There are some phrases you don’t ever want to hear your vet say. Like “Holy Crap!” for example. I heard this two years ago as the vet examined an ultrasound of Dolly’s hind leg. Roughly translated, it means “this is going to cost you a lot!” I had taken her in for what I thought was a lameness in her right front hoof. The vet watched her trot around and around and finally had me saddle up and ride her around at a trot. Finally, he said he thought it was in the hind leg, not the front hoof, which led to the ultrasound, which led to “Holy Crap!” And yes, it led to me spending a large chunk of money trying to make things right. Dolly had torn the suspensory ligament nearly completely off of where it attaches at the hock. If it wasn’t for stem cell therapy, Dolly would be a broodmare right now.
The vet told me the success rate with stem cell therapy was running around 94%, so as a math teacher, I figured this was a pretty good bet. Of course, you always wake up late at night wondering if you are going to fall into the 6% it doesn’t work on, but then you take a benedryl and go back to sleep. So I spent enough money on stem cell therapy to buy a couple of horses, justifying it because Dolly is a nice horse and was only 7 years old at the time and because I really don’t want to pay to feed another couple of horses (who will probably tear their suspensory ligaments and also need stem cell therapy). In the end, I probably still saved money!
The first thing that happens in SCT is that they remove a bunch of fat cells from the horse’s rump. Those get sent off to the company, which magically transforms them into stem cells and sends them back to the vet’s office where they are injected into the horse at the site of the injury. (I figure some human doctor is bound to capitalize on this soon: “We specialize in liposuction and stem cell therapy! Fix your injuries and lose inches off your waist!”) Naturally, the diagnosis came in November so the actual therapy took place right before Christmas. There’s nothing like trying to rehab a horse after stem cell therapy… in December… in Nevada. “Hand walk,” the instructions said—more like flying a kite. I remember having David plow me a track through 8 inches of snow with the tractor so that I could walk her.
So after months of careful rehab, Dolly finally seemed to have recovered. My vet gave me the go ahead to do whatever I wanted with her. Except she was still off on the right front hoof! How off was she? You know how they grade lamenesses 1 to 5? This was like a grade 0.5 lameness. So I fiddled and I farted around. I tried barefoot, barefoot with boots, boots with pads, glue on shoes, rubber glue on shoes, rubber shoes with pads, aluminum shoes with pads, aluminum shoes without pads, hopping up and down on one foot and chanting mantras—none of it really helped. I began to call it her “offishness.” It had a life of its own. I was worried that it was her hind leg still, so I kept having the vet check that instead of just saying “I’ll pay for x-rays. Take a bunch of that hoof!” (Like I should have.) Prescription—keep on riding.
Then two things happened—Mom fell and broke her hip, necessitating a lot of time off for Dolly, and Easyboot announced the introduction of the Glove in new wide sizes. So I pulled Dolly’s shoes and ordered a pair. I was so excited when I received my new boots. I put them on the next day and they fit perfectly! I saddled up, put Dolly on line to warm up… and she was lamer than ever! (And this after a month’s rest.) Put on the old boots—not so lame. Tried frog pads in old boots—wow was she lame! Whatever it was, I knew it was in the heel and I finally knew I was right—there was something wrong with that hoof! The tightness of the new boot irritated it and pressure under the frog did the same.
This time I got smart. I videotaped Dolly trotting around in my arena with and without a rider and with and without boots. David (aka Hollywood Dave) used his movie making skills to burn this onto a DVD which I then took to the vet with me. He finally saw what I was seeing! So we x-rayed the living daylights out of the right front hoof. This time, he said “That’s interesting,” when he saw the x-ray. Turns out she has a cracked Navicular bone. (I never even knew they could break the navicular bone, but it turns out they can. Hers is just cracked. If she had broken it, she would have been dead lame.) I guess now we’ll see how “That’s interesting” compares to “Holy Crap!” on the grand scale of vet statement to repair expense proportionality.
The vet thinks she did it sometime in the last year. I will defer to his professional opinion, but I suspect it could have happened a lot earlier since she has been lame for a long time. I suspect that this could be the original lameness I took her in for two years ago and it was just overshadowed by the suspensory injury. Still, the vet is very hopeful that we can bring her back to soundness. His prescription is to put on aluminum shoes that are very similar to the Natural Balance shoes I was using only they have a bit more extreme breakover and wider web in the heel, and then pad her up with Vettec products to support the sole and decrease pressure on the navicular bone. The nice thing about shoeing my own horse is that he just handed me a pair of shoes—no long explanations necessary.
So that weekend, I pulled out all of my equipment, sharpened my knives, rounded up my hammers, which always seem to be wandering off somewhere, and pulled out my big box-o-Vettec products. The actual process of attaching the shoes is not really a big deal (don’t tell my back that, though)—it’s applying the padding that is a challenge. Using any of the Vettec products is kind of like flying a fully armed F-14 off of an aircraft carrier. I actually need to create a checklist so that I won’t forget anything before starting. It would help if I installed a hitching post up by the garage so I could tie the horse up and go grab the three things I forgot, but as soon as I install one, it is going to be in the way of some new home improvement project and I really don’t want to have to move the darned thing! First, you have to have stuff to clean the hoof with—denatured alcohol, wire brushes, couple of nails, screwdriver, hoof knife, hoof pick, because the hoof has got to be clean. Next, you need stuff to dry the hoof—rags, heat gun, extension cord for the heat gun, remember to plug in the extension cord for the heat gun, because the hoof has got to be dry. Then you’ve got your Vettec products—tube of compound, compound gun, nippers to open the tube of compound, scissors to cut the plastic wrapping around the tube of compound, gloves to protect your hands from the compound, mixing tips to put on to the tube of compound. I would keep going, but you get the idea, and besides I know I’ve left out about 23 of the most essential steps in the process. (Next time, I’ll write that checklist!)
Anyway, this time I got through the whole padding process without any major disasters. Last time, Dolly jerked her leg and broke the mixing tip while I was dispensing the product and I managed to spew Equi-build all over my shoe, my leg, Dolly’s leg, and the ground before shutting off the gun. You can buy these sticky cardboard squares that you put over the shoe either before dispensing or after you are done so that you can set the hoof down while it cures. I have discovered that these, also, are a disaster waiting to happen if you don’t trim them down to a hoof shape before using them. Dolly always seems to manage to step on the corner of the cardboard with the other hoof, yank the whole thing off, then set the hoof down in the gravel before I can stop her embedding hunks of driveway gravel into the padding which, I’m pretty certain, are counterproductive to the whole padding process. This time, I realized after getting all of the goo where I wanted it and secured with a cardboard cover (which I had remembered to pre-cut to fit) in both hooves that I’d forgotten the most important piece of equipment—a chair to sit in while I wait for the stuff to cure completely.
And the end result? She’s still lame… So it’s back to the vet next week. He wants to inject the hoof with Adequan or Legend (I think) to help take the residual pain out of the injury. I also want to take a “thumbtack x-ray” where you put a standard thumbtack in the tip of the frog, then do an x-ray from the side. The tack isn’t long enough to cause damage, but it shows up on the x-ray really well so that you know exactly where the tip of the frog is located in relation to the navicular bone. That way, I can do a better job of relieving pressure on the navicular bone when I apply the compound. I used the very scientific method of basically guessing this time. And then we’ll see. We’ll see how much “That’s interesting” is really gonna cost.