For two seasons now, I have wondered why Cochlear starts out in the spring with trumpets-a-blasting and ends feeling like an out of tune oboe (my sister used to play oboe, so I remember what that sounds like). I have yet to travel to California for a fall season, and perhaps this is why I never quite make it there? While I am thoroughly tired of traveling by October, maybe it is also because I feel that Lear physically/mentally needs a break and therefore I never schedule a fall trip for him. Which would be strange, because I do not exactly have the most demanding show schedule for him as I pick and choose which events suits his spooky personality.
I talked to my vet, Dr. Ron Colton, about the feeling I have. Lear feels like he fades off his peak performance, despite being in better condition and more experienced than in the spring & summer. He doesn’t jump as round in his bascule nor as enthusiastically as I expect he should. I asked Ron for his help and advice. Ron’s analysis was, as usual, exactly what I needed to hear. Lear’s hocks are flexing fine, no different in fact than they have for the last three years. We need to look elsewhere for the smoking gun. He suggested that one can take the birdshot approach: start injecting his back, SI, neck or any other part of his body that shows some discomfort and see if there is improvement by hit or miss. OR you can go get a bone scan and that will exactly show us where he needs help. You can guess what I did. I absolutely HATE not knowing exactly what the diagnosis is and I will do anything to have a clear label on what body part I need to strengthen, physio, heal or treat.
So, I whittle time out of my schedule to travel to Portland to see the lameness gurus. I consider Dr. Mark Revenaugh and Dr. Rachel Gottlieb at Northwest Equine Performance not only friends but both as people who help me make solid, wise, informed decisions about my horse’s health. They both work incredibly well with Ron and I am so lucky to have them all as my barn pit crew. We all need someone we can rely on, and I love the fact that they all three not only listen to one another but also communicate well together.
They inject the radioactive material into Lear around 9 on Thursday, and then he will go into the scanner at lest twice during the day to take images. He did go back to his stall to pee, because a full bladder can completely negate any informational images on the SI joint and spine. Then back into the sensory deprivation room they go.
I thought I would include some photos of how the day went. I’m sure that Becca was purely protecting the million dollar bone scan equipment from a haphazard kick, but I only saw her protecting my spooky Lear from the scary moving machine. She hung a cloth over his eyes so he would stay relaxed, and whispered to him for over an hour so he would comfortably stand still. She is the bomb!
After the radioactivity has half-lifed to a safe range, we can interact with Lear for a thorough lameness exam on Friday morning. His flexions and exam went very well, and the part that I am most impressed with is the fine-tuned eye that these vets give him. A lame horse, to my eye, is a horse who has some head bob, hip drop, abbreviated movement of a leg. Rachel and Mark are on a whole nother planet with their lameness locater in their head! To them, it’s not an abbreviated movement of a leg – but such nuances as the horse has an inward swing and the SI joint doesn’t move separately from the legs. Whaaat? Yes, Meika, cant you see how the SI is moving in a left to right fashion, not up and down? Huh? I appreciate that someone who sees 10 lameness cases per day has the ability to fine-tune to a degree that I had no idea existed.
The end result is that I brought a horse to them who is not lame, but who has now some exact diagnosable issues that we can address. Lear’s T11 has some arthritic changes, his SI joint does not light up strongly on the bone scan, but it is proving to be restricted in it’s movement, and his lower hock joints can use some help. All in all, this completely justifies my belief in bringing him here for the expensive bone scan. Now, I have exact places that we can treat which will help his entire hind end move more fluidly. Rather than the throw the spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks approach, and also pay for all the spaghetti that misses the mark. I am thrilled to know about T11, because that is something that we can address with shock wave and also steroid injections and prevent it from becoming full blown kissing spine. The hocks cannot be treated in isolation – they are part of his entire hind end engine. If I just treated his hocks, then I would wonder why he did not feel good 4 months later! The hocks should not be looked at in isolation, they are linked to the SI, stifles and spine that also are important and show wear and tear of an athletic life.
If you asked me in the spring what my goals were with Lear it would be to have completed a CIC* and CCI* and perhaps have more information about whether he could move up to intermediate. I have accomplished those goals! But, I would like to know that Lear feels like the happy athlete that I want him to be. I happily pay the vet bills now to get him comfortable, rather than waiting to go to the lameness gurus only when I know he is limping and my luck has run out. And then I have a soft tissue injury that requires months of repair, boxes of tissues, and perhaps a bottle of whiskey to recover from.
Given that Aspen is less than 2 weeks away, we have decided to shock wave his back and SI joint instead of any injections. Not only do I want to not test positive for any USEF drug tests, but I most importantly want to give the drugs the time that they need to make the therapeutic adjustments in Lear. Any injections should get about 2 weeks for positive use, and then you are definitely looking at the long term health of the horse, not the short term (if you haven’t figured out by now, I am not a short term rider!). I am excited to have a new tailor-fitted treatment plan for Lear, and Ron is too because he is no fan of the Russian Roulette approach to veterinary medicine. I know more about Lear’s body and we know exactly how to tailor the physio and massage treatments from here forward as well.