MY HEART SANG with joy when I stopped by the Quarter Moon Ranch game show in Carlsborg last weekend and saw Tanya Hull’s 4-year-old son Levi taking part in the competition.
It was summer of 2002 the first time I saw Hull ride.
It was a game show held at Marie Dickenson’s former home in Carlsborg.
Hull stood out because she, riding her then-young horse Pete, completed a pole bending pattern hands-free without a bridle.
The two went on to win many championships in gaming events.
Pete is retired now but still loves to show, so it was very sweet to see Hull’s little boy learning patterned speed horse events on Pete.
I should note that Levi’s 6-year-old cousin Colton was also there riding Pete and loving it.
While seeing Pete and Levi together was heartwarming, the news I received about Indy a couple of weeks ago was heart-wrenching.
“You now have a retired pasture horse,” said Sound Equine Veterinarian Hospital’s Dr. Claire Smith after performing a full lameness exam on my beloved horse Indy.
Through the years, I’ve shared many stories in Horseplay about Indy and his mother, Lacey, since they entered my life in 2002 when he was just a 4-month-old foal.
He’s 15 now, the age his mother was when she and my niece, Brooke Stromberg, then 15, too, won state championship titles in barrel racing in both Washington State High School Equestrian Team and Patterned Speed Horse Association competitions.
Indy showed a lot of talent in barrel racing at a very young age, so we had high hopes for him to attain championship titles, too.
Alas, my niece stopped riding and Indy became my trail horse.
Nevertheless, through the years I still silently hoped my niece would want to ride again and Indy would become her winning horse.
Now, however, my hopes have been completely quashed with Smith’s shocking news.
The short story is leading up to that moment, he might have had a slight fracture in the bone, possibly caused by an accident. The problem occurred about nine years ago.
That’s when someone I know (I’m not revealing the name) opened a pasture gate and then didn’t close it after passing through.
Indy got out, crossed the street to eat the grass in a neighbor’s yard and on his return got hit by a car.
Thankfully, we lived at the end of a dead-end street, so the car was traveling at a slow speed.
At the time, Indy showed no sign of injury.
It took a few years, in fact, before he started limping occasionally, and only when I rode him.
After a day of rest, he’d be fine.
Recently, Indy started lifting his front left knee high and tipping his toe at an unusual angle when he walked, so I made an appointment with Smith.
She was recommended by my friend Lisa Parrish for reasons that included her carrying a radiograph, or an X-ray machine, with her on the truck.
Thus she’s able to take an image and see right away if there is damage, and if so, talk to me about treatment right then and there.
It was two weeks before Smith could see Indy.
During that time, his limping became much more pronounced and I could tell he was in a lot of pain.
When Smith met Indy, right away she saw the ringbone on his pastern joint.
The pastern joint is a small joint that doesn’t move very much but carries a lot of weight.
It is located between the top of the hoof and the fetlock.
She then followed though with a complete lameness exam, including injecting drugs into the region to temporarily block or deaden the nerves so he wouldn’t feel the pain.
After it took effect, Indy was able to trot out in front of her without limping.
Then, she took a few images of the joint, which confirmed her suspicion: ringbone.
Ringbone is exostosis (bone growth) in the pastern or coffin joint of a horse.
In severe cases, the growth can encircle the bones, giving ringbone its name.
She likened it to severe arthritis, or a degenerative disorder that has no cure.
He’s also quite stiff in his hind end, which could be caused by his not wanting to walk much because of the pain.
As the disease advances, it can spread into the joint, causing severe cartilage deterioration and joint collapse, ending in full fusion of the joint.
During the process, the horse is severely lame. Sometimes the lameness can become so severe that the quality of life for the horse is very poor and humane euthanasia is chosen.
As I’ve since learned, dealing with ringbone is not a single treatment but rather a whole management scheme that is lifelong for the horse.
Everything is aimed at decreasing the inflammation in the joint and saving the cartilage surface.
Indy’s degeneration is severe, so Smith left me with two options to consider that can fuse the pastern joint, which in the long term could provide relief from pain and quite possibly allow Indy to be ridden again.
Her first option (and the one she preferred) is called ethyl alcohol for pastern joint fusion.
It involves two to five injections (at a cost of $350 to $450 each if I travel to Sound Equine’s hospital) of pure alcohol using a live-action radiograph of a pastern joint to help guide the needle to an exact location to inject.
The alcohol speeds up the joint degeneration process. Once destroyed, the joints can begin fusing together.
However, if the wrong area is injected, it will destroy healthy nerves and tissue from which Indy likely wouldn’t recover.
If successful, it could take up to a year before he could be ridden, and then ridden only for light work.
Her second option was surgery to ream out, or drill away, the inflamed, diseased part and fuse the joint using lag screws and metal plates to hold the joints in place while it heals and fuses together.
Once the motion stops, the pain stops, and it has a relatively high success rate of 60 percent to 80 percent.
Those horses can go back to full work.
It’s expensive (it usually costs about $5,000 for the surgery), and he’d need complete stall rest for six months to a year, so it’s not a fast procedure.
And, she said, he’d be in a lot of pain during that year.
There is a third option. That is to euthanize him and put him out of his pain now.
I ruled out surgery. I have a limited income, so it would go into much credit card debt (and there is always much more cost to helping the horse heal post surgery), plus I myself have limited energy due to living with my own disease (multiple sclerosis), and I’m a full-time caregiver for my mother, who has old-timer’s disease.
Frankly, all things considered, I am not up to the task, nor do I want to have Indy living in great pain that long.
He is in a lot of pain now, and each treatment option will take a long time before he might be out of pain, so I’m taking more time to think this through.
• Patterned Speed Horse game show — Today at 9 a.m. at Crosbys arena, 122 Franson Road in Agnew.
Contact Pam Crosby at 360-670-3906 for more information.
• Back Country Horsemen Peninsula Chapter Dan Kelly trail ride — Saturday. Rideout is at 10 a.m.
Take state Highway 112 to Dan Kelly Road.
The trailhead is on the left.
• Silver Spurs 4-H horse show — Saturday, June 24, at 9 a.m. at the Clallam County Fairgrounds.
Contact LaDona Wilson at 360-461-0809 for more information.
• Patterned Speed Horse game show — June 24-25 at 9:30 a.m. at Quarter Moon Ranch, 383 Runnion Road in Carlsborg.
Contact Waynora Martin at 360-683-6902 for more information.
• Joe Wolter Clinic — Aug. 11-13 at Freedom Farm, 493 Spring Road in Agnew.
For more information, call Mary Gallagher at 360-457-4897 or go to www.freedom-farm.net.
• Ride the Hill — Aug. 25-27 at Layton Hill Horse Camp, 2514 Chicken Coop Road in Sequim.
Register by Aug. 10.
For more information, contact Anna Sage Neal at 425-737-7404 or [email protected]
For general camping information, call Judy Sage at 360-775-6500.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also write Griffiths at PDN, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.