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Awkward Stumble
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marlab
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 01:33 am
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I have a young horse on trial, and he frequently stumbles with his right hind hoof when he stops. The toe of the hoof turns under, and it looks like maybe the joint between the short pastern bone and the long pastern bone bends in a weird way. He doesn't always do this, but it only happens when he stops, and he did it at least twice in 30 minutes today.
He is barefoot, and my trimmer does not think he needs a trim. What is going on?
Is this a problem that could be indicative of something serious? Is it just a young horse that hasn't learned how to pick up his feet properly?
I have a video of the stumble at the following link:
http://gallery.me.com/marlabrownlee#100015

And, I will attach a photo, but the photo doesn't really show the whole problem.
What is going on?

Attachment: stumble.jpg (Downloaded 761 times)

Evermore
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 02:35 am
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After watching the video a number of times, I would venture to ask that if he is young, and green, it may be a bit much to ask him to come to a halt from a trot?

He looks willing and sweet, but did he feel like he was having to do some quick rearranging, albeit a bit on the clumsy side, to be obedient?

 

marlab
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 03:04 am
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Hi, Thanks for the response. He is only 4, and hasn't had a lot of formal training. I have only had him for a week, but so far, it appears that this stumble does only happen when he halts rather quickly, from a trot. But it just seems a bit abnormal when I look at the video. I don't recall seeing other young horses do this.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 04:58 am
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Marla -- I have been very happy to receive the image you posted, which apparently is a frame from the film-clip to which you have supplied the link. I was able to watch the film; however, the single frame would already have told me all that is necessary to know -- although it is blurry, it catches the horse in the very act, and the stumble and the gesture that the horse makes are so characteristic that there is no doubt as to what is going on.

This is asked about so often, and it is so rare to get a good image (either still or film) of it occurring, that I literally want every single person who reads here to view the film clip. I have, in addition, dubbed out the still frame that Marla posted, enlarged it, massaged it in Photoshop so that all possible detail would show up, and made a line tracing from that photo that is as accurate as I can make it. I post the tracing here so that everyone can study it.

This is a classic instance of a horse catching its stifle. Marla, if you will telephone the offices of Equus Magazine at (301) 977-3900, they will be able to direct you to a back issue of that magazine in which I published an article that explained and illustrated the workings of the reciprocating apparatus of the horse's hind limb. I can't remember the title they used for that article, but it's about 6 to 8 years old, and was a feature. I want you to obtain and study this article.

The reciprocating apparatus of the hind limb is a tensionally co-adjusted set of ligaments and ligamentized tendons which parallel the bones of the hind limb all the way down from the lower back to the toe. Generally, veterinary students learn only that sub-system of the whole reciprocating system which directly governs the stifle and hock joints; they are shown a demonstration on the carcass, or else a model, which clarifies how the reciprocating 'straps' constrain the stifle and hock to work in perfect unison. The law of hindlimb reciprocation learned by veterinary students is:

"Whatever the stifle does, the hock must also do".

In other words, if the stifle is flexed (by muscles which normally work to close the angle of the stifle joint), then because of the layout of the reciprocating 'straps', the hock will close in the same amount. Or, if the stifle is opened (by muscles which normally work to open the angle of the stifle joint), then again because of the layout of the reciprocating 'straps', the hock will open in the same amount. The hock does not have a choice about this; if it does something other than what the stifle is doing, then one of the straps, or something else, is broken.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the reciprocating apparatus does NOT merely start on the pelvis and end on the upper end of the cannon bone, and it does not force the coordination of just the stifle and hock joints. Rather, the truth of the matter is that ligamentous straps and sheets, and ligamentized tendons, govern the coordination of ALL the joints of the hindquarter, from the lumbo-sacral joint at the top down to the coffin joint below. The reciprocation of stifle and hock is, in other words, merely a sub-system embedded within a larger biomechanical system. These facts have not commonly been taught to our veterinary students, except by a few of the more insightful and gifted University instructors. The full truth has not been emphasized in most textbooks, either. However, it has always been known, and very fortunately, there is quite a clear discussion of the reciprocating apparatus in the revised second edition of Goody's horse anatomy. This reference is given for anyone who cares to look it up, or who feels that I might be leading you astray by teaching something flaky or outside the pale here. Of course, Marla, I also want you to print this transmission out and share it with your veterinarian, and that's another reason I cite a published researcher who is himself a veterinarian.

