Ever since our return to the show ring last August, my goal has been to compete Visa this summer for a year-end award. At 19, I know his time is limited and I really want to end on the best note possible. But now, I’m just not sure how possible that goal will be.
First, some background information. Over the winter, Visa was just “not quite right” for several months, meaning he wasn’t lame, but he wasn’t moving 100% either. We did a round of hock injections, followed by a round of stifle injections, hoping those would help so we could begin to prepare for shows over the summer. But it’s the end of February now, and things are going downhill fast. A week ago, Visa came out of his stall limping horribly, unwilling to bear hardly any weight on his left front foot. At first, I kind of freaked out. Visa sustained a pretty serious injury to his left front back in May 2010 (a bone chip beneath the hoof, as well as ringbone in the coffin joint). But because this lameness was so sudden and so pronounced, I hoped at first it might just be an abscess.
After a few days of soaking in Epsom salts and no signs of an abscess even close to bursting, I called a farrier. My current farrier lives about two hours away, which has never thrilled me, so I called a more local farrier that comes out to my barn for several other horses. What he found did not make me happy: Visa’s feet were unbalanced side-to-side, his shoes were too small, he had no toe support and worst of all his shoes were put on crookedly. New farrier said these issues could definitely be causing Visa’s lameness, so I immediately asked for a trim and new shoes.
And it definitely had an instantaneous effect: Visa went from three-legged lame to just unsound. But at the same time, my horse wasn’t fixed and New Farrier did not see any signs of an abscess. My options were to wait and see if Visa had any continued improvement, or call in the next professional. So I made plans to visit the vet.
Our vet appointment was scheduled for this week, so on Saturday we loaded up [which turned into a miniseries of its own…] and headed to the clinic. The appointment itself went mostly the way I expected: Visa flexed positive on both front feet, so we moved on to x-rays. Luckily the wait wasn’t long, as in fairly short order we were looking at pictures. Visa’s x-rays showed bone fragments as well as ringbone in both front coffin joints. So my diagnosis was pretty much the same as it had been about two years ago, and so were my treatment options: surgery or injections. And I made the same decision I did then. I’m not putting my 19-year-old on the table for surgery in his hooves, with a year plus recovery time. Even with injections, the vet recommended only light jumping, maybe a few jumps on the weekend with the aid of bute before and after.
We continued to talk as we then compared the x-rays from 2010 that I brought with me. Unfortunately, I only had pictures of the left front, none of the right. Immediately, the vet noted that not much had changed, at least in the left front. But considering the previous treatment hadn’t done much and that we were now facing similar issues in both front feet, our diagnosis got worse. We would still inject, to try to keep Visa as comfortable as possible, but the vet recommended no jumping at all.
As we drove home, at first I was devastated. All I heard was “no jumping,” meaning no show season. No chance to prove to everyone that Visa and I could overcome our challenges and be successful; no chance to have one last hurrah. But then my boyfriend said “He’s 19, of course he has arthritis. Isn’t that why they make medications for that?”
And he’s right. Normally, I am totally against medicating a horse to get him to do something. And obviously I need to see how things go—maybe things have changed for Visa since last summer and jumping will hurt him. But if I have to give him a little bute when he jumps, why can’t I? I only want to jump 2′ for one summer; for five shows, in one division at an unrated local series. Obviously I won’t get to practice jumping like I had planned, but Visa doesn’t need to school fences. I can take lessons on another horse to work on my form, ride Visa on the flat to keep up his condition and work on his adjustability. We might not do as well, but for me it’s not about the ribbons, it’s just an accomplishment to be there and showing.
I guess in the end it’s the same diagnosis that I expected: “Let’s inject his coffin joint and see how it does.” If Visa doesn’t want to jump, I know he’ll tell me.