7th vertebrae. So, guided by ultrasound, the vet infiltrated my poor, heavily sedated horse’s super sore neck.
Now, a little over a week later, Kwintus clearly feels a lot better. He’s perky and happy, far more stable on his feet. He’s turned out every morning, then walked in hand for half an hour to forty-five minutes every afternoon. Last Saturday marked his début in the aquapacer, a water treadmill recently installed in our yard, which is fantastic for slowly building up a horse’s condition without putting strain on his body. A second aquapacer session yesterday went smoothly (he seems to enjoy it!), and he’ll be having regular sessions two or three times a week until I try riding him again at the beginning of November. If things go well, if he doesn’t stumble, chances are he’ll be able to enjoy a few more years of gentle work, aquapacer sessions, and pleasant rides in the countryside. If not, at least he’ll be able to spend the rest of his life pottering comfortably around the big green fields surrounding the stables. And I’ll have done everything I can for my beautiful, wonderful, generous four-legged friend.
And pass the Kleenex, because writing this has made me a little tearful...