When the Wheels Finally Fall Off

After Quinn’s SI injection we were instructed to give him five days off and then start tack walking for a week. If that went okay, slowly add trot the following week and then if that went okay, try to canter the third week. Given that the last time this horse was under saddle was May 2018 and culminated in me cartwheeling off his back during one of his explosions and tearing a bunch of ligaments in my ankle, we were apprehensive about this. Don’t get me wrong, Quinn is not a naughty horse and there’s not a malicious bone in his body but the pain he had been living with made him unpredictable under saddle and I had suffered the consequences of that unpredictablity more than once.

The first day was pretty uneventful. My barn manager volunteered to be the test pilot, so I led her around on Quinn for about 15 minutes. For his part, Quinn seemed a little nervous at first but by the end had settled in. No drama.

Day two did not go like that. By the time I got to the barn after work, clouds were starting to roll in so we tacked up in a hurry to try and get done before the rain started. We set off to the arena to mount and after walking the approximately 5-10 steps from the cross ties to the barn door I suddenly felt Quinn jerk upwards and my barn manager go “uh oh”. The next 30 seconds unfolded in slow motion. Without looking back, I stepped sideways in case Q was on his hind legs and then pivoted to face him. He was not on his hindlegs but instead leaping straight up in the air, all four legs off the ground. It was like his legs were made of pogo sticks. He would come down and go straight back up, in place. My brain couldn’t process what it was seeing, I just kept thinking “how is he dong that?” as I shifted from one side of him to the other trying to calm him down. He finally bolted forward and I had to let him go.

There’s a variety of feelings one feels as they watch their horse gallop away from them. Fear. Anger. Frustration. Worry. Confusion. I can only say that these feelings are multiplied exponentially when you’ve very recently invested a large sum of money into veterinary work on said horse. We trailed behind as Q took a hot lap around the pastures, pausing briefly to say hello to his turnout buddy before blasting off again and taking off down the hill towards the other barns. We finally caught up to him when he stopped on the other side of the property where the trailers are parked. He managed not to break the reins that had come over his head and had briefly gotten caught around one foot before he freed himself.

There’s a valley on the road back up to Quinn’s barn where you’re briefly not visible from the barn and arena up the hill. I stopped there while leading Quinn back and cried. The adrenaline and all of my hopes and dreams of him getting better came crashing down. I felt the full impact of my fear for the first time. Fear that he wouldn’t recover. Fear that I had made a huge mistake. Fear that I was inadequate to help him. Fear of Quinn himself.

Quinn pressed his nose into my arm, ears twitching forward and back, wondering what we were doing. Mr. Hyde had dissipated, leaving just my sweet, mild mannered gelding. I dried my face on my shirt and continued up the hill.

We later determined that what must have happened was that in our haste to tack up, the girth must have pinched him when walked off from the crossties. Regardless, he was lamer the following day than he had been when we took him to Rood and Riddle. I called and explained what had happened to the vet and was told to give him Bute for 3 days and then start again. If he didn’t improve we would have to bring him back.

The Bute made him sound but after tapering off he was the same as he’d been before the injection. I called the vet again. Equioxx, he said. We could do a 60 day course to get him through the beginning of the rehab and then reevaluate. Equioxx made no change.

At this point we were a month out from the injection. I called the vet again to update and see if he had any other ideas. This time he called me back directly instead of communicating through his assistant. I knew when I heard his voice on the other end of the phone that we had reached the end. We ran through the events of the last month and all of the diagnostics and treatments we had already done.

“You’ve done everything.” he said “We could maybe try to repeat some things, but you’ve done everything already. It would be wiser for you to invest your money in a different horse.” He apologized that there wasn’t anything else to do and I thanked him and hung up the phone.

In a way, hearing that I had done everything was a relief. I had given him the very best shot. I had done all of things available to me to help him. Left no stone unturned. But hearing this also meant I had reached the end of the road. I had known in the back of my mind that if we reached this point without success it would mean I would have to euthanize. I could not realistically financially support an unsound horse and a second one to ride. I would not allow him to become someone else’s problem.

