By Gayle Carline
Author and Owner of a Bionic Horse
We tease about Snoopy being "bionic" due to his left hind leg. For those of you who aren't regular readers, he broke the sesamoid bone seven years ago and it now looks like this:
As you can imagine, having one leg with a fused joint and accompanying hardware alters his movements. Specifically, incorporating more of his left hip affects the landing on his right front. Each month, he sees the chiropractor. Each month is the same: he requires adjustments on the left hip and right shoulder.
This year, we've been experiencing problems on the right front foot. He wasn't truly lame, as in three-legged, he was just off. I'm sure you've all experienced a horse that was happy to tote you around, didn't complain, but looked ouchy when they turned one way or the other. The vet did a flexion test, prescribed an anti-inflammatory and we crossed our fingers.
It helped, along with a monthly dose of Adequan, but I had concerns. We knew he was sore, but we didn't know why. It's natural to assume he won't get better, but how would I know when it's on the trajectory to unrecoverable?
I had an old horse who was sound at the walk and limped at the trot. We took a series of x-rays over a series of weeks that showed his heel sinking further and further toward the ground. He was foundering and we couldn't stop it. Had I not had those pictures, I would not have known how bad it was, or when it was time to let him go.
So I ordered x-rays on Snoopy's front leg. We'd never taken them on that leg before. I wasn't sure whether the vet would find nothing unusual, or whether he'd point and say "aha"!
It was an AHA moment, thank God. What did we see? Let me show you a diagram of how a horse's leg is supposed to look:
Snoopy's legs don't look anything like this. His cannon bones (the beige one) tilt slightly one way. The two pastern bones (the green and purple) are straight, then the hooves tilt the other way.
As his farrier said, "He gets his legs from his mom. They grow in three different directions."
The x-ray on his right leg told the story of what was wrong. Along the outside of the hoof, next to the little point (see the red arrow, but on the opposite side) there was a weird arcing structure pointing up toward the purple bone. The vet said that was calcification, which wouldn't account for his soreness UNLESS it was combined with what he showed me on the outside of the top of the green bone - a tiny bone spur pointing toward the brown bone.
The bone spur was miniscule, but the way his leg winds this-way-and-that, it's like having a teeny pebble in your shoe. It's not going to result in amputation, but it bugs the heck out of you.
He now has different front shoes, and a lower dose of anti-inflammatory. He's looking more comfortable and moving a lot easier. Now we know where to look when anything changes.
And there will be changes, because that's life. I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to ride him, but I promised to keep him sound and comfortable for as long as possible. When it's time to let go, I hope to feel confident that I've made the right decisions. It's the least I can do.