From Endurance to Dressage
A week or so ago I wrote about Izzy's dramatically changing coat color. In that post I posited that he might have the cream dilution gene. Several people wrote to me privately expressing their doubts about that theory. Instead of a genetic cause, it was suggested, and not for the first time, that Izzy might have some mineral deficiencies, specifically copper and zinc. So it seems that there are three possible explanations.
First, it just might be how he is. He's dark in the winter and fades in the summer. Gray horses undergo coat color changes all the time. What do they say about Occam's razor? The simplest explanation is most likely the right one. But not always.
Second, he might have the cream dilution gene. In Izzy's pedigree, neither the Thoroughbred side nor the Oldenburg/Anglo-Arabian side recognize the color "buckskin." Instead, the Jockey Club recognizes Thoroughbreds as being either bay, black, chestnut, dark bay/brown, gray/roan, palomino (which carries two copies of the cream gene) or white. The Oldenburg Registry of North America recognizes brown, black, chestnut, gray, and bay horses. My research, limited as it was, says that on a black or dark bay/brown horse, the cream dilution gene can produce a buckskin, a sooty black, or simply a lighter brown horse with black points. In other words, without a genetic test, you can't tell just by "looking."
That leaves the third option; Izzy might have a copper and zinc deficiency. Again, my research consisted of skimming articles found by doing a Google search. What I saw was that zinc deficiencies are rare. Over consumption on the other hand can decrease copper absorption. Some of the processes that copper is required for are energy production, iron metabolism, connective tissue formation, central nervous system function, and melanin production. Coat color is determined by the presence and proportion of melanin pigments.
Most of the articles I read warned against supplementing just with copper and zinc as that combination can negatively interact with other minerals in the body. Instead, it was recommended that horses with suspected copper and zinc deficiencies be fed a commercially fortified feed or a good mineral supplement. I've done both (Platinum Performance and Horse Guard) over the years for long stretches of time, but Izzy's coat still changes colors. He either doesn't have a zinc and copper deficiency, or, the supplements weren't enough to overcome the deficiency.
I am not worried about a copper and zinc deficiency, and it doesn't matter whether Izzy does or doesn't have the cream dilution gene, but I decided to find out for sure. UC Davis has a Veterinary Genetics Lab that is "open" to the public. They offer a long list of genetic tests, most of which seemed quite cheap. You can check for just about anything. For $25, I will know definitively if Izzy has the cream dilution gene or not.
Earlier this week, I pulled the requisite mane hairs, ensuring that the root bulbs were attached. I taped them to the form as directed and dropped the whole thing in Monday's mail. The results should be back in a week or two. Either way, I know I should put both horses back on the Horse Guard Vitamin and Mineral Supplement. It won't hurt, and it probably helps their overall health.
Every time I try to keep things simple, I add in yet another thing.
Not necessarily the one that I wanted, but at least it's definitive. I have a lot I need to say, but for today, here are the basics.
Speedy and I went to a show in June where we earned the last score we needed to earn a Bronze Medal. We went to a show in July where we showed great improvement in our scores. My husband and I went out of town for a few days, and it was really hot, so Speedy got a week off.
When I rode him the Saturday after the show, he felt great, but by Monday, he presented as lame on what felt like both hind legs. I quickly realized his hamstrings were quite sore so I had the chiropractor do some work. My chiropractor suggested I take Speedy in for hock injections as that was from where the pain was originating. My vet and I discussed it, and we decided to pass on x-rays since we were going to do Speedy's hocks either way.
I followed my chiropractor's and Dr. Tolley's instructions to the letter. I took Speedy for a slow walk around the neighborhood on Saturday, and on Sunday we did an easy stretchy ride where I focused on asking Speedy to be light and soft. On Thursday, a week after the body work and hock injections, Speedy was lame again. We decided to give him Previcox (for dogs, the equine version is Equioxx, but it's what we had) for a few days to see if that helped. In the meantime, I called my chiropractor to ask for his advice who thought it must be soft tissue. My vet agreed and referred me to Alamo Pintado, a premier equine medical center on the coast, for a more thorough diagnosis. I scheduled an appointment for yesterday.
