Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Pain in the Neck – Kwintus goes to the vet…again

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.

Fingers crossed.

And pass the Kleenex, because writing this has made me a little tearful...


Anonymous said...

You certainly have done a great job finding out what was going on with him and making sure you got it addressed! He's a very lucky horse to have you.

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I am so sorry Kwint (and you) have had to go through so much lately. I can totally relate to the roller coaster of emotions you must be dealing with as it was just shy of two years ago that I had to have my son's then 20 year old horse, Henry, operated on for colic. So much fear and hope, so much rehab work and maybe the horse will never be usable again, so much affection and wanting to do the best for a good horse, and (for me) so much hand walking in the rain. Not to mention so much money spent. It was a real ordeal. I, too, shed a few tears. But Henry has been a sound, healthy riding horse for well over a year now (knock on wood), so there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. All my best to you and Kwint. I will hold good thoughts for his complete recovery. (That stumbling thing--which I had never heard of before--sounds scary.)

Francesca Prescott said...

Thank you, Kate. I'm just trying to do what's right. He may be lucky to have us, but we've certainly been super lucky to have him.

Laura: yes, it's tiring, and worrying, but the only way out is through, right? Hand walking in the rain is the worst! As for the cost, I don't even want to think about it...haven't received the bills yet...I had a quote for his tooth operation, but then the op turned out to be far more complicated than expected and took three times as long, so who knows. But I'm hanging in there, have a lot of support. I'm actually off to Cornwall (England) tomorrow to see my daughter, so am leaving Kwint in Steph's hands. She's aquapacing him, and walking him, and putting him out, so he'll be fine. And hopefully, when I get back, I can get back on him and again...and see what happens. I so hope he'll be ok. Thanks for the positive thoughts!

Linda Benson said...

Kwintus is a very lucky horse, indeed, to have found you, Francesca. And it sounds like you took him to a wonderful facility for diagnosis and treatment. And aquatherapy! How wonderful! Here's hoping you both have many more wonderful years together.

Jami Davenport said...

Cesca, It made me cry, too. When you fall in love with a horse, it's hard to see them get older and know someday soon you may not have them in your life anymore.

I face that everyday. I guess you just take one day at a time.

Alison said...

Kwintus is lucky to have someone like you to take care of him!

Jan said...

What a touching story; you and your dear Qwintus have gone through a lot lately. I hope his recovery goes well. I hope that you will be able to continue to ride him and he will feel comfortable. I do sympathize with your feelings over this; you have done everything possible for him. He may very well know that and appreciate you as well for all your loving efforts.

Shanster said...

I'm sorry - it's so hard emotionally when you love them so much. Hang in there.