Gogo is, once again, pretty unsound. Not consistently, not horribly, but it's there. Going to the right on the lunge, she looks completely normal and fine... you wouldn't even know there was a problem unless you were truly looking for something, and hard. Going to the left, she has a consistent hitch in her right hind. I am grateful that whatever is going on still appears to be with the SDFT, and that this presentation of lameness has been positively associated with SDFT damage in the past, because this is a classic suspensory presentation. If she had a new suspensory injury on top of everything, I think I'd die. Thankfully, as far as I can tell it's just the same old thing, forever.
To play the complete pessimist, deep down in my heart I think I always knew this would happen when I put her on turnout. I said a year and a half ago that I felt that turnout was "archaic" for a horse with a tendon injury, and received quite a lot of commentary in response. 9 months ago, I retracted my statement and decided that I would turn her out 24/7 and see what kinds of healing powers nature had to offer my mare. Stall rest and controlled exercise brought her back magnificently, but she reinjured twice in the process. Something wasn't working, and so I tried the alternative.
But I had my doubts early on. I wrote here about the fact that turning out a fresh tendon injury is potentially asking for trouble, and wrestled with myself over the ethics of it all. Was it right to trap her in a stall and bubblewrap her in the hopes that her body would heal even though her mind would struggle? Or was it right to turn her out, allow her mind to be happy, and potentially cripple her in the process? The important excerpt is here:
November 26th, 2010: "I am at war with myself over the best course of action for Gogo right now. Every fiber of my being screams against turning her out with a fresh soft-tissue injury. It's simply a fact: she WILL get hurt. It WILL hurt her. It MAY permanently damage and deform her. It MAY offer perfect, miracle healing. It might completely ruin her, and cosmetically and structurally destroy her permanently. The last horse I saw that was turned out with a SDFT injury ended up literally so deformed and lame that she knuckled over at the knee in an effort to not use her painful limb, and was severely lame at the walk even after the tendon was declared set for life. THAT could be Gogo. OR, she could take good care of her body, build up scar tissue, and come back as a mildly useable animal someday. The fact of the matter is that the body compensates for whatever it needs to in order to make itself functional. Likely, she'll build up an ugly bundle of disorganized scar tissue and heal herself. She'll hurt herself out there, oh yes! She will. Which is why I am at horrible, stomach-turning odds with myself. It's the right thing to do, retire her and let her loose to be a horse and give up hope of her ever being really rideable again. If she ever IS rideable, great! If not, it's fine too, so long as eventually she turns out pain free. Understandably, this is completely killing me."
In my heart, I felt as though I just couldn't trap her in a stall any longer - what was I achieving if she was just going to reinjure in the end? And so, I turned her out.
At first, I believed in it. I believed that nature would take my sweet mare and heal her. I still believe that nature has healing powers that modern humans simply cannot replicate through our controlled settings and our medications. (Which is why I chose the barefoot thing as a career... I believe in the restorative powers of a body's natural process. Humans just can't do it better than nature can.) For a short while, a spark ignited in my heart - returning my horse to her naturalness would help her so much! That's the answer! She seemed pretty happy once she adjusted, and I settled in to allow nature do its thing.
She got sounder. She got lamer. She got sounder. She got fatter. She got lamer. She got sounder. She got fatter. Her feet changed. She got fatter. She got sounder. She got lamer.
Six months into it, I had hope. She wasn't fully sound but she looked pretty darn good to me. She hadn't come sound like she had during stall rest and controlled exercise (2 months into the first injury and again into the first reinjury, she was sound), but hey, nature takes time. Once at the clinic, however, she displayed pretty constant lameness on the right hind. Ultrasound showed that there was still tendon degeneration as well as a tendon sheath full of stringy, messy adhesions. It looked like a pot of spaghetti spilled inside of her tendon sheath. (Tasty, I know). There was also annular ligament involvement, more than ever before.
Her body was doing exactly what I had predicted it would do: "Likely, she'll build up an ugly bundle of disorganized scar tissue and heal herself." Heal, at this point, is a very subjective term. That's just what tendon injuries out in a field usually do.
We injected the tendon sheath with Kenalog and went on our way. The vet advised that we continue with turnout (as if I was considering anything else), since this was now considered a chronic injury, and that I sit on her and see what happened.
The leg went down after the injection. She blew an adhesion and went lame. The leg blew up again. She got sounder. Life went on.
At the new farm, I tried to sit on her again, and again, she went quite lame. The leg blew up again, in a very grotesque kind of way, and this time it stayed. The leg as of today:
It's probable that she has reinjured, or done a new injury, or keeps blowing continual adhesions, or something. There is lameness and swelling and there is no end in sight to this whole vicious cycle. If she stays in turnout, she continues to walk around on an injured limb, possibly injuring it further or causing strain to other parts of her body. But at this point, if she gets stalled, it will kill her. It didn't do her any favors before, and it's not going to do her any favors now.
This all basically boils down to this: I don't think I did her any favors physically when I turned her out. In fact, I may have completely doomed her soundness forever. Maybe that's being a little dramatic, but honestly, she's lamer now than she was before I turned her out 24/7, and the leg is now ugly and fat and full of adhesions when before it didn't have any. Before turnout, she was trim and muscular. Now, she is morbidly obese, and it is going to be next to impossible to get the weight off of her while she is unridable. (And the weight adds to her lameness, so it's a vicious circle). Before turnout, she has gorgeous, picture-perfect hooves. Now, I'm doing constant damage control due to all the changes they have gone through.
It's too late for stall rest now, and it would mentally wreck her. There's nothing I can do anymore except just keep her turned out and hope that she remains happy and relatively comfortable. At this point, I don't really have any hope that she'll return to any level of functional soundness. Trail pony someday, if I'm lucky. Maybe. We also have the option of cutting her annular ligament, which has been discussed all along and which I violently opposed up until now. That could possibly be a helpful last resort. Or, it could be a total disaster. Who knows?
It feels like Metro all over again. When he first went lame, I said to myself, "Well, he'll just max out at Training level in eventing, and that's ok." When his lameness progressed, it became, "Well, he'll make a super dressage horse." When he worsened, it became, "Well, he'll be a great trail horse." It wasn't long before it became, "Well, he'll be really nice to look at in a field." At the end of it all, when it was clear he wouldn't even be comfortable enough to hobble around in the pasture, it became, "Well.... this is the end."
I hope it doesn't come down to that. As long as she is walking around in comfort and is happy, we'll keep trying. But I'll do the right thing by my horse, if she tells me so. It's cruel to make a horse hobble around in a field in constant pain just for an owner's selfish emotional needs. I'm not that person and I'll never do that to her.
It's obviously not NEARLY that bad at this point. But honestly, having previously lost one in a similar slow downward spiral, I can't help but worry about it.
Zac's 3 week update
18 hours ago