Locking Stifles

Grooming before ride, noticed my 15 yr gelding seemed to not be fully weight baring on right hind. Appears to walk and trot fine. Asked him to step back, left hind he picks up normally, right hind he doesn’t – slides it back. I don’t feel any swelling or heat in that leg. I am wondering where the problem is, my next steps…

If your gelding seemed totally fine while being ridden, and did not show the same awkwardness on the right hind after you were finished your ride, I wouldn’t get too worried about this yet. Horses can effectively lock their stifles so they can relax and doze while standing up. Sometimes that system malfunctions temporarily, resulting in a leg that can’t flex right away when the horse tries to move. It’s possible that he was dozing a bit on the cross-ties and had trouble unlocking the stifle on that side when you tried to back him up. Fortunately it’s not painful and once the ligament releases it’s business as usual. Keep an eye on him, if this continues to happen or he starts to feel off under saddle then I would call your vet to take a look in case something else is going on.

Is This Lump A Splint?

My horse has a hard lump on his front left canon bone just below his knee on the inside. Every picture I look at online would suggest it is a splint. The only thing making me question it is that he has never been unsound, there was no heat or swelling and it is not tender with palpating. He has also only been doing light flat work since spring, was off all winter.

Is it possible to get a splint without showing any lameness, heat or swelling? 

Also, do I need to have a vet out to look at it if it is not painful and he is sound?

The lump you discovered on your horse sounds very much like a splint to me. “Splints” are bony enlargements of the small tapering splint bones that lie on the inside and outside of the cannon bone on all four legs. These bones are the remains of actual toes that existed on prehistoric horses, before they shrank away leaving just the middle toe (hoof) as the sole weight bearing structure. Modern equine splint bones have some role in forming part of the carpal and tarsal joints, but in general they just seem to exist in order to get into trouble. Splints can appear as a result of direct trauma, excessive concussion, shoeing imbalance, gait abnormality, conformational predisposition, and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Fresh splints can be very hot and painful, even causing lameness, but once the acute inflammation has settled down they are generally just a bit of a cosmetic issue and not particularly bothersome. If your horse is sound and there is no heat or sensitivity when you squeeze the lump, it is probably not an issue. You should still ask your vet to check it out on their next scheduled visit, but you probably don’t need to have them out just to evaluate the splint.

Melissa McKee DVM

Medications For Stiff 7 Year Old

My 7 year old is very stiff my vet said he has arthritis in his withers and gave me Polyglycan is this a good drug or is Adequan better. Do you have any medication that you would suggest. My granddaughter has started to event him.

it sounds like there’s a lot more going on than just a problem in the withers in this horse. The withers is an area where some horses develop “kissing spines”, which is when the bony projections on the top of each vertebrae rub painfully against each other. These horses are very cold backed and painful when mounted, and they have difficulty performing under saddle. They often buck, rear, or just plain stop going. Polyglycan, Adequan, and other injectable joint medications would have no effect on this particular condition so your vet must think there are additional joint problems involved as well. In order to decide the most appropriate treatment you need to reach a more specific diagnosis so you can mange this horse in the most effective and economical fashion. If a young person will be riding this horse in a relatively dangerous sport, I’m sure you want to make the horse as sound and safe as possible. I’ve have success with both of the medications that you mentioned but it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to make specific recommendations without examining your horse personally.

Melissa McKee DVM

Rocky Mountain Cross That Can’t Canter?

I have an estimated 9yr old pony mare that I got from a guy’s field about a year ago. I suspect her to be a Rocky Mountain cross of some sort, but have no records. It’s quite possible she was a broodmare for a time, and she was certainly ridden before although she was rather dangerous to ride when I got her as she was terrified the moment someone sat on her. She’s had about 6 months of work put in, but had he winter off. She’s learned to relax and trust her rider, she has a beautiful trot, engages her hindquarters and pushes into the bridle with a wonderful forward momentum. But she can’t canter! She can carry it for about one 20m circle (not very well) and then she loses her balance and falls out of it. When I first got her and would even think about cantering, she would almost have a heart attack and every leg would just flail all over the place, but now it is an actual 3-beat gate, despite being unbalanced. Even in the field she can only carry it for a few strides before breaking into an uncoordinated trot. It feels like a mental block of some sort, but what are some reasons she could be having so much trouble with something that should come rather naturally?

There are likely several factors that could be affecting her ability to develop and maintain a canter. The Rocky Mountain is a gaited breed, so they have other naturally occurring smooth and ground-covering gaits such as the rack that are often preferred under saddle. Depending on the trainer and competition goals, cantering may have been discouraged or at least not asked for in her prior ridden experiences. In addition, due to conformation and genetics, canter may be a difficult gait for her regardless of previous experiences. Many of these horses will have a “lateral” canter that is difficult to balance especially on a small circle.

