by Laura Crum
Yes, I do write mysteries and I recently finished book number twelve in my series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, but this is not one of my “made-up” mysteries, this is a real mystery involving a real veterinarian.
I've written before about my little trail horse, Sunny. Sunny has been a real champ for me, allowing me to lead my son on hundreds of trail rides in the last three years (with my son riding equally bombproof Henry) without one scary moment. In my personal book, that is priceless. I read of others’ accidents and fear issues and my heart really goes out to them. It is so sad to have a lifelong dream of a happy life with horses turn into a nightmare of emotional and physical distress due to injuries and/or fear. I myself have so far dodged this bullet—knocking on wood (literally). I haven’t been hurt yet and I am not fearful when I handle/climb aboard my horse. Not because I am such a good hand. Because I have a reliable, steady horse to ride. I know I have proffered this advice before, but I’m gonna do it one more time in the hopes that it will help somebody. If your primary goal is to enjoy horses without struggling with fear issues or getting hurt, buy a reliable horse in the double digits. A horse with plenty of years of experience in the event you wish to pursue. Not a horse you have to train, or worse yet, retrain. A horse that has been a steady babysitter for his previous rider(s).
I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say, “I don’t need a babysitter.” Very often this person has had far less experience riding/training young horses than I have. I always want to tell them, “I may not need a babysitter, but I WANT one.” I want to have fun on my horses now—I do not want to feel nervous. If you’re not afraid of getting hurt, and don’t mind the normal antics of a young horse or the recalcitrant behavior of a horse with some sizable holes in his training, more power to you. This advice is not meant for you. But if you, like me, are currently more concerned with being safe and worry free while you enjoy riding and handling horses, think long and hard when you choose a horse to work with. A reliable horse in the double digits is a far greater aid to staying safe and anxiety free while riding than any helmet in the world (not that there is anything wrong with wearing a helmet—and, in fact, despite my long and safe helmetless horseback career, I am now planning to go out and buy one, and its mostly thanks to what I have learned from other bloggers. Any suggestions on what brand/sort I should choose?).
(A small aside here—I recently read on another blog the statement that “if you think you own a pair of bombproof horses that will never hurt you, think again. Any horse can hurt you at any time.” This is, of course, true. But its like saying “anything can hurt you at any time. The asteroid could strike the planet at any time.” True, but not very helpful. The woman who made the statement had been hurt handling what she considered to be a gentle horse. From her description, my assessment would be that she wasn’t being careful enough, as the horse hurt her due to a habit that she already knew he had. So here’s the next part of staying safe—always be thoughtful in the way you handle horses. I wince when I read about people playing “games” with horses at liberty, or strolling along beside, or worse yet, behind a loose horse. This is, quite frankly, asking for trouble, no matter how gentle the horse is. When I handle my gentle horses they are caught and haltered and I remain alert. I am careful about the way I catch them and lead them and turn them loose. I groom them and fuss with them when they are under my control and in a safe place, not “at liberty” or God forbid, out in the pasture with other horses. And I am equally thoughtful when I ride them. And these are two very “bombproof” horses. Yes, any horse can hurt you at any time, but if you are careful in how you handle them and use safe practices, and the horse is reliable, it is not very likely. Most of the horsewrecks that I’ve known of involved green horses or horses with a problem habit, or a moment of carelessness on the part of the rider/handler, or following a practice that is just not safe. I understand how people get started doing these things—they are taught these practices by some horse guru or other and they are looking for that elusive “connection” with the horse. But I can tell you for a fact that many of these practices are quite dangerous, and there is a big potential for the horse to hurt you.
Of course, lets face it, people get hurt climbing out of the bathtub or stepping off a curb. Virtually anything can hurt you; life can and will hurt you. As we all know, no one gets out of this alive. However, I will stand by my statement that riding/handling solid horses in the double digits and using careful practices while remaining alert will do the most possible good towards keeping us safe and not fearful when we work with our horses. All right—I’ll get off my soapbox now.)
Anyway, Sunny, my reliable little horse that I just love, has given me hundreds of happy, relaxed trail rides. And here’s the problem. There is a downside to reliable horses in the double digits—and I’m now facing it. The soundness issue.
I’ve mentioned before that Sunny has been off and on slightly gimpy this spring. Well, after last week when we did several trail rides, I went down to feed him one morning and he was lame. Lame in the right front—the foot he’d been slightly off on from time to time. I called the vet.
The vet concurred that it was the right front; the vet agreed with me that there was no sign of a soft tissue injury—no swelling anywhere on the leg. Hoof testers showed some soreness on the sole. No sign of heat or laminitic issues. The left front was fine. The vet wanted to block the foot to see if the lameness was there. I did not want to block the foot.
I have an irrational hatred of nerve blocks because I knew a horse who was put down because he broke his leg trotting with a blocked foot in a vet exam. I know this is a very unlikely thing, but I can’t help it—it bugs me. Also, I’ve been around horses my whole life and I knew Sunny was lame in the foot—just by the way he moved. The hoof tester results confirmed this. (90% of front leg lameness is in the foot, anyway.) So I told the vet I wanted to shoot X-rays of the foot. I thought we might discover some sort of arthritic issue.
But the X-rays were clean. No ringbone, sidebones very clean, no navicular changes, coffin bone looked fine. The vet suggested the horse might be bruised. But we had pared the foot out carefully, and there was no sign of bruising. However we agreed I’d try front shoes and pads and see if it fixed the problem. The pads would be somewhat diagnostic. If the horse went immediately sound, he had sore soles/bruising type issues.
I have been running Sunny barefoot for three and a half years and up until this spring the horse has been quite sound. He has good, big, open feet—he doesn’t chip to speak of. I liked having him barefoot, but I went ahead and put front shoes and pads on him—just to see if it would help him.
It helped some—but it was not an instant cure. He was less lame, but still a little lame. I still felt it was in the foot. I called the vet back and told him to look at the X-rays again. He did. He consulted with another vet. And then he called me back and said he thought, he wasn’t sure, that he could see a tiny little hairline fracture at the very edge of the navicular bone. We discussed my options, IF this was the case. I thought the diagnosis fit the symptoms the horse had shown, so was inclined to believe it. It made sense that the trail riding made him worse. It made sense that the pads would make it better but not fix it. The vet thought leave pads on him, give him a month off, and then reevaluate.
The bright side to all this is that I will be gone for the month of July, so giving Sunny a month off is no problem. The dark side is that I may now be coping with soundness issues in my good little trail horse—for possibly a long time. But I have to say, even if this is so, I would not trade Sunny for any other horse. He has given me a huge gift and if I have to manage his soundness issues in the future, even if I have to retire him, those years of so many lovely rides in which I was never scared, let alone hurt, are totally worth the price of dealing with a sore foot.
Anyway, that’s my little mystery—has anyone else had this particular problem? I’d love to hear about it if so. I have no idea how Sunny injured himself—if this is the answer to his gimpyness. I have never had a horse with this problem. The edges of the navicular bone were very clean, so this is not “navicular disease”. I’m still a bit puzzled about the whole thing and am not sure if we’ve solved the mystery lameness or not. After several days with pads Sunny IS markedly better and trots almost sound in a straight line on level ground. Any thoughts?
And, I will be gone in July—gone from the computer, too, no email or blogs—and back to posting (and riding, I hope) in August. I’ll be participating in the summer book giveaway then—which Jami just announced. Hope you all enjoy it in the meantime.
Happy summer. Cheers--Laura