Thursday, June 30, 2016

Here Comes Your 19th Nervous Breakdown

Are you tired of the endless lameness posts yet? Because I am. I have started and deleted this post more than once. Mainly because my brain has been a dark, dark place recently, and I didn't think anyone wanted to be there. Least of all me. Luckily, things seem to have turned a corner, so I feel it is safe to let you all in.

My new fav picture of us. At least I look happy?
First, it has seemed like some kind of sick joke that Boca has been lame during the 3+ nicest weeks I can remember in, oh, forever. Literally every day in New England has been perfect. Weather in New England is NEVER perfect. At least not for this many consecutive days. Or hours.

Second, all of the plans I had started to let myself get excited about were getting scrapped. June 26th Hunter Show? Not happening. Trailering to the Beach? N-O. Our first ever attempt at a Schooling Horse Trial?  That's a negative, Ghost Rider.

I knew I was being a big baby, and first world problems, and yadda-yadda-yadda. But, I was kind of pissed that here I was, facing ANOTHER medical issue. Enough, I tell you. I have had enough.

But, I gritted my teeth and tried to put on a brave face and tried not to complain too much (at least out loud) about having a broken horse, again.

Cutest face! At least we can play petting zoo.

I think I seriously misjudged just how emotionally precarious my mental state was. 4 Weeks of no riding does not a mentally stable person make. At least not if that person is me. Riding is my escape. It is literally the only thing in the world that shuts off my brain long enough to afford me any peace. When I ride, the rest of the world drops away. I concentrate on nothing but the horse under me for as long as my ass is in the saddle. I need a break from the mental circus that is my brain. There are scary clowns in there.

Bryan decided to make the rare visit to the barn on Saturday. I think he innocently thought he would get to spend some extra time with his wife, and maybe see what our money was paying for. What he got was ... not that. More like a chance to observe and participate in my full-on emotional and mental breakdown. Fun!

The long and short of it is, I got on, Boca was not sound, and I fell apart. I don't know if my expectations were too high. Dr. C had been using cautionary language all week that I didn't like - such as "Hopefully, he's sound". Uh, hopefully?

I got on in the indoor in the GGT footing and he felt better, but not 100%. My instructor H was teaching a lesson in the outdoor, so I thoughtfully interrupted her lesson to make her watch him trot circles and confirm that no, he was not 100% sound.

Upon which I completely and totally fell apart. I walked him back to his stall, sobbing all the way. I cried so hard I actually thought I might throw up. I cried into his neck as my husband stood on, trying to comfort me and calm me down. If there is any upside to all this, at least now he fully understands that 1) Yes, his wife is insane and 2) How much this riding thing actually means to me.

Maybe we have a future as a Pony Ride team.

Now I get to invite you all in to the insane circus that is my mind. Ready to take a ride?

Of course I called my vet right away, but being that it was Saturday at 10 AM, I didn't get a call back until Monday night. Which left over 48 hours for all the crazy to percolate.

I will say that saner minds, such as my husband, cautioned me to wait to hear what the vet said, before getting all upset. But that ship had already sailed.

These are the following scenarios that I came up with:

1) Boca needs extended time off. I should bring him up to H's boyfriend's farm in upstate New York to recover, and take one of the standardbreds down to Massachusetts to retrain for a second career.

2) Boca needs extended time off. I should put him on layup board at instructor H's farm and borrow/lease/swap one of her 10 horses while he is off.

3) Boca is not physically capable of the job I want him to do. I should free lease him to a nice trail home where he can be-bop on a long rein at the walk and take care of some nice old lady. I should adopt a OTTB or OTSTB. Yes, I already had candidates picked out.

4) Boca is not physically capable of the job I want him to do. I should retire him to a trail home and check out a few of the horse dealers in CT to see if they have anything remotely suitable.

Of course, the most reasonable 'Hey maybe he just needs a few extra days for the injections to take effect and to get used to his shoes' scenario just seemed to be the least likely one.

In case you are thinking I am a terrible person for even considering retiring Boca and taking on a new project, consider this --  We are now somewhere in the ballpark of over $4,000+ in medical bills for Boca in 5 months, and I have been able to ride him a grand total of SIX WEEKS. So maybe I can be excused for my momentary desire to think I should consider another path. In all honesty, if Boca were not the totally awesome individual that he is, I probably wouldn't have gone this far with him.

Long story short - Boca is better. He just needed some additional time for the injections to reach peak effect. I have resumed riding him. Sanity is returning.