It’s also important to rule out any physical reasons that your mare cannot canter- she may have an old injury or degenerative condition that makes the canter difficult or painful. Your veterinarian can perform a lameness exam to ensure that she is physically up to the task. Don’t forget to check your saddle fit in case it is creating painful pressure points as her back cycles through the oscillations that are unique to the canter.

It’s also possible that she is simply a very green nine year old that did not have a lot of schooling prior to you starting her back under saddle six months ago (and I actually think that the progress you’ve made in six months is quite good given how she was when you started). Keeping in mind that her breeding and conformation may limit her ability to canter in a traditional sense, I think that with time and patience she can develop the strength and balance to maintain a working canter that you can both comfortably enjoy. You may want to enlist the help of a trainer who specializes in working with gaited breeds to assess her and provide suggestions.

Melissa McKee DVM

Hip Locking Up

My 10 yr old QH mare hip locks up after minimum of 30 min riding. She will take several hops and then walk out of it as if nothing has happened. Occurs randomly, but never sooner than 30 mins into ride. Vet has done a ranch call and referred me to equine chiropractor, but problem still persists.

This sounds more like her stifle ligaments are intermittently catching or she has some kind of arthritis or bone chip in a joint that briefly hurts her when loaded at a specific angle. Was any imaging done on the leg? If the problem is intermittent, I would try to get a video of it to show your vet so they can have a better sense of what’s happening, and consider taking some survey X-rays to evaluate the joints.

Melissa McKee DVM

Chiropractic for SI Injury

I’m looking at a horse that has a sacroiliac injury. The vet said he would be okay for light riding and the owner said he would probably benefit from have chiropractor work done. I’m just wondering how many times he would have to see a chiropractor?

It sounds like your horse could really benefit from some chiropractic follow-up after the diagnosis of a sacroiliac injury. For rehabilitation from specific problems, I generally like to have three sessions with the horse over a few weeks, then space the subsequent visits out at longer intervals depending on the horse’s response to the adjustments. The total number of sessions required is very hard to predict, because that depends on so many factors, including the severity and chronicity of the injury, other concurrent health/lameness issues, your horses lifestyle, and your goals as a rider. True SI injuries are difficult to resolve and often require ongoing treatment including ultrasound guided injection of the affected joints at regular intervals, and I would be resultant to suggest that you take this horse on with the impression that the condition could resolve permanently. In addition, there could be other lameness issues involved that make this horse more vulnerable to recurrent SI pain. I encourage you to have some kind of pre-sale exam that involves challenging lameness testing such as flexions and working on different surfaces before making your final decision.

Melissa McKee DVM

Clicking All Over

My 16 year old gelding has had a clicky hock for a couple of years but no apparent lameness. The other day, after a free lunging session, she seemed to be clicking all over- I’m sure it was from more than just the hock. What could this mean?

There are a couple of ways that a joint can make a noise. One is called “cavitation”, which occurs when we crack our knuckles. As we stretch the joint and create negative pressure within, nitrogen bubbles form and create a snapping noise. This sometimes happens when I am flexing a knee or fetlock during my physical exams, but is not immediately repeatable until the nitrogen is reabsorbed. The other kind of audible occurs when tendons and ligaments are brought suddenly into tension as the joint moves, which can happen with every step and is the more likely source of the noise you noticed. The sudden onset of all-over clicking is unusual, and may reflect some kind of muscle fatigue or change in his gait. Has he had a recent reset or shoeing change by any chance?

While we don’t typically associate these noises with a lameness problem, any change is worth noting and keep an eye on him to see if it becomes a regular occurrence. With noisy-jointed horses, we often put them on a joint supplement to cover the chance that they are developing inflammation or arthritis. While supplements won’t make a lame horse sound, they do provide the materials for repair or minor wear and tear, which can prolong the health of the joints.

Melissa McKee DVM



Body Soreness in Mare

My mare has suddenly developed an all-over body soreness and terrible attitude under saddle. Her muscle enzymes and bloodwork are all normal, and chiropractic work is not helping her. Could it be a genetic issue? She is a 15 year old paint with no previous medical problems.

The fact that your mare is 15 and this is the first time the problem had cropped up makes a genetic problem unlikely, unless you making perform at the highest level that has ever been asked of her. Most genetic muscle metabolism issues become evident when the horse is much younger than that. Other physical issues that I have found can lead to this type of pain include gastric ulcers and problems of the reproductive tract. Occasionally a horse will develop generalized muscle pain after fighting a virus or bacterial infection, when the stimulated immune system goes on to inappropriately attack muscle cells. “Post viral myositis” however is pretty uncommon and usually does cause some abnormalities on blood tests.

