Before this year, I’d never dealt with a hock injury, let alone knew what a lateral collateral ligament was. It’s hard to believe that slightly less than a year ago I was giggling about owing Sue Ashe a bottle of wine for having to sit through one of the worst trips I’ve ever ridden. I’m pretty sure in that one trip I preformed every A/O faux pas while trying to get around a course of 8 jumps.
I had no idea what was to be in the cards for us in 2016. Our winter riding is usually pretty light. Living here in the thermal belt has it perks and down falls. The perks far out way the ice storms and wind howling off the mountain in January and February as the seasons change. Needless to say we don’t ride much when it’s 30 degrees and the wind is howling at 40 mph down the mountain side.
By late February and into March we are back into a regular riding routine. Oliver, my home bred grey beastie, and I went to our first local show of the season in March. We showed in the 3’3″ A/O’s at the rated shows the year before and we were aiming to move up to the 3’6″ A/O’s this year. We did the Jr / Am’s at 3′ at the local show and redeemed ourselves from the 2105 season finale failure. We put down some really good trips and went home with great ribbons, I think we ended up champion on one of the days.
Just 2 weeks later one evening after a riding lesson, I put him out in a small paddock before I fed dinner. I then watched my normally saintly boy double barrel a pasture gate. I was standing about 15 feet away and watched in horror as his leg hung in the gate- stuck. As if kicking the gate wasn’t terrifying enough to watch ( I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen him kick at anything in his entire life) he went and got his leg stuck in a gate, about 3′ from the ground. Before I could even devise how I was going to get his leg out, he wrenched it out himself. He trotted off as if trying to say ” Pshh.. I meant to do that” but it was obvious he wasn’t right and was trying to ‘shake it off’.
What did he just do to himself?
I won’t lie, my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach as the scene played out. I could see he had done something tragic to himself. Thankfully he was weight bearing and no bones seemed broken. My husband is a DVM, in a lab setting, so we don’t keep all the fancy diagnostic tools here at home. He evaluated his leg and determined nothing was broken. So we gave him some banamine and began alternating between ice and cold hosing of his pastern. The hour was late, since he wasn’t bleeding and nothing was broken we decided to leave him in for the night and see what morning brought.
Daybreak brought swelling, so much swelling, to his hock of all places. I replayed the scene in my head over and over and could not make sense of a hock injury. We had X-rays taken to make sure he hadn’t fractured one of the small bones in his hock. The joint was angry but no fractures were found. Obviously it was soft tissue and it was just going to take time. After 4 weeks of pasture rest he wasn’t lame but still wasn’t right and the swelling was no better. I opted for pasture rest feeling that if I locked him up, him spinning in his stall would do more harm than good. Additionally he is lazy and the weather was warming up quickly. As a rule they save most of the play time for the cold months.
Since the swelling wasn’t going down and although no worse, he was certainly no better. On flexion he was only mildly lame, but on the lunge line he was mildly unsound at the trot. We decided to have the joint evaluated by a specialist. To my complete horror he had a full rupture of his short lateral collateral ligament in his hock, as well as a few smaller other soft tissue injuries.
Wait, what did he do?
I was taken completely by surprise. By all accounts I would expect horse with a full rupture of anything to be crippling lame at the walk and borderline non weight bearing. For a horse with a fully ruptured ligament despite the swelling he was surprisingly sound. Naturally there was a lot of emotion on my end, I was expecting them to tell me he had a small tear in his joint capsule and maybe a tear in a tendon. I was not expecting to hear he had snapped a ligament. Having wrecked my ankle I know first hand that ligament injuries do not heal well, a snapped ligament isn’t going to heal at all. The first thing on the list of rehab was complete lock down for several months and then a reevaluation. No clear prognosis was offered, he may come back, he may not.
Like all my horses, they are horses first. They live out most of the year as that is how they are happy and healthy. Yes keeping a grey on full turnout is a nightmare during show season. I’m sure I could have an honorary PHD in coat whitening and tail stain removal. But all that turnout means no ulcers, lower stress levels, and I don’t have hours of lunging or hacking before my classes at shows. Friday evening he gets a bath and sleeps in for the night. The next morning I get up at 5, braid, ship into the show, ride in my classes, and ship home. Where I pull his braids and throw him out, and he has a good roll in the dirt – that evening we get a bath and sleep in the stall and start over again Sunday morning.
Let me introduce you to this thing called PONY JAIL
Needless to say, locking this horse in a box for months at a time about broke my heart for the first 2 weeks. He screamed, hollered and carried on about the injustice of it all. If you keep your horses home, you can tell the difference in their whinnies. I’m lonely, I’m spooked, I’m sad, someone’s loose, and the ever present I am angry etc. It was awful, even with someone in the barn with him to ‘take one for the team’ he was not to be humored. I changed his stall every 12 hours, every stall had a different ‘toy’ for him to entertain himself with. In addition to a variety of toys, he had hay on the ground and busy hay in a slow feed hay net in his stall.
It took about 6 weeks for him to finally come to terms with the fact that this was his life for now. Stall rest for 23 hours and 30 minutes. Hand grazing for 15 minutes in the morning and evening if he could behave himself. Even though I’m married to a vet, I have never been big on pharmaceuticals. I have given Resurpine in the past to another horse, and hated what it did to her, yes she was quiet on stall rest, but she was also incredibly depressed.
