Last night I took Minnie to the vet to have her leg scanned. After more than a year off to heal her tendon injury, it was time to get the verdict. I knew the tendon had healed sufficiently not to bother Minnie anymore, but I didn’t know if her leg would ever be strong enough to ride again.
Minnie injured her tendon in November 2009. I don’t know how it happened. The last time I rode her was a Sunday; it was one of those beautiful autumn days, cold with a clear blue sky and no wind, so we went for a long ride. We took it leisurely, mostly walk and some slow trotting. Minnie was very fit at the time and still full of energy when we came home. I remember that she took off at a gallop when I put her out in the field. It is possible that she overreached and clipped herself, or perhaps she stepped in a hole, but I didn’t see it. All I know is that when I took her out of the field the following day, she looked stiff and uncomfortable. She wasn’t really lame, just reluctant to move. And when I trotted her up, she was unhappy.
Diagnosing lameness in horses is difficult. They are experts in hiding their pain. Minnie trotted up with a very short uneven stride, head high and neck tense, but it was not immediately clear where the problem was. There was no heat or visible swelling, but after I trotted her up, Minnie pointed her right fore. I thought she might be developing an abscess in her foot and got the farrier out. There was no sign of an abscess and the farrier told me the problem was in her shoulder. Time to call out the vet.
The vet looked at Minnie, put her through her paces and did a flexion test, and then diagnosed a wrenched pastern joint in her left fore. Two weeks box rest with daily walking in hand, and bute morning and evening. Feeling a bit of a fool, I mentioned the fact that Minnie had been pointing her right fore, but he told me lameness in the front legs often alternates as the horse tries to take the pressure of the injured leg.
The box rest was not a success. Minnie hated it and after two weeks she showed no improvement and was still pointing her right fore. I took her to a different vet, one who specialises in race horses.
This time, Minnie got the full works. X-rays of the lower leg and hoof to rule out arthritis, cracked bones and navicular, and when the x-rays came back clear, a scan – which showed lesions in the superficial digital flexor tendon in her right fore. The vet told me that treatment was possible in the form of ultrasound therapy, but that if I wasn’t in a hurry, turning her out for at least six months up to a year would be the best thing for her, as constant movement would stimulate the fibrous tissue growth in the tendon.
I decided to let Minnie have the time she needed and trust that she would tell me when she was ready. For the past year Minnie has lived out as naturally as possible. The last couple of weeks I have seen a major change in Minnie. Her energy level has gone up, she is moving freely, she has become very mischievous and she looks ready to get back to work.
So last night, I hooked up the trailer and got Minnie ready for a trip to the vet. Minnie is not easy to travel on her own. She is very herd bound and although she followed me into the trailer without hesitation, she started screaming for Cassie as soon as I got out. And she doesn’t stand still. It is not nice to drive when you can feel the trailer lurching behind you, especially when it’s dark. Minnie was drenched in sweat when we arrived and so was I.
I put a cooler on Minnie and walked her around until the vet was ready for us. Minnie’s anxiety was almost palpable, and I was nervous too, because this scan was very important. I couldn’t remember what to look for in the fuzzy picture of an ultra sound, so I was staring at all these black holes that showed up on screen, wondering if they were lesions or blood vessels, until the vet spoke: “Excellent healing has occurred. You really did the best thing for her by putting her out for the year. This leg should end up as good as the other one. She is ready for road work.”
I was so relieved, that I even felt relaxed driving home, in spite of Minnie stamping around in the trailer. When we got home I put a dry cooler on Minnie, who was drenched in a fresh layer of sweat and gave her extra carrots in her dinner. I went into the house to celebrate with a glass of wine. Roll on spring and long evenings for riding!