State of the Lameness Address

Pearl has been “back in work” (defined as walk/trot/usually canter 4-5 days a week) for about a month now, since we moved to our winter farm. Here is where I always feel like I have to get disclaimer-y. No, the horse is not clinically sound, and cannot be made so for love nor money. However, she is comfortable enough under saddle that she can have a job, and if she doesn’t get ridden exercise she tends to get creative in her self-exercise regimen, so with the support of my team (vets, farrier, trainer) I ride her and let her dictate what she’s comfortable with. So far she has been perfectly happy, but with the creakiness that comes from being an 18-year-old horse in winter. So I’ve had “maintenance” on my radar, because I want her to be able to use her body to the best of her ability, so that she is not dumping any excess weight on those bad front feet.

One of the many perks of working at an equine sports medicine clinic is I can say “You know what? We’re having a slow day; let’s go inject my horse’s hocks.” She hasn’t had her hocks done since spring 2013, and based on what I feel under saddle I was pretty confident she needed those injected. The vet I tech for is fairly soon out of school, and as such is enthusiastic about sharing knowledge, so we did a lameness workup (lungeing, flexions) for my own educational purposes.

We started off by watching a video of Pearl under saddle (she is sounder under saddle than on the lunge) and playing “tell me what you see.”

I see that she is short in both hinds, left more than right. I do not see any overt (headbobbing) lameness in front. He confirmed the shortness behind, and added that she is landing hard on her left front, presumably in an effort to unload the right front (the worse of the two). I need to get better at seeing these things, and have asked him to walk me through it a bit more when we are at farms.

Next we took her into the arena to lunge. I wish I had taken a video of her lungeing for reference. She looked pretty good for her… I assume having softer footing helps. I got a briefing on the AAEP Lameness Scale. Basically, a 1 is intermittent/hard to detect lameness at the trot, a 2 is consistent under some circumstances (ie lungeing one direction or another), a 3 is consistent anytime the horse is trotting, 4 is lame at the walk and 5 is non weight bearing. Pearl is a solid 2 right front lungeing and trotting in hand. She is also a grade 2 on both hinds, as she does not bring them forward (shortened cranial phase) and is quick off the ground.


Her flexions went about as expected– positive on both hind uppers (hocks) and very painful to the point we barely even flexed her right front lower (coffin/fetlock). Which sounds kind of bad, having your horse lame in three legs! However, this is where she was starting from, when she was at her worst

Headbobbing at the walk and very lame at the trot, so a solid 4. We’ve come a long way, baby!

The last videos I had of her lungeing are from this past August. Slight head bob going right, significant head bob going left.

However, she was nowhere near that lame under saddle at that time. Not sure if it’s bigger circles or she is carrying herself better with a rider, but I’ll take it. Again, I wish I had videoed her on Monday, because she really did look the best on the lunge I’ve seen in a while. She also looks a heck of a lot better free lungeing running around the arena like a crazy thing.

So, we settled on injecting both her hocks as well as her right front coffin. She got .5 dorm and 1 torb, for those keeping score at home. She definitely was due for her hocks– the joint fluid that came out was very thin/watery and tinged with blood.

I asked the million dollar question: Based on how she goes under saddle, would she get kicked out of the show ring? The answer was a firm no, which… says something about the show industry, but that’s for another time.

She had a couple days of rest/handwalking, and then we’ll build up to lightly hacking later this week. I’m excited to see how the injections help her. I feel like the last time she had her hocks injected I didn’t feel a huge difference, but I feel like I’m a much more educated rider and more in tune to her, so hopefully I will better be able to tell.

Just for funsies/if there is anyone else out there struggling with the same issues, here is the regimen to keep Pearl serviceable. I’m not sure which of these things actually help her in a significant amount, but she’s going so well I’m not about to change anything!

Shoeing: 3 degree wedge pads on both fronts, bar shoe and Equipak on the right front

Turnout: As much as possible (but not pasture board, because she would starve)

Meds: previcox (quarter of the 227 mg tab) daily, 500 mg isoxsuprine BID

Supplements: Actiflex, extra MSM, Bute-Less pellets (plus vitamin E and tri-amino for muscle, and a probiotic)

Maintenance: Pentosan every 2 weeks, Osphos every 6 months. We’ll see how often she needs her intra-articular injections, if she continues in work… my guess would be coffin every 6 months and hocks every 12 which… we’ll see if I can afford to keep that up.

Legwork: Back On Track wraps when she is stalled after working, ice in the summer when I have access to a freezer that works

I think that’s it! Like I said, I’m not sure how much is science and how much is witchcraft, but she looks great so I’m not fixing what ain’t broke.

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2 Responses to State of the Lameness Address

  1. draftmare says:

    Lunging can be very hard on a horse’s body. That’s why when I lunge my mare I have her take up the entire width of the arena. The smaller the circles the more torque on their joints. So, it would make sense that she is more sound on bigger circles.

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