If there’s one thing I know about rehabbing horses, it’s that there are always bumps in the road. Horses in general are full of challenges because, despite being strong and powerful, they are also amazingly delicate animals. Some of that delicate-ness we have bred into them, as with my thoroughbred, and some of it is the byproduct of our modern ways of keeping horses. Horses are designed to travel long distances every day searching for food and water, and we put them in pastures, paddocks and stalls, and inhibit their natural movement. We also ask them to jump solid obstacles and do equine ballet while carrying a rider. Problems are bound to arise.
Up until now, King has been on a pretty steady incline of improvement. He’s gaining weight, his coat is shiny, and his gait has improved as he’s gained muscle. He’s not gaining weight as quickly as I’d like, but they never do. I keep reminding myself it’s only been 3 months.
A few days ago I noticed he was lame at the walk. Just walking around the pasture he was head bobbing and favoring one front leg. At first I thought abscess. I poked around in the soles of his hooves, but didn’t find anything. He had no heat in any of his legs, and no digital pulse above the hooves either. This mysterious lameness lasted several days, during which time I freaked out and google-diagnosed him with everything from laminitis to EPM. Second opinions from horsey friends as well as some DIY neurological tests ruled out EPM. He was just lame, not neurological.
Since he had no heat or swelling in his legs, my friend mentioned the possibility of shoulder injury. A horse at her barn was recently kicked and was off for a few days up front. The vet said it was probably the suprascapular nerve causing the pain, a nerve that runs from the shoulder/scapula area down the leg. The horse at her barn cleared up on his own after a few days.
I did some research on shoulder injuries to horses, which are surprisingly rare. Usually lameness is lower in the leg. There’s a condition called Sweeney Shoulder that involves the suprascapular nerve and results in painful lameness as well as muscle wasting in the shoulder area. It was common among draft horses with ill fitting harnesses back in the day when horses worked on farms and as transportation. I found that interesting, since King has pulled a cart for his entire life. Maybe there is some shoulder soreness that’s acting up. He could have been kicked or just tweaked it somehow.
In any case, it seems to have cleared up on its own. He is walking normally again, or at least normally for him. His gaits are still not where I want them, due to lack of muscle along his topline. He is perky again, though.
Taking a super skinny, beat up and used up horse and trying to turn him into a nice riding horse is a challenge. I happen to enjoy the journey very much, which I why I spend money on these rehabs instead of going out and buying something already healthy and trained. For me, the fun is in the before and after contrast. Barring any major setbacks (like serious lameness or neuro issues), King will look like a different horse next spring.
It never ceases to amaze me what good basic care can do- feeding a low sugar, forage based diet, giving lots of turnout, getting a horse’s feet healthy, exercising them in a way that builds them up athletically instead of destroying their joints. With all of these pieces in place, a beat up horse like King can make a good recovery and be a useful riding horse for someone. It isn’t without its challenges, and sometimes rescue horses are too far gone, but many of them thrive under good basic care and become beautiful, useful animals again. I’m praying and crossing my fingers and wishing on all the stars that King continues to improve and that our setbacks are minor.