I think, just maybe, we might just be ok.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sweet Relief

Saturday morning was the vet appointment at Dr. C's clinic, to look into Boca's mystery lameness. I could have waited until Monday to have Dr. C come out to our farm, but to be honest, my mental state wasn't the best, and trailering down to the clinic on Saturday would save me a farm call fee. I didn't sleep very well Friday night, and I woke up Saturday morning groggy and nervous, with my stomach in knots, relieved the day had finally arrived.

I got to the barn at 7 am, with the plan to be on the road by 7:45. I brushed Boca, put on his bell boots and fly spray, hooked up the trailer and we were ready to go. The morning was beautiful - sunny and breezy, with little humidity. Just the kind of morning to remind me why I love New England. The drive to the clinic was down many winding side streets, with charming old farmhouses and beautiful yards. In spite of myself, my spirits began to lift, and I had a funny feeling we were going to be ok. Of course, Boca was his perfect self, loaded quietly, and rode the entire way there without a peep, happily munching hay.

The vet clinic was on a busy 2-lane highway in Rhode Island, without a lot of room to park and unload. It was a mostly dirt, gravel and tarmac parking lot, with little area to graze and not another horse in sight. I was grateful to have such a compliant horse, and thought that a tense or reactive horse would have a tough time with the set up.

We are here... But where is everyone else?
I left Boca in the trailer and went to find the office to check in. We were a little early for our appointment, and I could see the vet techs setting up in the small clinic exam area. Boca unloaded like a pro, and though a little wide-eyed, happily picked at what grass there was to be found.

Dr. C came into the clinic, the vet techs introduced themselves, and we got started. First, I gave them a thorough history of the issue - that Boca had been coming out slightly off in his RF front for 3-4 weeks, that it was slight, and that he worked out of it as we went along. That it was worse recently, seemed more obvious on hard footing, and when circling to the right. In softer footing, and while circling left or on a straightaway, it all but disappeared. It was most evident at the trot, and was unnoticeable at the walk or canter.
Dr. C began the exam by running his hands down Boca's legs, feeling for any swelling, heat or irregularities. He did note that Boca had a very slight digital pulse in his RF, but there was nothing else that stood out.

I think next came flexions. I hope I am remembering the diagnostics in the correct order, but like I said, I was overtired and anxious, so it does have a bit of a fugue state quality.

Flexion on the RF
During the flexion tests, the vet techs were exclaiming what a sweet boy Boca was and what a cute face he had. It is always nice to hear other people think your horse is a good boy. I like to think I have a small part to play in that. He is a pretty good guy overall, but I do make sure his manners stay intact, and I think we have a pretty deep bond of trust. He takes good care of me, but I take pretty good care of him, too. 

Boca's flexions were negative. He flexed and jogged sound on all joints, but I really didn't expect otherwise. He passed his pre-exam flexions with flying colors as well.

We went to the (really) small lunging ring, next to the highway (!)
The vet tech asked Boca to trot right, and Dr. C said 'Ah, there's our lameness'.
And, indeed there it was. The vet tech had Boca do a short trot and canter session in each direction, then we brought him in for the next round of diagnostics, which was nerve blocks.

Local to the LF, before nerve block to the Navicular Bursa
We blocked the RF to the coffin joint, took Boca out to lunge in a really tight circle on the pavement, and he immediately came sound. The really interesting thing is that he was then absolutely crippled on the LF. I was not terribly surprised, as I had read this is not uncommon (I guess interwebz school of veterinary knowledge FTW?)

Dr. C then blocked his RF to the Navicular Bursa. He warned me that this could be pretty painful if there was an issue with the Navicular Bursa, as it only holds a small amount of fluid, and the added pressure of injecting the nerve block could be really painful for the horse. Luckily, Boca didn't flinch, and he was still very lame on the LF, which was actually a good sign. The reason being, the pain did not originate from the Navicular Bursa.

Now that we had a better idea of the area that was causing the lameness, it was time to move on to the x-ray portion of the exam.