Since the reciprocating apparatus is a bigger system, governing more joints than merely the stifle and hock, there is a larger "rule of reciprocation" than the one normally learned by vet students. The "great law" of hindlimb reciprocation is this:

"Whatever the lumbo-sacral joint does, the stifle really wants to do."

For example, when the loins coil (this means 'when the lumbo-sacral joint flexes'), then the stifle really wants to flex. When the loins extend (this means 'when the lumbo-sacral joint opens or the back flattens or hollows), then the stifle really wants to open.

By saying 'really wants to' instead of 'must do' in the Great Law, I am indicating that there is more looseness or 'give' in the parts of the reciprocating apparatus that lie above the stifle than there is in those which compose the sub-system that governs stifle/hock coordination. As I mentioned above, so tight is the coordination between stifle and hock, that if the hock does not do what the stifle does, then something must be ruptured or broken. The upper part of the system is not strung so tight, but the rider will still pay a penalty if she does anything that causes the horse to have to do something with the stifle that the lumbo-sacral joint is not doing. In short: to avoid stifle-catching, the horse's loins must coil as much as the stifles need to flex.

Having gone through this summary, we are now in a position to understand what 'stifle catching' is, and why the horse stumbles whenever he catches a stifle.

The stifle joint "catches" only when the stifle joint is wide open. Whenever the stifle joint opens, the same muscles (the quadriceps) that open it also raise the patella. When the stifle joint is wide open, the patella will be pulled so high that the patellar cartilage rises higher than the 'hook' that is formed on a knob -- the medial epicondyle -- that is on the end of the femur bone.  The patellar cartilage flanges off to the the medial side of the patella much as your thumb and the webbing of your thumb flanges off to the medial side of the rest of your hand -- so a good way to visualize stifle-catching is to spread your right thumb and forefinger to form the letter "C". Then place the "C" around your left forearm. Pretend there's a hook sticking out forward from the top of your forearm. Slide the "C" up your arm until it is higher than the hook. It's a kind of one-way hook -- once the patellar cartilage is higher than the hook, if it slides straight back down, it must hang up upon the hook.

When the patellar cartilage catches on the hook, and thus cannot freely travel downward anymore, then the stifle joint also cannot bend. It is locked open. The horse has this inbuilt mechanism so that he can snooze while standing. It's fine if it catches when the horse wants it to, but it is not supposed to catch while he is moving. But again, if the rider is doing certain things, she will cause it to catch when it should not.

Now when a normal "green" horse trots, he does so typically with a certain tempo. And that tempo is circa 80 beats per minute -- about the same tempo as the Beach Boys' 'Help me Rhonda'. It's a pretty rapid tempo. The 80BPM are "counted" as the number of clips or clops we hear as the horse trots by; in other words, it "counts" the sound-beat produced by both hind limbs.

If we are considering, as we are here, something that concerns only one hind limb, then we need to cut this figure in half. Obviously, if the horse is going at a tempo of 80 BPM, then one hind leg is contributing 40BPM and the other hind leg contributes the other 40BPM. So we see that the right hind limb of this horse is swinging back and forth -- protracting and retracting, going through its whole cycle -- at a normal rate of 40 times per minute.

Forty times per minute, therefore, the right hind limb cycles all the way through from where the toe of its hoof is all the way forward as far toward the shoulders of the animal as it is going to go, and then all the way backward as far toward his tail, or past it, as it is going to go.

Each time the limb is fully protracted, the stifle will be wide open; and likewise, each time the limb is fully retracted, again the stifle will be wide open. Every time the stifle joint is wide open, the patellar cartilage is pulled high enough to potentially catch. Since full protraction and full retraction occur once each per full cycle, the opportunity for the stifle to "catch" occurs 80 times per minute in each of the hind limbs. This means, the opportunity for the stifle to catch occurs once about every three-quarters of a second during normal locomotion.

The question then becomes -- does it not? -- NOT "why do the stifles catch", but "why don't they catch all the bloody time!?"

The answer to this is, that just as there is an inbuilt stifle-catching mechanism, there is also an inbuilt mechanism which works to hold the patellar cartilage up-and-out (laterally) during the split-second when the stifle joint is widest open, so as to prevent it from catching during forward locomotion. This mechanism is the tensor fasciae latae muscle, a muscle rather peculiar for having a small belly but a very long, flat tendon. The belly of the muscle attaches directly to the point of hip, i.e. the anterior superior iliac eminence, which is that point on the pelvis located highest above and also furthest lateral to the stifle joint, so that the belly of the muscle is optimally positioned. The long tendon of the TFL extends downward from its belly, and attaches to the outer aspect of the patella.