It was just before the start of Labor Day weekend when I had this phone call. I decided I would wait until after the holiday to call my vet to make arrangements. I emailed the Secretariat Center, where I had adopted Q, to update them and inform them of my decision. I let my barn manager know what I had decided.

Through the weekend I vacillated from being completely calm to totally hysterical at the idea of putting Quinn down. In my head, it was the right thing to do. Though I could reason that he was pasture sound, he was mildly uncomfortable at best, potentially in greater pain than we thought at worst. He was not rideable and likely never would be. I had already spent an exorbitant amount of money trying to get him sound in addition to not being able to ride consistently for nearly two years.

My heart on the other hand screamed that yes, he might be uncomfortable but he was still bright and lively, playing with his pasture mate and mugging for treats from passers by when in his stall. He still met me at the gate every time and had dutifully tried his best throughout the rehab trials over the last several months, never becoming sour or sullen.

By the time Tuesday came I knew I couldn’t do it.

Thankfully, the farm where we board had just opened an adjacent property (literally across the street) for retirees/layups. Kismet. My husband and I agreed that as long as he remained seeming comfortable enough that we would stash him there until hopefully someday we’re able to buy our own little farm where he can come home.

So far, it seems like the best thing we’ve done for him yet. He’s out 24/7 (except for really bad weather) in a big pasture with two other OTTBs, one of whom is actually his very first pasture mate from when I brought him home. They all came down to the fence for a visit when I stopped by over the weekend and Quinn immediately dropped his head into my chest and I knew I’d made the right choice. I’m heartbroken that his career has ended but I can’t imagine not having him in my life.

An Answer

Quinn has had an on and off lameness for a bit over a year now. His most consistent symptoms were being off in the hind end RH>LH, inability to hold either canter lead, and an odd stance when standing in his stall where he would alternate putting all of his weight onto one hind leg while resting the other way out to the side of his body. We would also have periodic bouts of explosions where he would buck, kick out and bolt when working for no apparent reason. The severity of all of these symptoms would range wildly from barely visible to clearly off but have never gotten completely better. While he doesn’t look very off in the video above all together, if you isolate the right hind and watch closely how it moves you can see that it doesn’t have the same range of motion that the left hind does. He doesn’t flex or extend the leg completely and the foot kind of paddles towards the outside of his body rather than following in the tracks of his front feet. Don’t worry if you didn’t see it, last year I could tell something was wrong with the way his hind legs moved but it took a long time to understand what I was seeing (a surgeon touted as one of the best lameness vets in the country also couldn’t see it when he looked at Quinn two months ago but that’s another story).

When this first started I did a lot of research and was pretty sure we were dealing with a proximal suspensory injury (what Q was eventually diagnosed with last year) or some sort of SI issue or maybe both. Every body worker commented that Q was sore in his SI area and a lot of people I mentioned it to (including Mr Best in the Country mentioned above) dismissed it as just something “people say because there’s no way to prove it”. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s legit.

The vet we saw yesterday (who I am absolutely convinced is actually one of the best in the country if not the world) watched my horse jog once, did a quick neuro check and then took two fingers and pressed down over Qs SI region and about dropped him to the ground. Bingo. We did some blocks to the right hind just to be completely sure there wasn’t any issue there since that’s the leg we’ve seen the issue manifest the most and once we determined there wasn’t, made the decision to inject both SI joints with a steroid cocktail. Because this has been going on for so long now and we don’t know what the extent of the original injury was (and the ability to image this area of the body is woefully inadequate), there’s no guarantee that this will work or if it does for how long. It’s possible this is the only time we’ll ever have to do it and it’s possible in a couple months he could deteriorate again. We should know pretty quickly if there’s any effect at all.

I’m frustrated that it took so long for someone to take me seriously but I’m thankful to finally have a definitive answer so I can make appropriate decisions. I’m grateful that even though this process has been soul crushing that I’ve gained the knowledge to be able to properly advocate for my animal if I’m ever in this situation again. I believed in this horse from the moment I laid eyes on him, he’s changed me for the better, and whatever these next few weeks bring I’m grateful for the time he’s been in my life and hopeful that we’ll get to continue our journey.