The silent sufferer

As athletes, many of us are accustomed to working through pain. We push through the limitations that pain offers up; we dig deep and overcome. We soak our weary bodies in hot baths, down a couple of ibuprofen, and then get on with life. We endure the blood, sweat and tears because we want the end results badly enough. Eyes focused on the prize, we push ourselves past our limits until we finish the job. And we dismiss the resulting injuries as minor sacrifices to achieve our goals.
But our horses don’t understand this need to achieve. They don’t understand our drive to get to the next level, to earn that ribbon. Or do they?

Johnny has endured pain for me for quite some time. Given his age, I knew joint maintenance was inevitable as some point, but he’d never shown any of the typical signs: jump refusals, agitation, not moving forward… Nope, he’d not only jumped, he’d locked onto jumps and taken us toward them as if a bucket of carrots were on the other side. He pointed himself toward prelim level cross-country obstacles, leaving me to tell him, “no, we’re not jumping that.” And maybe I’m anthropomorphising here, but I believe that dang horse has been pushing himself through pain because he knows it’s what I want. He’s gritted his teeth (sometimes literally), dug deep and given me what I’ve asked for.

Only recently has he started to tell me that he just can’t anymore.

We had an appointment with a sporthorse vet in the area who specializes in chiropractic and acupuncture methods. Although my initial thoughts were hocks, I dismissed it: his movement is from his conformation; he has back pain but his hocks don’t appear to bother him; and so on. So, I wasn’t completely shocked when the vet told me there was nothing wrong with his back–it was referred pain from his hocks. I had sincerely hoped that perhaps his back was out of alignment from being hoisted for surgery and that a quick adjustment was all he’d need. But, I had prepared myself for this diagnosis. So when the vet suggested we inject his hocks to provide him some relief, I prayed my credit card would work and said, “when can you do it?”

We injected his hocks last Thursday, and I gave him three days off to let his back recover. In the interim, he got Equioxx daily. Yesterday, I palpated his back for soreness and found absolutely none. NONE. He didn’t flinch; he didn’t give any indication he knew I was poking and prodding on his (usually) most sensitive area. I took that as a good sign and saddled him up for a brief ride. We’ve been trying to go barefoot, but both my farrier and the vet suggested shoes were a better option for him with his hoof conformation. Additionally, Johnny just can’t seem to get over the feeling of sand between his toes, so to speak. Our arena is sand, and for some reason, Johnny can’t stand it barefoot. I’ve instructed the barn manager to have the farrier put shoes on him the next time he’s in the area, but for now, we’re stuck riding in the limited grassy space just outside the arena.

I asked Johnny for a few strides of trot to see his reaction, and I could definitely feel a difference. There was a bit of spring in his step, but he still felt a bit ouchy, so other than those few strides, we mostly walked around. However, the biggest change was that Johnny was back to reaching for contact instead of sucking behind or going above. And, while he didn’t exactly lift up his back and carry me, he was definitely not sucked down trying to avoid any pressure on his back.

Today we start going back into regular work. The vet advised me that since Johnny’s hocks are in the process of fusing anyway, it’s important that I don’t go easy on him. We want them to fuse–hence the steroid in conjunction with the hyularonic acid relief. I gave him his first Pentosan injection yesterday. I’m hoping that by his second or third, I might have my horse back. Until then, we’ll take it one day at a time…

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