When the TFL muscle contracts, it pulls the patella up-and-out. It is the only muscle in the body with the power to do this, and its 'regulation' of the patellar position, this holding of it off the femoral hook, is its MAIN and crucial function (despite what many horse anatomy textbooks say).

Now it should be obvious from the above dicsussion of the timing of hindlimb swing, that there is only, at full protraction and at full retraction when the stifle joint is widest open, a very brief window of time during which contraction of the TFL must occur. If the TFL contracts at any other time, it will either be too early to be of any use (the patella will not have risen high enough to catch), or else it will be too late to be of any use (the patella will already have been 'dropped' by the relaxing quadriceps, and thus the patella will have already settled upon the hook during forward locomotion).

This is where, therefore, we must mention the list of those things that the rider might be doing that will cause the stifles to catch: anything whatsoever that closes the window of time during which effective TFL contraction can occur.

What are these things? Basically, anything that causes the horse to stiffen its poll, neck, or back:

1. Use of dropped noseband

2. Use of any tiedown device whatsoever, running martingale, draw reins, etc.

3. Saddle that does not fit

4. Rider rides with stiff arms, elbow joints open, palms of hands facing downward

5. Rider sits 'behind her knees' and/or lacks the skill to fluidly sit to the trot/canter

6. Rider does not know what it means to twirl the head, and does not practice head-twirling

7. Rider does not know or understand what untracking means, and therefore does not practice untracking or properly practice elementary lateral work

Twirling the head, untracking, and changing circles by 'drifting' (which is elementary lateral work) are the physically-therapeutic choices that a knowledgeable rider makes, which alleviate stifle-catching, preventing it from happening in the short term and eliminating it completely in the long term.

Please learn what this means, by asking here Marla, before you even get close to considering 'stifle cutting surgery'. If your vet is up on the latest literature, he or she will already know that meaningful follow-up studies show no long-term benefit from this surgery. Please do not do this surgery until you first learn how to sit, how to properly use your hands, and in general, how to train a horse in a way that will bring him along from one physical competency to the next without getting him into trouble.

The regular practice of these things will result in the horse loosening up considerably through the jaws, tongue, poll, neck, ribcage, and back. Because here's the kicker: you have learned by reading this that "whatever the lumbo-sacral joint does, the stifle really wants to do," and of course by the lesser law then "whatever the stifle is doing, the hock must do." If your horse has a stiff poll, a stiff neck, and a stiff back, he will also have stiff loins. The loins will not want to coil....therefore the stifle will not want to flex....it will be more open at each moment than it should be through the entire protraction-retraction cycle. The horse will be functionally post-legged. When this is the case, the TFL becomes unable to contract enough to hold the patellas up high enough to prevent them from catching. Also, in the horse with stiff loins, the window of time during which the TFL can contract effectively is reduced. And this is what gets the horse into trouble: in short, unless you teach this horse to round up, you are inviting him to catch the stifles.

The other things visible in the film clip and in the photo/tracing are the result of the stifle already having caught. Horses that chronically catch the stifles almost always dub the hind toes, because when the stifle catches the horse cannot flex the stifle or hock joints. The limb is therefore fixed in a position that makes it functionally too long, because when the limb is normally protracted the stifle and hock flex enough so that the toe can clear the ground. When the stifle catches, the horse will either drag it through the dirt, at the same time crunching the hind ankle joint into a highly flexed position, or else stiffly hop one or more steps. When the stifle catches, and the pasterns or the toe of the hoof slam into and drag against the ground, it is shockingly painful (the pain being felt primarily in the patellar ligaments), so the horse will also emit a grunt or gasp, turn his ears backward, and throw his head up.

In the horse that chronically catches the stifle, you can plainly see the dubbed look, or at least scuff marks, on either or both hind toes. Some horses that chronically catch do it exclusively, or at least primarily, upon only one side; these animals are travelling crookedly in addition to not being properly "round". Crookedness will increase the chance of catching the one susceptible patella. To learn more about the nature of crookedness and its physically-therapeutic cure effected by right actions of the rider, go to the "Knowledge Base" section of this website and download the papers entitled "Lessons from Woody" and "True Collection".

