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Doc's Decision

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Doc's Life or Death Decision
A Rehab with a deadline

Doc is a 20-year-old Quarter Horse gelding who has had three careers: on the track until he was 7 or 8, competing in the jumper ring and in eventing, and then working as a school horse, teaching kids and adults to ride and jump. I met him in August 2006 when I moved my horses to the barn where he lived and worked in a busy lesson program. At that time his health history included chronic stiffness, a tendency to girthiness, early ringbone in both forefeet (without lameness), an intermittant "hitch" behind and presence of a clicking noise that seemed to come from his hind end. I gave him regular massages and did kinetic groundwork with him as part of his health program until December 2007, and he was always very interesting to work with.

My observational notes from that time describe a very upright and stiff horse habitually in a head-high, hollow-backed postural pattern with an overall lack of suppleness in the spine. He was chronically tight in the nuchal ligament, always needing work to stretch from withers to poll, and had a tendency to appear out of alignment at C-3/C-4. He was a shallow breather with the corresponding tightness in the intercostal muscles, impeding his ability to bend through the ribcage or lift his back easily. And he had a chronic roached area just in front of the lumbro-sacral joint, with pronounced lack of swing in the hips, what I think of a lack of movement at the waistline.

In August 2007 he lacerated his croup, just behind the lumbro-sacral joint, and after that healed I focused on keeping the area moving to reduce the effects of the associated scar tissue. Two months later he was diagnosed with Cushing's Syndrome, with the predominant symptom being a tendency to narcolepsy, going to sleep on his feet and falling down (the suspected cause of his earlier injury). His hind legs are chronically enlarged due to a past habit of kicking the fence of his pen and two bouts of cellulitis. And he has a history of skin issues -- scurfy legs and a chronically crusty "sunburned" nose. He had a suspected systemic reaction to a hock injection in fall 2008 and was off for months. Though he went back to light work, he just didn't seem to be fully recovering from that episode and by spring he had intermittant lameness in the hindquarters and the left fore and was no longer considered rideable.

This pattern of deterioration led his owner, in consult with her veterinarian, to decided perhaps the most kind thing to do for Doc was put him down. The problem was, Doc didn't seem like a horse who was ready to go. He has an incredible work ethic and is a very affectionate guy, who tends to bond closely with the people who spend time with him. He really never looks happier than when he is working, carrying a rider around the ring or over small jumps.

After a few sleepless nights and a lot of angst, Doc's owner asked me what I thought. I watched him move -- so lame behind that you couldn't even evaluate his front end. Pelvis obviously not straight. Completely unable to cross over behind either direction. I took him in hand to get a feel for what was going on in his body, and even after more than a year he seemed to remember the basics of the groundwork. He was stiff as always in the neck and shoulder, but made a good effort to release at the throatlatch and poll, to bend and rock back into that unstable hind end. The one thing that encouraged me was that when I asked him to lift his back and move forward, he was noticeably more free in the shoulders and really trying to step evenly behind.

I felt that with some really focused soft-tissue work, a good chiropractic adjustment and the right kind of physical therapy, his movement issues could improve. My bigger concern was the systemic issues. His owner and her vet had discussed decreased liver function indicated by his chronic skin issues. And she had the feeling that his immune system probably wasn't working efficiently and likely hasn't been for some time. I agreed with that assessment and we decided if he is to have another chance, it made sense to put him on a course of herbs to help detox and support his liver and to boost his immune system.

Instead of just doing book research on the herbs and picking what makes sense to us based on what we think Doc's physical problems are, we decided to muscle test so his body could tell us what it needed.
Here's what he chose:

Milk Thistle - liver
Comfrey - anti-inflammatory
Burdock - skin
Yellow Dock - skin
Red Clover - tonic
Licorice Root - liver
Echinacea - immune system
Peppermint - digestive

He also confirmed that his body wanted several of the horse supplements he had been receiving:

MyBeau (a vitamin/mineral supplement)
Vitamin E
Ester C
Glucosamine/Chondroitin joint supplement
He also muscle tested negative for the Yarrow that had been previously given to help with swelling in his legs. He had already expressed this preference by refusing to eat his grain and supplement mix when yarrow was in it. (He also made it very clear that he preferred his supplements in plain rolled barley instead of an extruded senior feed, again by refusing to eat the latter and gobbling up the former.)

(Read more about herbs for horses' health in the article For Your Horse's Health: Detox and Tonic)

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