I’ve been working with a horse for a few months who had a bucking problem and needed to be trained out of it before he was sold. I was just about ready to officially announce that he was safe and ready for a forever home when, randomly, he turned up lame.
I was disturbed. He didn’t even want to walk a foot, not even a few steps. I managed to drag him down to the arena with the assumption that he was being lazy, but something in the back of my head just said it was more. I watched my lesson student hand walk him so I could really get a good look. He was dragging his left hind hoof, barely getting it off the ground. I opted to take him back to his stall and check him out again after our lesson was over. He didn’t even want to walk back to his stall! Then, I really started to worry. What in the world happened?
Afterward, I checked him and poked him and squeezed him all over. His leg was tender, but there were no real signs of injury on the leg itself. He had a few really minor scrapes on his cannon bone and some bigger scrapes on the top of his rear right around or on his spine. I’d wondered if he had rolled wrong or itched his butt too hard (he’s a very itchy horse).
Perturbed, I talked to my friend, the “ranch manager” for all intents and purposes, who told me he’d been let out to pasture with a horse who hates his guts.
Okay…why? I thought to myself. Let me just rant a little here; this horse has repeatedly bitten and kicked the horse I’m working with and left several really unattractive marks on him. If his owner is trying to sell him, I cannot for the life of me figure out why it would be a good idea to let him out with a horse that beats on him and scratches him all to shreds…but alas, I shrugged it off. We came to the conclusion that he’d probably been kicked and he’d be fine with just some stall rest and “Bute”.
I texted the owner and let her know, and then texted my friend the “ranch manager” the next day to checked in and pass along an update to the horse’s owner. He said he’s doing okay, still sore but fine overall.
The day after this was my next day at the ranch and I ask about him. I’m told he’s fine, still sore, no changes. So, I went along on my way and began with my own horses and decided to wander over and check on him to see how his leg was doing. I looked down and something was not quite right.
His cannon bone and pastern were swollen about twice the size of the other side. I couldn’t even see the bones themselves. I continued to inspect the leg and found that the hock was so swollen that the bone which normally shows on the back of the leg was also surrounded in tissue and the whole leg felt much like a giant water bag. The swelling lessened beyond that point but continued up into his rump. Now I got kind of irritated. I was just told he was fine.
Trying to contain myself, I stomped back up to the house and asked again, and informed him that the horse’s leg is swollen. I’ve seen lots of horses with injuries, I’ve seen swollen pasterns and whatnot, but I’ve never dealt with a leg that is entirely swollen so I was a little more worried than before…okay, maybe a lot more. I’m reassured again that it’s fine, no big deal. Grumbling to myself about how nothing there is ever a big deal, I went back to what I was doing. All day, I kept standing there and staring at him. I wanted to do something but I didn’t want to make it worse. I texted my wonder-farrier and asked for her advice. His owner was supposed to come out and I figured she could make the decision whether or not to call a vet on her own if she saw him. During feeding time, I noticed he also had a big lump on his sheath. Unfortunately, his owner couldn’t make it and on my way out of the ranch, I couldn’t contain it any longer. I texted her to let her know what was going on and that the “ranch manager” didn’t think it was a big deal but I really would prefer that she call a vet.
A few days later, my farrier came across a helpful article and sent it my way. It said that sometimes, “stacking” can be caused by a horse standing around, less activity than usual or limited blood circulation. He hadn’t been standing around any more than usual; his routine was pretty consistent. Another hypothesis was that it could be caused by a minor cut somewhere that needed attention. He had LOTS of minor cuts. I decided to text his owner and let her know I was going to try hand walking him and washing his leg and cuts to see if there was any change. We began a whole discussion about whether or not it was really very serious. Because I and the “ranch manager” felt so differently, I decided to take some photos so that she could decide for herself whether or not it was necessary to call a vet.
Her response was something like, “Oh my, that is serious.” That was relieving.
After washing the area with cold water and an antibacterial shampoo, and hand walking him for about 15 minutes, the swelling went down considerably. I returned two days later and the swelling had returned so I repeated the process and it went down again. He was also much spunkier and his whole demeanor was better. The following photos were taken the second time I went through this process.
The next day, his owner came out and washed and massaged the leg and then hand walked him for about 10 minutes and she got the same results; the swelling went down and he was fine when I got there in the evening during feeding time. When I returned the next day, he was out and about (safely away from his arch nemesis) and there was no swelling. His sheath did show just a tiny bit of improvement but it still worries me. I did not rinse him or hand walk him. Now I’m assuming the leg swelling was actually “stacking” from lack of activity, which is strange because his activity level had actually increased instead of decreasing which seems to be associated with that sort of thing.
We will see tomorrow/Sunday if the swelling returns or if letting him out to roam is enough to keep it at bay. In the mean time, we are all just happy that he is happy!
UPDATE: It’s been ten days of the same cycle; he’s swollen, we walk him, he’s not swollen, we come back the next day and he’s swollen again, repeat. It seems that over time, the returning swelling has been less than the day before. Today, I noticed that the lump on his sheath was entirely gone. His leg still swells just a bit each day but overall he’s been much better. I think the secret here, and this is just a theory, is that this horse needs to be let out to pasture each day and not stalled for long periods of time.