Friday, February 13, 2009

Duck Soup

Have you ever heard the saying, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are... it's a duck"?

Well, unfortunately, in the world of horses if it walks like it has navicular and acts like it has navicular, chances are... the horse has navicular.

Hear that sound? That's Wally quacking like a duck with navicular.

Okay, maybe I'm over-reacting, because we all know that I'm the Number One Most Neurotic Horse Owner in the World. But let's review the signs and symptoms that Wally has presented over the last few months. Combined, they are most of the hallmarks of navicular problems:

1. He is cursed with the long toe/low heel syndrome. When I bought him, his feet looked great, but then, I figured the sellers had just shod him. Yet in their defense, they did tell me repeatedly, "He grows a lot of toe." And, "Make sure your farrier takes off a lot of toe." My farrier does indeed do all that, but within three weeks the growth rate of Wally's toes begin outpacing his heels. He cannot go more than six weeks without being shod.

2. On soft ground, like the arena, he's 100% sound, even in circles. But on hard ground, especially when crossing the street, the concussion of clip-clopping on the asphalt for even a few steps makes him short-strided and uncomfortable.

3. Going downhill on a trail, even the merest of slopes, has become increasingly difficult for Wally. He takes the tiniest of steps, as if that's the best way for him to minimize his discomfort.

4. On some days, he starts out creaky and stiff, and then eventually loosens up and becomes more comfortable. That's typical of arthritic issues, including... navicular.

5. When he's at his worst, he's very sore turning in small circles. On bad days it's most pronounced when I untie him from the hitching post and then turn him around to lead him back to his paddock.

Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.

When I bought him, almost 2 years ago, he had clean navicular x-rays. It was his hocks that bore arthritic changes and a couple of non-invasive bone spurs. But he'd also only been a show horse, where his work was restricted to the soft, groomed footing of arenas. Over time, I fear, the combination of his natural hoof conformation and trail riding on bridle paths that are often constructed of hard packed dirt and sand, has set him up for that elusive diagnosis of "navicular syndrome."

A recent issue of Horse Illustrated covered the whole spectrum of navicular issues. I know it's a catchall phrase, and trouble with the navicular area can range from actual bony deterioration (recognizable as de-calcified areas or "lollipops" on x-rays) to strains of the deep flexor tendon that runs down into the hoof and attaches to the navicular bone. There's also palmar heel pain, which is not technically navicular disease, but it's a distant cousin, so to speak.

No, I haven't had recent x-rays taken. But as I pointed out in Items 1-5, it's pretty obvious what's going on. Truthfully, the average horse person would not think anything was wrong with Wally. Except for a few days a couple of weeks ago, he has never been lame. But there are definite times when he just feels NQR: Not Quite Right. I can feel these subtle differences that have been increasing in significance over the last few months.

I'm no stranger to navicular issues. I've lost count of how many horses I've raised, ridden and shown over more than 30 years and certainly some of those horses have had navicular issues that I had to deal with. I know that it's not the death sentence that it once was. I also know that if you're keen on what warning signs to look for, and you're aggressive in treating it from the outset, navicular can be managed and the horse can be useful for many years.

So what's my game plan to prolong Wally's usefulness? First, that long toe/low heel issue has to be more strongly addressed. I can't shoe him more frequently than every six weeks; the hoof wall won't support that many nail holes. So after consulting with both my vet (who agrees with my intuition) and my farrier, we're going to put eggbar shoes and pads on Wally's front feet next week. That should make him more comfortable, because the eggbar design increases the weight-bearing surface of the hoof and also helps distribute the concussion of each footfall. The pads help that, too. Plus, as Wally's toe grows from one shoeing to the next, the eggbar will help support his heel.

I'm also going to restructure our riding routine. Instead of riding him 5 or 6 days a week, I'm cutting back to 3 or 4 days a week. And I'm going to spend more time on the soft footing in the arena versus so much time on the trails. Honestly, I truly do enjoy riding Wally in the arena. There's a large city maintained arena about 4 doors down from my house with excellent footing. Wally has had so much training that it's a joy to work on leg yields, side passes and figure eights. Sometimes I play Let's Pretend We're in a Horsemanship Class and together we work imaginary patterns. So I'll just focus more on working in the arena and strolling down the trails at the walk. Besides, with my own physical ailments, I'm really not up to 2-hour trail rides anymore. Wally and I are becoming the perfect match!

I'm willing to do this because I love Wally dearly. That big flashy Paint with the borderline personality disorder has really found a place in my heart. Ron and I consider him to be a part of our family, right alongside our dog. Wally and Betsy (our Schnauzer) are the kids we never had. Coming up with the money for the eggbar shoes and pads every six weeks won't be easy, but I'll find a way to budget it in. For example, I already cancelled my hair appointment for next week. I was spending $90 every six weeks to have my hair colored and cut at a salon. Now I'll just grab a box of Lady Clairol off the rack at Target and get my hair cut at one of those walk-in places at the local strip mall. And who needs to eat a big meal every night? I can do a lot with a crock pot, some chicken broth and a bag of dried lentils.

If a woman will forego the hair salon and concoct meals that begin with soaking the ingredients overnight, then you know she must really be attached to her horse.

If a woman looks like a horse lover, and acts like a horse lover, chances are... she's a horse lover.

Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.
Have any navicular or duck-related thoughts to share? Or simply want to make a comment? Just click on "comments" below or email me directly at:


Anonymous said...

oh cindy, I'm sure under your care Wally will be great for a long time! My old show hunter Friday ( aka Friday the 13th, today!) showed some nivicularish symptoms, so by the time he turned 14, and we had put pads and eggbars on him. He was fantastic for another 5 years, until the overall showing stress was just to much. Now he's a happy, serviceably sound lesson horse who still packs little kids over 2' courses at schooling shows and in lessons.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cindy~
I'm not a "natural purist" or anything but there have been some real success stories with navicular horses finding relief and a long useful life with natural trimming procedures rather than the bar shoes. Might be something to check into?

Anonymous said...

Hi Cindy,
Thanks for sharing! With lots of TLC from you, Wally should have lots of riding left in his career. It sounds like he could not be luckier...he's got an owner that really cares about him. What more could a horse ask for?

Cindy Hale said...

Perhaps the best aspect of writing this blog is seeing how we've all had so many similar stories. I really appreciate everyone's comments and I hope that there are times when my experiences help other horse lovers. Right now Wally looks perfectly fine. But of course, I have to spend money just to reassure myself. I couldn't imagine having to retire him at my parents' place... and then finding yet ANOTHER horse to ride! Oh, the horrors!

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