I am interested to note that your mare is quite happy to move out freely on the lunge but is “stuck: once the saddle goes on. One of my tests for back pain in a lameness/poor performance workup is to put a surcingle or saddle on the horse and then free lunge it again. It is remarkable how much this pressure can affect gait and attitude, and it can indicate that the horse may have pain in the spine, intervertebral discs, nerve roots, and associated muscles. In addition if she has low-grade bilateral foot pain, such as a mild case of laminitis, this can also lead to body pain from constant guarding and shifting weight off the front feet, grouchy attitude, and reluctance to go forward with the additional weight of a rider. These horses usually don’t have a notable head nod because both front feet hurt equally. At this stage, there are several diagnostic options. You could have her scoped for gastric ulcers, perform a physical and lameness exam, investigate the possibility of foot soreness, and have a rectal examination done with an ultrasound to evaluate her reproductive tract for issues such as retained follicles and endometritis. During this rectal exam, the sciatic nerve roots, sacroiliac joints, and lumbar discs can also be evaluated to determine if she may have deep back pain problems. Hopefully these investigations can lead to some treatment options to help her get through this.

Melissa McKee DVM

Blistering Stifles

I am looking for some information on internal blistering of stifles.

What exactly does the procedure involve? What sorts of problems would this procedure address, how does it work, and what is the expected recovery process and length? What are the risks and benefits? Is this procedure still done often, and on what types of horses?

Internal blistering is performed to help a horse with weak or “loose” stifles. The stifle joint is the four-legged version of the human knee. Although the large quadriceps and hamstring muscles provide some support and initiate normal flexion and extension movements, the joint itself can inherently be a bit unstable especially in immature and growing horses. Part of the stifle stabilizing apparatus involves the patella (kneecap), which has the quadriceps muscle inserting at the top and the three ligaments attached to the bottom. If this muscle and ligament array lacks strength and tone, the patella will be unstable as it slides across the front of the stifle joint. This causes pain, inflammation, and “catching” during the stride. Affected horses often start out quite stiff and sore and frequently trip or knuckle over on the toe. Blistering the stifle involves injecting medical iodine into the patellar ligaments and quadriceps muscle to create an inflammatory reaction. The thickening and contraction of these structures “tightens” them up and stabilizes the patella. Ideally, proper conditioning and maturity will eventually make this procedure unnecessary for a particular horse, although there are some who fail to develop the appropriate muscle tone due to conformation or training and who benefit from the occasional blister procedure throughout their careers. I prefer to take hind end radiographs on any horse with apparent stifle weakness because many are weak in that area from deliberately avoiding hindlimb engagement. This could be due to OCD or some other joint problem. Blistering will temporarily tighten the area but it will not eliminate the underlying problem. I generally like a horse to have lots of turnout and resume light exercise the day after the blister is performed, or they can become tremendously stiff and sore. There is some risk of severe inflammatory reaction if the joint capsule is inadvertently penetrated so I am very careful when injecting and sedate any fidgety individuals. If you have a horse that seems to require frequent blisters to maintain soundness, I would recommend a more detailed lameness examination to find out why he cannot establish and maintain better muscling in that area.

Melissa McKee DVM

Fractured Withers

Six months ago my 3yr old tb mare flipped over. She landed flat on her back had huge amounts of swelling on both sides of her withers.

I put her on stall rest and bute for about 5 days. Without x-rays I realize it is hard to say if she has fractured the vertebrae in her withers, but she is completely sound There is still scar tissue around her withers and they look almost flat but other then that you would never suspect a problem.

I’m curious as to what the potential outcomes could be as far as her having a career. Is backing her an option or is it just going to cause problems. Would breeding be an option?

The withers are formed by the bony upward projections that come from each vertebrae of the spine in that area. These spines, called dorsal spinous processes, are actually present along the entire back but are most prominent in the withers because they provide attachment sites for various muscles of the neck and shoulder. These are easily fractured if a horse flips over backwards and lands on them. Sometimes the injury is of a crushing nature, where the bone literally smushes in on itself like train cars, and at other times a section of several adjacent spines break at the same level and fold over to one side. While initially very painful, most of these cases heal surprisingly well and the horse can have a very comfortable future as a pasture pet, broodmare, or driving horse. Breaking them to saddle, however, can be a little trickier. It can be very difficult to find a saddle that sits comfortably over the old injury, particularly if the withers have done a sideways fold. Sometimes you just have to try it to find out, because each injury is fairly unique it can be hard to predict how it will affect the horse when weight is applied. I think if you want to attempt to put a saddle on her, I would ask your vet to take some x-rays first. It may be such a mess that you instinctively know it’s just not worth a try, but you may also discover that it isn’t as bad as you thought, or that she is a good candidate for surgical removal of the damaged section.

Melissa McKee DVM