Monday, May 14, 2007

Lameness Rides Again

Shaveya's Troubles
So I've been absent again. Not much going on with horses lately; I was in school again, taking five classes, going crazy. Now that school is out, though...

Shaveya is on the downside of the lameness rollercoaster again. I am not sure of the cause. Here is the chronology:

Right before winter, my NHCP proclaimed her darn near sound. I was told she finally had a good hoof on her. After a year and a half of careful trims and the sugar-free feeding regimen, it seemed we'd turned the corner at last and that 2007 would be the year she was finally sound. I envisioned happy spring days playing with her and taking her on trail rides (along with bringing Cheerios through L2).

But it was not to be. Due to the weather, school, and estate issues, I got somewhat lax on the trim schedule.

She was lame again. Now. I'm not here to make accusations. But I find it somewhat troubling that the onset of the lameness coincided with two things at the barn:
  • running out of her oats, putting her back on sweet feed, and not telling me;
  • the manager deciding that it was too much trouble to measure out her special feed once a day and unless I had SmartPak do it or prepackaged it myself, they weren't going to do it at all.
She'd been on sweet feed for three weeks and was horribly lame. I told them that she had to go back on oats etc immediately and delivered the oats. They claimed to be giving her the rest of the diet... until this spring when they told me they hadn't been. I mean, OH, MY, GOD, do they think I have her on special food because I enjoy the extra expense? There is a REASON for it, people! I know they don't believe me when I tell them she is insulin resistant, but that's NOT UP TO THEM TO DECIDE, is it? It is, after all, MY horse, and I'm paying them to take care of her according to my wishes. Correct?

I had her trimmed. She went back on her feed. I got a call two days later informing me that she was MUCH better after adjusting to her trim.

Here's the thing. Barn management changed again. Right after Wildflower died in 2005, the girl managing the barn quit. A nice lesbian couple came onboard and were there about a year. Then they bought their own place and a new couple (hetero) took over sometime in 2006.

The lesbian couple were skeptical about the treatment plan, but went along with it anyway, and were pleasantly surprised when Shaveya made a huge turnaround.

The new managers aren't so accomodating. They are BOTH farriers of the shoeing variety. They believe that shoes are the solution to everything. They claim to be forward-thinking and they are to an extent, but it's a small extent compared to where MY thinking is. They have been pushing and pushing and pushing for me to shoe Shaveya. I have been politely refusing, and have even had my NHCP talk to them.

Shaveya was x-rayed in 2005. The x-rays showed nothing significant; a little sidebone (ossification of the lateral cartileges) but not enough to cause such severe lameness. This is what we ruled out:
  • abcess
  • laminitis
  • navicular
  • founder
  • rotation of the P3
  • osteitis
  • arthritis
  • fractures
  • degeneration of any kind
In other words, her feet looked FINE. Still, the vet recommended shoes and pads on all four feet. That was when I went searching for a non-shoe alternative because of the barn policy against rear shoes. The NHCP program was working. Shaveya was sound enough to go on a couple of light trail rides last year with no trouble. Then management changed to the current team. Her lameness returned intermittently, and ALWAYS coincided, oddly enough, with her being fed sweet feed instead of her special diet. Fast forward to today.

MAY 2007
The barn manager trailered us to the vet for ANOTHER set of x-rays. I was quite resistant to this. They have been pushing for this for a couple of months. I've been explaining to them the importance of keeping her on her diet AT ALL COSTS—according to, in an IR horse, even ONE meal of sugary food can cause a relapse/episode. ONE. MEAL. It falls on deaf ears. They pretty much do what they want out there now.

But I finally agreed to go after being bitched at by the barn manager as well as HIS manager (the guy who sold me the horse, isn't that funny). The topper was an incident that occurred at the barn last weekend where another boarder verbally attacked me over Shaveya's care, insinuated that I was being cruel letting her suffer like that, ignored my facts and my pointing out that Shaveya was in fact greatly improved since last year, then told me either I put down that horse or she'll call the Humane Society on me.

Can you EVEN believe that?

First of all, yes, Shaveya limps. She is sore. BUT. She is NOT grinding her teeth. She does that when she is miserable. I know what she looks like miserable. She'll be extremely stiff-legged. Her face is all tense. She'll grind her teeth. She'll breath shortly and sharply with each step. She'll stay far far away from other horses and not want to interact with me. She'll look off into the distance and tune out. OK?

Lately, she's been bright-eyed, happy to see me, relaxed, a little gimpy, but she still trots around, comes to me, interacts with me, and does NOT grind. She is present, she is focused on me, and her breathing is good. Her hoof care specialist says her feet are perfect. There is no sign of anything causing her pain.

But when her diet is changed back to sweet feed, she becomes lame, and it takes several weeks to get her righted again. They are playing a ping-pong game with her out there. If she goes off the feeding regimen, she goes lame; the longer she's off, the lamer she gets. They complain; I insist they rectify the feeding issue; they put her back on it (or say they do); she begins to heal; they take her off it (without my knowing); she regresses again; they complain to me; I find out she's out of something; I insist they put her back on the diet; they agree... repeat. She never has the chance to recuperate before they pull her food for whatever excuse it is this time, and it takes weeks to heal her so she's just riding a rollercoaster.