I've taken horses to Alamo Pintado several times and have to say, this is a top-notch facility. But equally important is the professionalism and friendliness of the staff. I don't think it matters if you're a first time client or one that's been around for 20 years; you are treated with respect and compassion. Dr. Mark Rick was wonderful; he was thorough in his explanations as he described each procedure, he was patient, and he acted as though he had all day to spend with Speedy and me.
Dr. Rick immediately agreed that it was the left hind, so he started out by "blocking" the left ankle. For those who might not be familiar with this procedure, the vet injects an anesthesia into a low point of the leg with the purpose of numbing the area. After a five to ten minute wait, the horse is jogged off. If he comes up sound, the vet knows from where the pain is originating. If the horse trots off lame, which Speedy did, the vet knows the injured or diseased spot is higher up on the horse, so he repeats the injection at the next spot. In Speedy's case, the vet suspected a high suspensory injury, so he gave Speedy a pretty heavy dose expecting him to trot off sound.
Combined with anesthetizing the parts of the limb, Dr. Rick did lots of different flexion tests all in an effort to diagnose Speedy's lameness. After several "nerve blocks" Dr. Rick ruled out a soft tissue injury. Speedy never did trot off sound or even less lame. For each jog, he moved out with the exact degree of lameness, never worse, never better. Dr. Rick was a a little puzzled by what he was seeing, especially given the sudden onset of Speedy's lameness. He decided that x-rays were in order.
Dr. Rick took six pictures, three of each hock. He wanted x-rays of the right hock so that he had something to which to compare. When he was finished, he invited me in to view the images. He had a definitive diagnosis. Speedy's right hock was in great shape. The left on the other hand, was in trouble.
As in my last post about the hocks, the spaces between the joints are as they should be in the right hock. Those spaces are filled with cartilage that cushion the joint during movement. Speedy's left hock doesn't look anything like his right.
The photo above doesn't capture quite the same view as from the photo of the right hock, but you can clearly see the two joints look very different from one another. Dr. Rick's verdict is that Speedy's hock is well on its way to being "fused" meaning bone is filling in the space where cartilage should be. I think Dr. Rick was more surprised by the images than I was. Speedy should have been lame long before now. A "fusing" joint is painful, and Speedy hasn't been lame on a hind foot ever.
Dr. Rick was quick to point out that injecting Speedy's hocks with a steroid was not a bad decision. Had Dr. Tolley done x-rays, we probably would have still injected the hocks in the hope of helping him feel better. In Speedy's case however, the steroid might have actually done more harm than good. According to Dr. Rick, the steroid might have reduced the inflammation as intended, but then it may well have destroyed the last bit of cartilage left. In many ways he felt this was a good thing.
There are several treatments available to "hasten" the degeneration of the cartilage so that new bone can fill in the gap, but we opted to just let time and nature run its course. Dr. Rick estimated that it will take three to nine months for the bones to completely fuse, if they ever do. Not all hocks fuse completely. When I asked if Speedy will ever compete at the same level again, he said it was unlikely, but not impossible.
So. For now, Speedy will spend the rest of the summer and the fall hanging out. After that, we will see if he becomes sound or not. I have more to say, but I'll leave all that for tomorrow.
Four of them to be precise, and all of them in the hocks. I've had Izzy's hocks injected twice (here and here), and even though I geek out on Dr. Tolley's "lessons," I learned all kinds of new stuff for this round. Maybe I just asked better questions this time. After Speedy's bodywork on Monday, the chiropractor felt like Speedy could use some pharmaceutical support, and my vet agreed.
When we pulled into Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital thirty minutes ahead of schedule, Dr. Tolley was already out there ready to greet us. While his "guys" finished with another horse, Dr. Tolley and I walked over to the scale. Before Speedy got on, Dr. Tolley stated that no matter what the scale read, Speedy's condition looked perfect to him. I agreed. Speedy clocked in at a reasonable 966 pounds. He's weighed as much as 1,000, but he looks good at this weight.
