Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Drama: Ever notice how everything falls apart soon after getting a new horse?

Yesterday we found out my horse has a really bad case of kissing spine disease. If you don't know what that is, it involves the vertebrae, which should be separated by a little space, touching, or in the case of my horse, overlapping. But that's not the point. I bought a horse that appeared sound and rideable.  I vetted him but I did not do back x-rays though my vet implored me to do so. So why did this become an issue now?

I've noticed that when horses change homes, things fall apart. I have a theory about this but as you know, I am not an expert so you should always take what I say with a grain of salt. I think that in many cases horses and their people find coping mechanisms that let them keep going despite issues that may be just beneath the surface. I don't think anyone is being negligent or hiding anything. I think that they simply find workarounds or they have a consistent program so that even though an issue is brewing, a horse who knows exactly what to expect each day can just sort of keep going. And sometimes people don't want to know. They will do the little things when a horse isn't coping, just enough to keep things going, but don't want to open the big can of worms because then they would have to tackle the bigger issue.

When you change something as dramatic as the environment and the rider all at one time, the fragile balance just crumbles. A horse that would do anything for an owner he knows and trusts might start feeling like he doesn't want to go through the pain for a new person. Sometimes it is simply coincidence. Sometimes a new farrier or new saddle can create or exacerbate a problem.

It takes time to get to know a new horse. We probably missed signs that both Quizz and Crafty had pain early on because we just didn't know them and didn't understand what they were trying to tell us. I've observed that it takes 6 months to let the dust settle and a year to really know your new horse in a meaningful way. I have been happiest with buying horses in the fall. We worked through the issues in the winter and were able to have fun when the weather got better. Buying a horse in the spring means working through issues when we would rather be riding.

The trainer I work with tends to notice pretty subtle lameness. She won't ride a horse that might be in pain and she engages help if she's ever in doubt. She is less concerned with keeping all the horses in work for the sake of her income and more focused on the wellness of the horses and the safety of the riders. Rather than finding workarounds such as not riding with contact or staying off a horse's back in the canter or throwing the reins away over a jump, she calls in the vet.

Mine is the third horse under her care in the past 6 months to be in a place where he needs to start over completely. They needed to start over before she got involved but she is the one that is willing to draw the line. The other two are doing incredibly well, looking better than ever and enjoying their jobs so hopefully I will be traveling down a similar path.

Yesterday the vet did Mesotherapy (Novocain injected into the skin to stop the pain messages the nerves are sending to the brain, this is a short-term solution), administered Osphos (a bisphosphonate found to be helpful with bone issues, similar to Tildren) and did some steroid injections. Pretty aggressive but the intention is to stop the pain immediately. Crafty will have 5 days off then get back to work on the lunge line with the Pessoa. We will need to build up the muscles around his back and help him work with his back up and round rather than hollow. We will eventually put him under saddle, a new saddle I ordered which will be adjusted to fit him.

All of this started because Crafty had done some things that were just not acceptable. We excused him several times before concluding he might be telling us something is bothering him. He is so sweet on the ground but often very agitated under saddle. There didn't seem to be anything consistently causing the problem. He'd be great for two days then be unhappy on the third. He didn't look lame and he doesn't mind being saddled and stands still at the mounting block. Discovering issues in stoic horses is especially challenging.

Having seen his x-rays, I feel super guilty. On the plus side, his x-rays explain every single thing he has done. Knowledge is power and I feel better knowing what we are dealing with. The steps we took yesterday were reasonable in my book and I felt I owed the horse this chance to see if he can do his job and enjoy his life with me. I am so grateful that my husband agreed with me.

I did some reading on Kissing Spine last night. I'm feeling optimistic that with the proper work and therapy, Crafty can start feeling better and get back to full work. If you are interested, this article was super encouraging and this one explained some treatment options.

My greater concern now is who he will be when he feels better. In addition to finding that most horses have issues lurking beneath the surface, I have noticed that when you make a horse feel good, his personality can change. The sleepy pony with no shoes and no supplements was pretty sassy with shoes, a different diet and hock injections. Yesterday we removed Crafty's pain. Today he was pretty awake and excited.

While the vet was looking at his x-rays yesterday, Crafty kept sort of dozing off on the cross ties. The vet attributed it to the fact that a horse with such a bad back has a really hard time getting good sleep so he's sleep deprived. It makes perfect sense. Having suffered from chronic back pain myself, I have a great deal of sympathy for all that Crafty is going through. I have a sneaking suspicion that as we help him and as he starts feeling better and sleeping more, my very quiet, safe horse might just be a bit more than I bargained for when I bought him.

For now the plan is to help him. I am giving the situation 3 months. At least now we know what the issue is and we can take steps to address it. He still may not work out for me but at least I feel like I'm doing the right thing for him, helping him feel better and, if necessary, finding him a good home and a useful job.


  1. How interesting (and true--horses always seem to invoke drama). Hope Crafty feels better soon and is able to work out for your family.
    -Rachael Eliker :)
    Author of Headed for the Win and Road to the Regalia

    1. Rachel - I just saw your comment! My daughter loves your books and they are on my post about great horse books for horse crazy girls!

      I'm thrilled to report that Crafty moved on to another home where he is making his people very happy. We saw him out at a show recently and he's doing well. Not every horse works for every person but there is a person for every horse. I'm glad he found his home.

      Best -