I am so mad.

I got the second set of x-rays done. The barn manager was expecting to see laminitis or founder or even, shock gasp, rotation. He was just sure of it.



Feet look GREAT. In fact, the only change since 2005's set is that they have improved (gotten stronger).
This is what we ruled out:
  • abcess
  • laminitis
  • navicular
  • founder
  • rotation of the P3
  • osteitis
  • arthritis
  • fractures
She still has the sidebone but IT HAS NOT CHANGED. She has what the vet thinks MIGHT be a slight bit of degeneration in the P3, but it was inconclusive.

I had him x-ray up her leg.

Nothing. Not a single damned thing.

She's clean.

OK, so it's NOT her feet. So tell me, then—why on EARTH did the vet then tell me to go ahead and put shoes and pads on her front feet and call him at the end of the week to let him know how she's doing? If it ISN'T her feet, shoes and pads will do NOTHING to stop the pain. But they will cause long-term damage to the hoof, this I know; a beautiful, perfect hoof that we have been so carefully tending and healing for almost two years WITHOUT shoes.

My guess? He's clueless. Not as a vet, but with respect to Shaveya's case. I think he just is at a loss because the x-rays didn't back up their expectations, and he has no idea what other sources there might be. So he fell back onto the standard issue response: well, if the horse is lame, stick a shoe on it and see if that helps. (If it does help, it's because it's a bandaid masking the real symptoms.)

See, I know more than I did two years ago. I began studying natural hoof care and was on the road to becoming an NHCP myself until my parents got sick. I was a three-day clinic away (hoof dissection and anatomy) from being out in the field working as a practitioner in training. I've been at seminars where we studied lameness, hoof anatomy, and looked at cadaver hooves to learn about the structure and function of the hoof and what different treatments do.

I'm not just a stupid horse owner who believes everything the vet or some horse-shoer tells me (no offense to the qualified ones).

I know, for example, that the reason shoes damage hooves is because they restrict blood flow to the hoof. Inside the hoof, the coffin bone or P3 bone which is shaped like a miniature hoof sits nestled in a basket of blood vessels (yum). When the horse puts weight on the hoof (loads it), the hoof expands, and the blood vessels open to allow blood to flow into the hoof area. When the horse unloads (picks up his foot), the hoof contracts, pushing the blood out of the hoof up into the leg. Good blood flow is essential for healing damaged tissue; it's also necessary to keep the tissue in the hoof alive.

When they shoe a horse, the foot is off the ground, unloaded, and contracted. The metal shoe then holds the hoof in that contracted position even when he's loading it—meaning the blood flow is restricted. That's bad. Long-term restriction of blood flow to the hoof causes things to die in there (such as the laminae, which are little tubes inside the hoof that connect the hoof to the bone... when they die, the hoof wall begins to separate from the hoof and that isn't good—and they do NOT grow back). Add in the nails that compromise the integrity of the hoof wall (think drywall and lots of nails), and you have a prescription for long term damage that CAUSES things like laminitis, navicular, and all the other nasties that make a horse so lame they need to be euthanized. Yet, because it's the way it's been done for centuries, they keep on shoeing horses. Even if the shoe is glued on, it's a short-term solution because the hoof can expand in that instance and grows beyond the shoe. The shoe is a solid inflexible object; the hoof is a living, flexing organism. The two don't mix well.

That's why natural hoof care practitioners take an oath never to put another shoe on a horse, and advocate for the use of boots, which protect the feet yet allow for natural expansion and contraction of the hoof wall.

OK? So please respect my intelligence and my knowledge base/philosophy and do not insult me by telling me that "sometimes shoes are the only way". Excuse me. Tell an Irish Catholic that the Protestant religion is the only way to get to Heaven or vice versa. Tell a black person that only white people are smart. Go on, do it. I dare you.

Shoes are NOT the only way. If they were, then there would be no controversy surrounding hoof care because there wouldn't be anything going up against it.

Basically, I am right back where I was two years ago, and I have a set of resistant barn managers to contend with. I know the obvious solution is just find another barn. Well, I'm looking. It is a challenge to find a barn that:
  • has dry lots
  • has a round pen/outdoor arena in which to work
  • is Parelli-friendly
  • is open and accepting of natural and holistic care
  • is willing to feed according to my plan
  • believes horses belong on 24-7 turnout (not cooped up in a stall all day)
  • believes in letting horses run naked (ie not requiring turnout in halters)
  • costs less than where I'm currently boarding
  • is safe, clean, and close by
  • caters to a non-competing non-showing crowd
  • has sane owners that I can trust implicitly with the lives of my beloved horses
  • has open stalls at the peak of riding season
  • understands my treatment methods and is agreeable with them (ie won't try to change it behind my back according to their own rules)
I'm looking, believe me. I'll find it. That, or maybe somebody else will take over the management (yet again) who fits the bill. The current managers just had a baby. I think they're busy enough without running a 40-stall boarding barn.

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