Given that Speedy has been a patient for thirteen years, both Dr. Tolley and I were well aware that hock injections might not be so easy. It took four of us, but we got the job done without much of a fuss, thankfully. Rudy did the prep work, Kathryn helped load syringes and worked the twitch (after Speedy had been tranquilized/sedated AND given a local anesthetic), Dr. Tolley did the injections, and I let Speedy know that it was all going to be okay. It's not like I am some kind of horse whisperer, but there have been many times that I've had to assist before Speedy would let something be done to him - sutures last year comes to mind.
When you think about "injecting a hock," what comes to mind is that big bony knob that sticks out. At least that's what I thought. It turns out that while that is a high motion joint, that's not the part of the hock that needs any help. Instead, it's the two bones stacked below it that form the intertarsal joint which is actually a low motion joint. When a hock fuses, it's these two bones that connect.
For whatever reason, and Dr. Tolley didn't know the why, the tibiotarsal joint, that big knobby joint above my red circles that allows the hock to actually articulate, rarely needs any help. It's the pancake-like bones below it that form the joint that gets painful. In the red circles above, you can see what should be spaces. The blue line shows where and how far in the needle goes. Dr. Tolley drew the line to illustrate what he had done. Like I said; his lectures are awesome. In a horse with arthritis, the gaps between the joints become filled with extra bone. This reduces the space between the bones which has the effect of restricting the amount of fluid that can actually fill in the empty spaces. And of course, once the hock "fuses," there's nowhere for fluid to go which is why you can no longer inject those joints.
The green line in the photo above illustrates where and how deep the needle penetrates on the inside of the joint (proximal?). Again, if the gap has been reduced by arthritis, the fluid can't flow where there are no open spaces. Once Dr. Tolley had finished with all four injections - inside and outside of each leg, he pointed out something quite positive. When he depressed the plunger of the needle, he was met with virtually no resistance. This means that Speedy's joints are well open with plenty of space for the liquid to flow. Of course that would suggest that he probably has little to no arthritis in those joints. Without x-rays, we can't know exactly what his joints look like, but they're more than likely pretty good, especially for a sixteen year old horse.
You might be asking why we didn't do x-rays. Well the simple answer is that it wouldn't have changed anything. X-rays wouldn't have helped Dr. Tolley do the injections. All they would have done is shown the current state of his hocks. Since Speedy hasn't ever had hind end lameness issues, we really didn't need a picture. He either has arthritic changes or he doesn't. All x-rays would have done at this point would be to serve as a reference point for the future.
So if Speedy doesn't have arthritis, why inject the hocks at all? Dr. Tolley is not a fan or prophylactically injecting joints. The injections are steroids after all, and high levels of steroids can cause all sorts of problems. Both Dr. Tolley and my chiropractor felt that with Speedy's current workload, his joints are starting to complain a little bit. Maybe more than a little. Injecting the joints served to reduce the inflammation and pain. Dr. Tolley was quick to point out that every joint responds differently, and that there is no "one" perfect joint drug. If you ask ten different vets which drug they think should be used on hock joints, he said that you'd likely get ten different answers.
Over the past year or so, Dr. Tolley has made the decision to switch to a combination of betamethasone and Adequan. He feels that drug, the betamethasone, is doing a better job of reducing inflammation and pain in this particular joint. In the past, he tended to use Depo-medrol and Adequan (or sometimes hyaluronic acid). That's what he's given Izzy the two times he needed hock injections. I am not a vet, so I am not going to challenge him on which drug is more effective, but I did ask why, and he was happy to explain his reasoning. Works for me.
The day after his bodywork, Speedy's hamstrings already felt much better. When I ran my thumbs down his backside, he got slightly irritated, but the muscles didn't twitch and spasm as they had the day before. Dr. Tolley recommended three days of rest which means I can ride Speedy lightly over the weekend. By Monday, he has the all-clear to return to his regular workload. Of course, I am taking Izzy to a clinic that day, so Speedy will get an extra day of rest. I don't think he'll complain.
Hopefully, this isn't an annual thing, but if it is, it is. Izzy needed it done twice, but now that he's so much more "broke," there's a lot less jackassery, and he feels great. I am really hoping that between the bodywork and hock injections, Speedy's half passes might show some sudden improvement. Either that or we just keep working on it.
