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Hock problems

From: Elizabeth

Hi Jessica!

I just sent this message to EVENTERS but thought I would cross post it to you also for additional input. Any advice you could give would be most welcome. . .

A few weeks ago my 13 yr old TB Solomon started getting what some of you in the UK might call "really nappy. " In the beginning I thought he was a bit sour on flat work and disgusted with the weather (Indiana in the summer is humid and extremely buggy--we have horseflies that could qualify as B-52 bombers--really scary!), so I thought some trail riding and light jumping might do the trick. Keep in mind that this horse was being brought back after a two year vacation and that we were just this summer getting back into jumping after a year of basic flatwork and conditioning. I'm also coming back after a major back injury so I'm having to take things slow too. But after trying several changes in the work routine, his continual refusal to go forward was starting to concern me. After checking with my coach, I buted him for a few days to see if his attitude changed, and his attitude completely changed, so it seemed that it was not a behavioral problem, but a physical one. (this was just a test to see if this problem was physical or attitudnal, not intended as a long term treatment).

Solomon was off the track and has always had problems with stiffness in the back end and needed lots of warm up before his workouts. He's also always been stiffer in the right hind and has had trouble cantering to the right if he is not sufficiently warmed up. However, I think things have progressed and that I need to have him checked out to see what's going on. My trainer suspects spavin and I'm having a vet out next week to xray his hocks and see what's going on.

Having said all of that (I'm really trying not to be "windy" here), depending on what the results turn out to be, my future with this horse could be questionable. What kind of experiences have you folks had in treating spavin, arthritis, and other degenerative bone problems in the hocks of event horses? Depending on the progressiveness of the disease, is it possible to compete at the lower levels as long as it can be managed with medication? What do you guys think about hock injections? How effective is Adequan for these sorts of problems? I feel really good about the vet I'm consulting with because he's pretty well versed in the wide range of possibilities that we could try, but I'd be interested in hearing about any alternatives from you folks also. I guess I'd like to hear your stories regarding the ranges of success any of you may have had eventing horses with these sorts of problems and how you dealt with things along the way.

This problem has been emotionally difficult for me to deal with. Earlier in this horse's life when he was able to perform very well, I had health problems that kept me from riding much. Now that I am able to get back into it, he's the one having trouble! He's a great horse and I feel like we've been victims of bad timing. I hope that I can manage this problem so that I have a few years left to work with him. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Oh yes, some other information--Solomon's on 24 hour turnout and is ridden several days a week. I thought it might be helpful to know that he does not have to stand in a stall all day.

Hi Elizabeth!

Bute reduces inflammation, so the fact that you saw such a drastic difference is encouraging. Your horse CAN be made to feel bettter if the inflammation is reduced, so the questions are now What is causing the inflammation? and How can you reduce it without resorting to the regular use of bute?

It would be very strange to see NO arthritic changes in the legs of a thirteen-year- old horse. The problem is that unless you have older x-rays from some years ago, it may be difficult to pinpoint the problem that's causing his current soreness. There are lame horses with clean-looking x-rays -- and there are horses that SHOULD be lame, judging from their x-rays, but that are moving sound with no medication.

If you don't see any swelling in the hock, or bone extosis, he could still have what is called an "occult spavin", or a spavin that isn't visible from the outside of the joint, and that involves the inner surfaces of the bones. If this is the case, you may have to wait for his hock(s) to fuse. It's painful in the meantime, but vets generally encourage riders NOT to treat the condition medically, but rather to exercise the horse daily and promote the complete destruction of the remaining cartilage, so as to speed up the joint fusion. Once the joint has fused, the horse will no longer be in pain, and there are many horses with fused hocks in MANY disciplines, including jumping and eventing.

The trouble with lameness anywhere is that there may be other joints involved, either because they have a similar problem, or because the horse, in an effort to avoid using one sore joint (say the hip or stifle) can use the next joint (say the hock) to excess, trying to make it do the job of the other joints as well as its own job. This can lead to trauma from overuse and stress, and that trauma can lead to breakdown in the short term, or arthritis in the long term.

Your round-the-clock turnout sounds excellent; come winter, though, you might want to give him the option of spending nights in a stall where he can lie down on a soft surface. If he is free to enter and leave his stall when he chooses, that's perfect.

Hock injections are iffy -- talk to your vet! Hyaluronic acid injections are common at the track, of course, but the idea is to get ONE MORE RACE out of a horse before it's discarded, and that is not your situation with Solomon. And no matter how careful you are, injecting a joint is asking for trouble. There are chondroitin sulfates that can be injected IM, though, and you might discuss these with your vet.

I've had, and seen, some excellent results from the use of oral chondroitin sulfates. Since oral administration is simple and non-invasive, it seems to me that you can't do any harm feeding such a product, and you might help your horse. I have an old mare who does well in the summer and fall, but needs a little extra help in the winter and early spring; she gets as much benefit from the supplement as she ever did from medication, which is to say that it makes her noticeably more comfortable and cheerful, and I don't have to worry about the side effects that come with the regular administration of many drugs, including bute. Not to mention the fact that I can handle the supplement safely, without needing gloves or a mask!

Whether you'll have a horse that's sound enough to event again is another matter. I wish I could assure you that you will, but it's a real wait-and-see situation. Talk to your vet -- it sounds as though you have a very good one, and that's the best possible source of help.

Good luck, and keep me posted, please!


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