Friday, April 29, 2016

A Diagnosis

Today we finally saw a light at the end of the long tunnel that is mystery lameness.

When I first realised that Oscar was lame, I put it down to muscle soreness from hunting. Whilst he was fit enough to go hunting, he wasn't really prepared very well for the type of terrain we were hunting over.

Woodville is a very flat town, surrounded by the rolling hills of farmland which then backs onto the Tararua Ranges. It's difficult to ride out into the ranges without making your way up some very narrow and winding gravel roads, which are often frequented by deer hunters in big utes and sometimes rattling trailers strapping down an antlered carcass or two. For safety reasons, and because it provides a much nicer ride, we tend to stay down on the flat surfaces. You can actually see the racecourse on one of the above aerial shots, which we ride around when conditioning! I digress,  whilst my horse was cardiovascular fit, we should really have invested some time into riding over hills to better develop those muscle groups. If you've ever been into running, you'll know that you're likely to be a little sore after hill sprints when you're used to beating the tarmac. It was therefore pretty reasonable to think that Oscar's soreness was due to the fact that we'd just gone tearing up hills that were so steep I had to hold a chunk of mane just to remain on my horse, when we usually work out on the rolling-at-worst surfaces of Woodville.

Because of this, I opted to go straight to a physio instead of a vet when his soreness persisted. A vet's diagnosis is obviously hugely important but, if you have a good idea of what's wrong, I find it more efficient to go straight to a specialist. A farrier, for example, will generally do a much cleaner job of an abscess treatment than a vet, and a physio will treat individual muscle groups more efficiently than a vet would. It also tends to be on the cheaper side this way, so it's a win-win situation.

Juli, from Animals Back in Action, specialises in McTimoney manipulation - which is a gentle and non-invasive procedure - alongside routine sports massage. Oscar always responds better to gentler forms of massage, getting quite grouchy if the intensity of the cyclossage and pulse rugs are upped from the base level even. He has had massages in the past but I stopped booking him in as he would often pull faces, start biting and just generally be uncomfortable throughout the whole treatment.

My tricky schedule meant that Juli had had to rearrange hers to fit us in so soon, which I was really grateful for. A+ service. She was so lovely and I was worried Oscar would be a noodle and start biting and pawing and being a general pain in the arse for her- and as he's been on turnout for the past fortnight, I knew he'd start losing his mind to be back inside the cross ties. To give him a chance to settle, I brought him in early with a hay net to munch on quietly. About five minutes into being tied up he realised that we weren't just picking feet out and going on a routine hand walk, so he proceeded to freak the f out. Eyes bulging, head in the air with flared nostrils; typical fruit loop stuff he does if something in his routine changes. Ever the dramatic gelding.

Whilst I would have had next to no chance of calming him down in the space of 25 minutes a few months ago (the last time his routine changed), the recent hand walking has improved his ground manners enormously and I just played around with a bit of natural horsemanship techniques. They're really useful to get your horse focusing on you in a relaxed manner, and Oscar seems to enjoy the instant reward of pressure-release exercises. His previous owner practised a lot of Parelli with him during the breaking in process, so he responds to it very well. By the time Juli arrived he was in a much better headspace to play the patient.

I was immediately impressed by her thoroughness. She had brought a notepad and asked a few questions, taking notes before beginning to assess Oscar. No joint and no muscle group went unchecked as she methodically moved from one spot to the next, pausing only to jot down more notes. Each leg was stretched and flexed as she chatted to me about his history, she said some nice things about Oscar which is always nice to hear as an owner. When she was satisfied, she had me walk and trot to and away from her on a straight line, lunge at W/T/C on both reins and on both the arena surface, and limestone before repeating the straight lines in walk and trot. It felt like a good twenty minutes of observation, which was refreshing as some people are a bit quick to get stuck in.

What must have felt like an eternity for Oscar, who hasn't trotted a circle in weeks now, came to an end and she went back to her hands on assessment. This time she was focusing on manipulating his spine and back area, which he was happy enough about and she was able to rule out any joint pain which is excellent news. He was a bit sore in his trapezius muscle, which runs above the shoulder and close to the wither, on the off side. I did suspect it was a right shoulder soreness, but Juli continued working away before pointing out that the long muscle running over his back on the near side was raised, whereas it was nice and flat on the off side. The right shoulder soreness was very likely a result of compensating for the soreness across his back. More gentle manipulation confirmed the injury was to the longissimus dorsi on the near side, which made perfect sense as he was snatching the near hind leg underneath him on the lunge, was reluctant to canter on the right lead, and this type of injury is relatively common in horses that are underprepared for the terrain they are working on. It also explains why there was barely any lameness evident when we were all focusing on the right shoulder.

She continued to massage the target area which, unlike previous massages, had Oscar yawning and stretching down and yawning some more. Very positive.

Following this, she used two types of laser therapy (shallow and deep) on specific areas of the muscle for good measure, before showing me some useful stretches for the loins, pelvis and hind legs.

Honey I shrunk the horse.. just tricking, Juli is stood on a box ha.

Her thoroughness meant for a lot of information for me to take in, but it's handy to note that she breaks it all down in a report and emails it to the owner, after saving a copy on file for her future reference.

I didn't carry my phone with me when I turned Oscar out, but he walked over to the other horses to tell them off for who knows what, before getting down to roll after which he stayed down. His sore back must have made it hard for him to get some proper rest, so I got a case of the warm fuzzies to see him obviously feeling better and able to catch up on some z's.

Next steps are daily stretches to help get that muscle working properly and healthy again on the road to recovery, with a couple of weeks walking- in hand for the first two days only. If he shows soreness under saddle then we'll just go back to in hand until he's comfortable again. Then we have the all clear to continue work as normal! So pleased to know that it's not a very serious injury, and a timely reminder to make sure my horse is fit for all aspects of a ride, not just in going the distance.


  1. Sounds like a very informative and good appointment. Hoping this helps resolve his lameness :)

  2. I want her to come here! None of the body work people here are that thorough! Glad he is on the mend!

  3. Glad he is feeling so much better now! My mare loves a good body work session too !