The x-rays were more good news, with no deterioration of the Navicular bone, no fractures, or any other areas of concern. One thing I was really happy about was that the x-rays confirmed my farrier is doing a good job with Boca's feet. The alignment and angles were all correct, and overall Dr. C was very pleased with the job that my farrier is doing.
We did find two areas of interest on the x-rays, in regard to Boca's lameness issues. Boca does not have a much of a digital cushion, so it isn't a great 'shock absorber' for the concussive force created when his hoof lands. Also, although his LF has remained about the same, there is some significant arthritic changes to his RF coffin joint, from his pre-purchase x-rays in 2014.
In case you don't know what arthritis looks like on an x-ray (I didn't), I circled the area in red on his x-ray below. That bumpy stuff on the front of his coffin joint is arthritis.
So, what does all this mean, and how do we address it?
To reduce the inflammation, Dr. C recommended we inject both the RF and LF coffin joints and make some minor shoeing changes, to provide extra support and cushion to the area.
When Dr. C inserted the needle to do the injection, there was so much pressure from the inflammation in his coffin joint, that fluid spurted a good 2-3 feet across the room. How I managed to snap a pic at that exact moment, I'll never know!
Look! My horse's joints are peeing!
Boca was a star, and tolerated all the poking and prodding without any fuss. Injections completed, we wrapped him up for the ride home, with instructions to leave him in for the remainder of the day.
Orange travel booties
The farrier is coming out tomorrow to add pads and Equi-Pak to Boca's front shoes.
He'll have until Friday off, then he can go back to work. We'll also start him on Pentosan IM, to help manage/repair/prevent his joint arthritis.
Hopefully, all of these measures will resolve Boca's lameness issues. The only possibility would be, if he does not come sound, there is an existing soft tissue injury in the hoof, which we would not be able to confirm without an MRI... which I cannot afford.
So I am crossing all fingers and toes that this will give me my fully functional pony back, so we can go on to have many fun adventures this summer.
Because, y'know, I need this pony in my life!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

In Which Boca Breaks ... Again

When we last left off, Boca was back in training, I had a new instructor, and was starting to get excited about putting some things on the calendar. I started a list of upcoming local unrated H/J shows, hunter paces and was even planning to dip our toes into the world of eventing.

June 5, we went with some friends to the local hunt club's spring hunter pace. Although the day was rainy, we had great fun cantering through the fields and popping over small natural jumps. Boca and I even did our first ditches. Guys - this pony is brave. If I put my leg on and say go - he gives his best.

^ That is us, cantering along at the back of the group.
One of my teammates events with her young homebred TB mare, who she has in training with a local Pro. She was very encouraging of Boca and I trying out eventing, made a suggestion for a friendly upcoming schooling horse trial, and offered to do a joint cross-country schooling lesson with us.

Quick video of us jumping speed bump coops:

Don't mind us tripping in the wet footing - it was pouring rain.
I like how it is NBD, we pick right back up, stay focused and jump out of the line.

Unfortunately, all plans came to a screeching halt when Boca came up NQR in his right fore last week.

This is not entirely unexpected. For the last 3-4 weeks, Boca has been coming out slightly NQR. He'll take a weird step or two, but always works out of it, and seems happy to continue. My trainer and I have been keeping an eye on it, but there has been no heat, no swelling, no outward signs of any trauma. It is always ever-so-slight. It makes you wonder if you even saw anything at all. I would describe it as a .5 on a scale of 1 - 5. It has been intermittent, inconsistent, and does not seem to correspond to workload or specific exercise. I was wishfully thinking it was a high nail, a bruise or an abcess, but it didn't resolve and didn't get worse.

Last Wed, it got worse. On the lunge line, going right, at the trot, he definitely had a head bob, which disappeared going left. It wasn't present at all at the canter or the walk.

I have Boca on a 6 week shoeing schedule. He gets a full set of normal shoes. I had my farrier come out at Week 4, to see if he would respond to hoof testers. Based on what I was describing, my farrier didn't think it was a shoeing issue - at least not a high nail or an abcess - but he agreed to come out early anyway.

On Friday, the farrier came out and was unable to get any response to hoof testers. We decided to put him in aluminum shoes with a bit of a rounded toe, to see if it helped matters at all. Farrier told me to let him know how things went. I was hopeful that it might help, but had already planned to have the vet out for an exam.

Unfortunately, the new shoes did not help at all, and actually seemed to make things worse. On Saturday, I tacked him up and brought him to the indoor, which has the softest, pillowy GGT footing. Boca definitely had more of a head bob, and was not working out of it. I got a video to send to the vet, untacked him and put him away.

I haven't ridden in a week and a half. The vet visit is scheduled for Saturday. I'm really, really upset. We were just getting back into the swing of things. Boca was going great. The weather is perfect. And my pony is grounded again.

I'm trying not to project what this might be. Hopefully just another bump in the road.
Maybe now that we have resolved his back issues, there will be a few minor things here and there to manage. I'm trying not to think worst case scenario about all the gnarly things this could be.

I swear I am not a hypochondriac horse mom. I swear I don't have Munchausens-by-Proxy. I just want my horse back, happy and whole. So we can go on to bigger adventures.