VET TRENDS: Mys­te­ri­ous Foot In­juries

Fi­nally, the two-time Heel Horse of the Year is healed. A vet weighs in.

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When Rey Shines on Top came up sore last year, it couldn’t have come at a worse time—just two days be­fore the two-time Heel Horse of the Year was to step on a trailer to Las Ve­gas for the 2016 Wran­gler NFR.

Elite rodeo hands in Ari­zona (where the Mi­nors pre­pare for the NFR) pre­fer Gary Kauffman, DVM, so Mi­nor im­me­di­ately sent the horse to Dr. Kauffman to try to fig­ure out why he felt “off.” A sub­tle in­jury like Rey’s can be so dif­fi­cult to di­ag­nose that it’s a good time to pick the brain of one of to­day’s top vets on pro­to­col.

A horse in this kind of ex­am­ple has no swelling, not much heat and doesn’t flinch to the touch any­where. Noth­ing ob­vi­ous, in other words. Your vet doesn’t have much to work with, so con­sider throw­ing a sad­dle in the trailer so the horse can be eval­u­ated while be­ing rid­den, and ask the vet to eval­u­ate him on both hard and soft sur­faces. Your vet should also be able to de­ter­mine which limb or limbs are in­volved, keep­ing in mind the prob­lem could be bi­lat­eral in front or back.

Hoof-test­ing ob­vi­ously needs to be done prior to di­ag­nos­tic nerve block­ing. How­ever, Dr. Kauffman warns that a re­cent Bri­tish study found hoof-testers to only be 30 per­cent re­li­able. He be­lieves that to be true, al­though they tend to help you dis­cover an ab­scess or sore spot on the sole.

“Still, the level of rodeo horses that we deal with are so stoic, many will even have an ab­scess and not re­ally flinch,” he warned.

At this point, you can lo­cate pain with nerve blocks start­ing at the heel (de­pend­ing on how the lame­ness presents) and work­ing up to mid-pastern, then an­kle, then just be­low the knee to catch sus­pen­sory liga­ment and in­fe­rior check liga­ment ar­eas. Keep in mind that a shoul­der in­jury can muddy the wa­ters, but a horse will ap­pear less sore weight­bear­ing than he will be tardy bring­ing his foot for­ward in that case.

With Rey, the source of pain was lo­cated in a front foot. Un­for­tu­nately, that was all the in­for­ma­tion the horse would give them. When ra­dio­graphs are clean and there’s no other out­ward signs, only an MRI can re­veal a bruise or tear in the foot. How­ever, that costs around $2,000, so it’s gen­er­ally a last re­sort.

“He went sound with Soft Rides and Bute, so it seemed like a bruise,” Mi­nor said.

Rey went to Las Ve­gas on an­ti­in­flam­ma­to­ries. How­ever, when Dr. Kauffman talked to Mi­nor by phone af­ter the Satur­day night per­for­mance, he was told Rey was still sore.

“I said, ‘Let’s just do a stand­ing MRI, with no anes­the­sia, but we need to know what’s go­ing on,’” said Dr. Kauffman. “We’d gone too long with­out find­ing out. I ar­ranged an MRI here in Phoenix, I think on Tues­day morn­ing.”

But the prospect of send­ing your good horse on a 10-hour roundtrip for an MRI a few nights into the NFR is not a great one. In­stead, a vet­eri­nar­ian on-site in Las Ve­gas ad­min­is­tered pain-re­liev­ing and anti-in­flam­ma­tory med­i­ca­tions. Mi­nor was dev­as­tated when, by Round Five, Rey be­came very lame. He was forced to bor­row a horse.

A late-De­cem­ber MRI showed slight fray­ing of a liga­ment in Rey’s foot. Fi­nally, af­ter four full months off, Rey was sound and Mi­nor sent him to a race­track re­hab fa­cil­ity near Seattle for hy­drother­apy for five weeks. He be­gan rid­ing him in early June, but opted to let Rey wait out the first 10-day run of sum­mer, in­clud­ing Reno.

That was a smart strat­egy. Dr. Kauffman rec­om­mends 45 to 60 days of rid­ing be­fore a healed-up per­for­mance horse is put back into com­pe­ti­tion. He knows bet­ter than most that an in­jury to a good horse is al­ways a blow, but to some­one rop­ing for a liv­ing, it’s dev­as­tat­ing. That guy’s only op­tion is to bor­row a horse or try to get by on the one that’s com­pro­mised.

“The ter­ri­ble tim­ing was cer­tainly part of the big pic­ture with Brady,” said Dr. Kauffman. “He wasn’t about to hurt that horse, even if it meant he couldn’t fin­ish the NFR. That’s some­thing I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated on my end. He’s a true horse­man in ev­ery sense of the word.”

PRCA PHOTO BY HUBBELL RODEO PHO­TOS

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