I’m afraid a lot of this post is recap, but I’m putting the pieces together a bit differently so I wanted all the pieces together.
Drifter went into wedge shoeing months and months ago to help the lower joints of his back legs. They seemed to work really well for him. He had ordinary shoes with plastic wedges under them.
He came back into work. He hadn’t had a saddle fit for quite a while because he’d been out of work but I knew he was going to change shape fast and he didn’t seem to be having any issues with the saddle. Then he got diarroeah and changed even more, so the fit was postponed again.
As soon as we got the diarroeah sorted, I had a saddle fit. A week or so before the fit, he was found to be a bit sore in the withers by the physio. She also mentioned that he could be having issues with the wedge shoes. In case the soreness was caused by the saddle, I didn’t ride again until the fit. At the saddle fit we changed the Bates 2 gullet sizes and added a lot of foam flocking because there was so much less horse. The fitter explained how although the shape of the too big saddle had been OK for him comfort-wise, it had been tipping forwards over his withers and throwing my weight onto his forehand. After she’d made her changes I felt so much more secure and upright and realised how much I’d been thrown forwards. Drifter was very unsettled during the ridden part of the fit and refused to work soft and round, but I thought it was a combination of the oddness and out-of-routine mature of saddle fit and the week off riding before hand.
The next day the farrier found thrush under the plastic wedges and had to swap to wedge metal shoes so that the sole could breathe. Whether someone told me they were bigger or whether I imagined that I don’t know, but that was the impression I got. I was worried this would make him sorer, and he did indeed get sorer fast, until he couldn’t take any rein contact at all. We saw the physio again just before the next shoeing and this time he was sore in both withers and both hind quarters. I told her about the change of shoeing and she thought that was causing it. She said he was unable to take contact because he was unable to take weight on his back legs because the upper joints where at angles he couldn’t handle. She said some horses just can’t handle wedges, but to give it another 6 weeks to see if he adjusted. I told her I was riding in walk and trot on the buckle and she was happy for us to continue.
Next I saw the farrier, who told me there was no difference in angle or height between the plastic wedges he’d taken off 5 weeks before and the metal wedges he was using now, so he saw no reason why there would have been any change in Drifter now – if he wasn’t handling wedges that should have showed up months ago.
It did not make me happy that my trusted professionals had conflicting opinions, but I reconciled them by seeing that the physio was saying “Do nothing for a few weeks” and the farrier was saying “Do nothing” and so I did nothing. I mostly stopped riding because he wouldn’t let me use reins at all, which ended up with him running off with me in trot one day when he was particularly sore. If I even twitched the rein he ran off faster because it hurt more, so all I had was voice control to ask him to come back to walk. He was stumbling and unbalanced and pain was overriding voice control and we staggered round and round the school in the world’s scariest trot before he finally understood that if he stopped I’d get off and he’d be comfier.
I was not keen to get on again. We handwalked, with the occasional walking lunge session with diagnostic trotting only.
It seemed like the wait and see approach wasn’t working. Yesterday I was reading horse blogs when I suddenly remembered that the problems were starting to show before the week with the shoe change, but ramped up fast afterwards. What else changed? The saddle. He is now in a well fitting saddle that puts the rider in a balanced position.
What if he was already struggling with the wedges but the badly fitting saddle was helping him cope? If he was struggling to take weight on the back legs, the rider’s weight being tipped over his forehand would help him. As soon as I was sitting back, he started fighting the contact because the only way he could counterbalance my weight was to put his nose to the floor and lean everything forwards.
I don’t have a solution, but at least I feel like I know what’s happening. We’re going to see the vet on Monday and hopefully he’ll have some ideas. The physio said heart bar shoes might be an option but I can’t see how they would help with original problems in the lower joints of the hoof/leg. If the vet fancies heart bars and can explain it to me, we might go that route. If it was the only way to make him rideable and the vet approved I would put him back in a too big saddle, but that would be a last resort!
I do have fears he may have to be retired from ridden life if we can’t get this fixed, but we’d cope with that if we have to. At the moment the yard’s occupancy has reduced enough that he gets daily turnout (weather permitting) which helps manage my worry and his activity levels.