Have a great weekend!
Back in February, a hole appeared out of nowhere in Speedy's hind hoof. It was one heck of a magic trick; one day his hoof was whole, the next day there was a hole in in it. Abracadabra.
I poked it, I took a stiff brush to it, and I doused it with Betadine. The next day, it looked nearly the same. I watched it for a few weeks, and then pointed it out to my vet when we were there two weeks later for a routine visit.
I think Dr. Tolley is an amazing vet, but I wish he didn't get quite so excited by all of Speedy's weird ass issues. I am fairly certain that when he sees my name on the schedule, he rubs his hand in glee knowing that I'm bringing in something strange and unusual.
Dr. Tolley whipped out his Dremel and went to work. His initial diagnosis was White Line Disease, but he wanted confirmation from my farrier. Thankfully, Speedy's white line came back clean which meant crisis averted.
Even though there was no sign of White Line Disease, I still treated it with daily swipes of Tea Tree Oil to prevent any issues to his White Line. About two-thirds of the way through March, the hole was looking quite good. It was clean with no sign of infection, and it looked as though it might come off with the next trim.
My farrier was back out for a new trim on Friday, April 3. My fingers were crossed that the hole would be gone after the trim, but Speedy just didn't have quite enough toe to remove. Both horses were a few days past five weeks growth. My horses just can't go longer than six weeks - Speedy's toes grow really fast, and Izzy often starts pulling shoes after the fifth week. For this trim, I had my farrier out a bit early to avoid this week's bad weather.
Given that the hole was at the top of the bottom third of Speedy's hoof wall just two months ago, I am delighted with how quickly the hole is growing out. By his next trim in May, the hole should definitely get trimmed away. It will be a miracle if we have no more hoof issues between now and then.
And Universe? This is not a challenge. We're dealing with enough weird ass crap right now. Ain't nobody got time for something else.
After Dr. Tolley worked on Speedy for so long, I think he was a little worried that Izzy was going to take even longer. Nope. Izzy is actually quite easy to treat. While he's ridiculously worried, he's also more brawn than brain. When over-faced with a a situation that he can't run from, he looks to the humans around him to fix things. In this case, it was Dr. Tolley with a cocktail. After that, Izzy was putty in Dr. Tolley's hands.
Like we did with Speedy, Izzy's first stop was the scale. If you'll remember, we recently spent four days cantering and doing some trail work at a near endurance pace. I noticed that Izzy was looking particularly lean after all that work. The scale supported what my eyes were seeing. A year ago, Izzy weighed a hefty 1,350 pounds. For this visit, he was a much lighter 1,270 pounds. Dr. Tolley wasn't worried. A week or two of lighter rides and a heavier bucket ration will put the weight back on.
Once Izzy's weight was discussed, Dr. Tolley listened to his gut sounds, read the thermometer, and gave him a once over. He couldn't find anything worrisome although he noted a chip in Izzy's hoof. I explained that it was new and was the result of trotting over some rough ground the week before. My farrier came the other, and now, you can barely even see it.
While Dr. Tolley was looking at Izzy's teeth, I had him look at a wound on Izzy's lip that has been healing and breaking back open for several months. At first, I assumed he'd bitten himself because there was a matching wound on the bottom lip. Both slowly closed over, and it didn't seem to bother Izzy. It took longer to heal that I thought it should, but I left it to heal on its own.
Eventually, the bottom wound healed and disappeared completely. The one on his upper lip came back though. I was slightly worried that it was some kind of fungal infection, but I figured it could wait until our late winter vet visit. Dr. Tolley examined it and declared it to be healing fine. It's pretty well closed up now. Dr. Tolley thought it might have been a small splinter.
Dr. Tolley took the opportunity to poke at Izzy's sheath, but I told him I had just cleaned it. He agreed that it looked fine with no beans; I am pretty thorough. After going over Izzy's teeth and giving him his annual vaccinations, that was it. Izzy was declared healthy as a horse. It was a long afternoon, but as usual, I left with two horses well cared for and a few more chapters to add to my "book of knowledge."
Thanks, Dr. Tolley and Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital, for all the work you do!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read