This time around we used a combination of feed through eastern herbs from Jin Tang called Shen Calmer and a product out of Germany called Zylkene, they didn’t dumb him down or make him numb. It just took the edge off enough for him to deal with the lock down and hand grazing. I won’t lie we had days where he got some ace just to get him hand grazed. But those days were few and far between. We only used the feed through for the first 3 months until he was granted confined limited turnout, at which point we tapered off the herbals.
It was like watching a kid who spends their entire summer in the pool, break their arm the day before school lets out. I could care less if I never went to another horse show with him, I just wanted him to be pasture sound. We routinely had it re-evaluated and I quizzed the vets for advice on trying new treatments and rehab modalities. They were very kind and gently told me that they would happily take my money and try stem cell or platelet rich plasma treatments, but it was unlikely to have any affect. Further we were told that trendy new rehab modalities were not an option for this kind of injury and would likely do more harm than good until we were at least 9 months post injury.
As the summer wore on, Oliver was able to tolerate longer hand grazing sessions. I know for a Thoroughbred he should be getting worse, but I think he was happy to just be out of his stall. As long as he was quiet, I would hand graze him as long as possible twice a day which for him meant a good 45 minutes to an hour twice a day. There were times when my non horse neighbors thought I was going to be squashed I’m sure. He spooked at a neighbors car as they drove by and it back fired one day – ran to the end of the lead rope and stood straight up over my head. The driver looked terrified, all while I’m yelling at Oliver to behave or go ‘back in the box’.
In late July, we were granted confined turn out his prognosis wasn’t that great as far as riding was concerned. However the swelling was steadily diminishing so it was time to see how it could handle limited confined turn out, and hand walking over ground poles. He was happy for his hour or so of sunshine with his patch of grass and for the introduction of the ground poles.. I ended up with what looked like crop circles all around my barn from moving his paddock every few days. Every week or so I would add a new panel.
In September we were granted small paddock access as long as he could behave. I moved his med paddock over to the gate of a real paddock. I waited for the hottest day of the week, left him in the med paddock for a few hours and then opened the gate to the paddock so he could wander in. Fingers crossed we could avoid silly mayhem. It worked! From that point forward we started the day in the med paddock and then I would open the gate late afternoon. After a week he was able to just go into the big paddock. The swelling had gone down so much and he was so sound, we were assigned tack walking, starting at 5 min to be built up to 45 minutes at the end of 8 weeks.
I have to admit, the first time I tacked him up was a bit comical. He was SO excited to be wearing tack, and heck no I was not going to Ace him to get it done. I’ve had him his whole life and knew he could handle this without being stupid. I got on, walked down to the ring, walked 2 laps in each direction he kicked out a time or two and we went back to the barn. The look on his face was priceless.. ” You have got to be kidding me” thats it? – Work ethic – the laziest thoroughbred on the face of the earth who goes in a plastic mullen mouth bit and needs a spur to canter, was disappointed with only getting 5 minutes of walk time. 😀 Still I was thrilled. To increase his range of motion, we were given assignments of walking poles and raised cavalletti while tack walking.
By the time we got up to the 45 minute tack walk mark, Oliver started to get restless. He had already graduated to the big pasture by himself, I had seen him trotting a little and being playful and he looked excellent. Oliver was also asking me questions about doing more than walking. Can we trot up the hill on the way back to the barn? – no. Can we trot these ground poles? – No. Can I trot this cavaletti? – NO.
To humor him I added some lateral work to our walk exercises. He may be a hunter, but we taught him all the Big Eq buttons on the flat and over fences. I like my horses balanced and educated on the flat. Before he got hurt, he had become a popular lease horse for medal finals because he was comfortable, easy and had all the buttons for the tests. So we started doing some shoulder in, haunches in, leg yields etc. Nothing crazy, just few steps here and there to engage his brain.
Last week we had our last evaluation. There is very little research out there on this type of injury, apparently it is pretty uncommon. We are all fairly confidence that the yanking and twisting as he dislodged his leg from the gate caused the injury. They are apprehensive to say he will stay 100%, and they feel it is likely he may re-injure it again when he gets older. That said, they also believe I should slowly bring him back to full flat work this winter and in the spring start with some cross rails and see where it goes.
The theory being that I can either put him in a padded room and waste him, or I can slowly bring him back and let him tell me what he can handle. I’ve been given a list of things to look for as we move forward. Indicators that the joint is getting irritated and has met it’s level of tolerance. A lot will depend on the stability of the joint without the ligament. There is some speculation that over time scar tissue may build in and help stabilize the joint, but naturally this also makes him more susceptible to arthritis.
I am on the fence as to what we will do this spring. He loves to jump and horse show, night classes are always his favorite. He always gets so puffed up for night classes, he think’s he’s Mr. Universe when he gets to do a derby, or classic under the lights. I think perhaps maybe his 3’6″days are behind him, but perhaps the adults at 2’9″ are still in the cards for him.
Only Time Will Tell
I feel like I’ve given a magic 8 ball a good shake and it’s come back with “only time will tell’. Oliver is just going to have to tell me what he wants to do as we move forward, and when it’s time to stop.