I REMEMBER CLEARLY the day my beautiful palomino Lacey refused to let me pick up her left front hoof to be cleaned. The sky was bright blue and I basked under the warmth of last summer’s sun as I tied her to the side of my horse trailer to brush her body, mane and tail before cleaning her hoofs.
All went well until I leaned over to pick up her left front hoof to clean it. Her refusal to let me lift it off the ground even slightly took me by surprise. She responded favorably when I asked her to take a step forward, then back a step, and even to the side, but when I slide my hand down her pastern to the fetlock and cued her to lift her hoof up for me she ignored me, pinned her ears back and she kept that hoof firmly planted on the ground.
For a number of years I knew Lacey, now age 30 and a former champion barrel racer and games horse, had osteoarthritis in her front knees, but, since she’s always willingly let me lift them to clean and trim them — and that day she let me lift, clean and trim her right hoof — it didn’t occur to me her arthritis was so painful she wouldn’t allow me to lift it even a few inches off the ground.
I wondered if she’d injured the leg somehow, or perhaps had a hoof abscess (one of the most common causes of suddenly lameness). When bacteria become trapped inside between the lamina and the hoof wall it causes an infection, creating pockets of pus and an abscess is formed. This builds up pressure behind the hoof wall, or sole, that creates an exorbitant amount of pain to the horse.
Long story short: Her refusal to let me lift the left hoof was and is because the osteoarthritis in her right knee is so severe it’s become weak and extremely painful for her to stand on when it’s the only weight-bearing front leg. Thus, it’s been increasing more difficult to find ways for her to be comfortable enough for me work on both her front hooves.
Incidentally, the osteoarthritis in my right knee has also disintegrated my knee joint to the point it’s bone rubbing against bone, and past the point of joint fluid therapy and/or cortisteroid injections helping to relieve my pain, too. At a recent visit with an orthopedic specialist, the surgeon suggested I prepare myself for total knee replacement surgery. That’s not an option I can afford to do for Lacey.
Non- steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) are the most common anti-inflammatory medications suggested to take to help relieve degenerative joint pain and inflammation.
I put Lacey on a daily low-dose of the NSAID phenylbutazone (bute), upping the dosage on days I’m going to work on her hooves. I also take a doctor prescribed extra strength NSAID myself in the form of Ibuprofen to help lessen my body’s aches and pains caused by Multiple Sclerosis and osteoarthritis in my joints. While NSAIDs have provided some relief to Lacey and myself, our knees are still in pain and we both walk in a way as to avoid putting our full weight on our weaker sides.
In the meantime, I’ve Googled ways and methods to trim the hooves on a senior horse with severe arthritis. The latest method I tried on Lacey sounded promising: take a 2 by 6 by 10-feet board and stand the hoof on it, allowing a side to hang over the edge, allowing enough overhang to slide a rasp under to remove excess hoof. Lacey would only stand on it a few seconds at a time. My hope is through time she’ll get used to it and stand longer.
I discussed the problem with my friend, neighbor and veterinarian Linda Allen, owner of Pacific Northwest Veterinary Hospital. When she opened her practice in 1999 she was my dogs and horse’s veterinarian. As her practice expanded she decided to focus on small animal practice, but she maintains a pulse on horse medications and methods as a multi-horse owner — and competitor — herself.
“I think whatever we can do to provide comfort for our animals, within reason, we do,” said Allen, who’s currently caring for her son’s senior, arthritic horse, Debbie, as well as three other horses at home. “I think I’m preaching to the choir here in telling you, with all your body’s got going on, but, just like in human medicine, you’ll want to use a multi-modality to manage chronic pain, and that involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. You know, joint supplements and active, non-traditional therapies like acupuncture.”
She recently incorporated acupuncture in her practice, mainly in small animals.
She suggested hand walking Lacey on level ground daily to help lubricate the joints, as well as long impact stretches and gentle massages.
She brought up trying a topical get with 1% Diclofenac Sodium for relatively instant short term pain relief. Sold under the brand name SURPASS for horses. For human use its sold over the counter as Voltaren Gel.
She mentioned helping Debbie’s muscle and joints stay warmer by wrapping them with bandages during the cold weather, as well as wearing a good, waterproof winter blanket for senior horses.
I am going to start blanketing Lacey at night during freezing temperatures. This last time I trimmed Lacey, I put neoprene horse sport boots on her front legs to help warm the muscles in her lower legs and to provide suspensory support to the region. Allen said I could keep them on her 24/7 if it helped Lacey, as long asl I removed them, and the blanket, daily to make sure no problems were brewing underneath.
She brought up what works for my horse may not work on others and encouraged me to just keep trying different things to see what helps, in what my budget allows.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.