Forest for the Trees
“Poor Angel! Nothing is stopping his stifle from locking up!” Angel is a six year old TB gelding. He’s so sweet and behaves so well, his mom calls him Angel.
He keeps getting agonizing stifle-locking episodes, for almost eight months.
He’s been stalled at times. Other times hand-walked. Then groundpole worked…and none of it helps.
Angel will just be standing there quietly. Then he tries to move and bam! Locked and he can’t bend his left stifle at all. He’s so good about it, but you can see he’s trying to control his panic.
Multiple vets have done all the usual things. Radiographs (xrays), ultrasounds, injections, medications. Nothing is working.
What’s the solution?
If one stops staring at the left stifle “the tree”, and just take look at his entire body “the forest”…you can see hind end muscle asymmetry.
There’s much less muscle in the right hind.
Wait, what? Yes, the opposite leg. Stifle locking is only happening in the left hind, but significant muscle weakness (atrophy) is seen in the right hind.
What is going on?
Angel’s right hind had the primary problem. It turned out to be the hip and pelvic symphysis. These issues made the right hind painful for him. So he used it less.
The left hind was used more to compensate for the painful right hind.
In Angel’s case, this overused his stifle. Yes, the stifle was misaligned and needed help. But the cause was the right leg.
As a vet, I can tell you that vets are taught to treat the painful part. Which is fine, that’s what we do.
But for you, the owner or therapist, may I suggest you look at the entire forest?
Vets will focus well on the individual “tree” (In Angel’s case, the left stifle), but may neglect to look at the entire horse from all perspectives.
Not every vet, of course. And to be fair, it’s hard to step back and look elsewhere when there’s a stuck, swollen, painful “tree” right in front of you.
But you can do it. Keep an eye on the entire forest of your beautiful horse. You’re looking for symmetry everywhere. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but reasonably matched.
Feel free to send us your (a)symmetry photos, if you’d like to share. :)
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