I would also suggest, Marla, that you do two other things:

1. Obtain a copy of Mike Schaffer's E-book entitled "Riding in the Moment". Open the book, begin at lesson one, and do every lesson Mike has in there. I also want you to notice that when you are looking at pictures of Mike riding, or of any other fine rider that has ever lived on this Earth, you will NEVER see the kind of stiff downward-pulling arms that are evident in the photo you posted. This is a bad habit, born of wishing SO hard that the horse would lower its head, that we see in a lot of beginner dressage people. There is magic to be found in bending the elbows and in carrying the hands so that the thumb is uppermost. Try it.

2. Obtain a subscription to The Eclectic Horseman (http://www.eclectichorseman.com) and read my series on the biomechanics of the essential training movements, including head-twirling and untracking.

What you mainly need to find, Marla, is softness in your riding. And after that, a better grasp of precision and specificity. It will help you to learn to sit better and to learn how to properly use your hands. It will also help if you completely stop 'trying to do movements' and instead use movements for what they were originally intended to be, which is physically-therapeutic 'little' exercises. You do just a 'little', and that is what creates success. All the exercises, when done properly, have but one single purpose, and that is to obtain release: so that the horse learns to move within an "envelope of release". He learns that he can put forth maximum work but do it while remaining utterly soft.

I would also check the fit of the saddle, and get rid of the damned noseband which (despite the blurriness of the photo) I believe that I can see there. If you've been using any type of dropped or flash noseband -- just take it off altogether and go burn it. When you look at Mike's book, you will begin to see how a person, just doing no more than walking alongside the horse on the ground, can induce him, by 'little' touches, to let go of all the tension that is holding him rigid. It is the rigidity that is making him catch the stifles. From this point -- where the horse completely lets go of that rigidity -- and from no other point whatsoever, a horse can be trained -- to do anything that the person has ever dreamed of. It's a very nice horse from what I can see of him; please begin now to help him out. -- Dr. Deb

 

Attachment: Stumble from catching stifle drwg cprsd.jpg (Downloaded 767 times)

marlab
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 06:29 am
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Wow! Thank you for taking so much time to reply so quickly and to offer the thorough explanation of my "awkward stumble" post. I also appreciate the suggestions for the future.
 
From what I understand, this horse had not been ridden in five months before this video was taken. I took it when I went to look at him a couple of weeks ago. The person in the video was not me, but his "trainer", who worked with him at least 2 days a week for a couple of months - but more than five months ago. It sounded like she was very conscientious and was working very slowly and very gently with him. Other than a brief period with her, he had only been ridden with a western saddle on trails by his owner and a few others. The bridle that came with him and was used in the video does not have a noseband.
 
So, I have to wonder why he is so rigid since he has not been ridden in so long? Is it possible that he has been this stiff for all these months? Or, could it be that he is tense and stiff from lack of exercise?
 
If I buy this horse, I would like to have him for a partner for many, many years. We can take however long he needs to learn to relax and be soft. Is it possible that this issue, though hopefully temporary, has done any long lasting damage that might be likely to cause problems in the future?
 

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 07:30 am
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Marla, only your vet can really answer the question you ask about the soundness status of this horse, now or in the future. Before you spend significant money to buy any horse, you should always plan on paying for a thorough pre-purchase exam.

As to whether a horse can be stiff if not ridden: yes, of course. Stiffness is a movement habit in the sense that I am talking about it here. We are not talking about arthritis which would freeze the joints, or some kind of muscle cramps, but rather about the fact that this horse does not know how to move without tensing up. It is the essence of dressing a horse to teach the animal how to do that. Once that is taught, there will no longer be any 'difficult' movements -- they're all the same as far as difficulty goes, because the horse can easily do any of them. 

Yes, I believe that the rider in the photo was trying to be gentle. That's another reason why the hands are being used wrong: she does not understand that 'fingering' the reins in the manner she is doing is not how to be 'light' with the hands. Only when the reins are held in the plenum -- so that the substance of the rein is grasped with all the fingers in such a manner that the palm is also in contact with the rein -- can there be full communication with the horse. And only when there is full communication can there be gentleness or lightness. In short -- people who are trying to have light hands often have the worst hands, because they do not offer the horse a full, warm, soft, comforting contact from their end of the rein. When the reins are held pinched between the tips of the thumb and fingers, so that the substance of the rein is not in the palm but far from it, the message the horse gets is: 'eeewww, ick, I don't want to touch you.' The rider with good hands grasps the reins with exactly the same feel he would use if he were to gently and lovingly put his hands into the horse's mouth in order to massage its tongue.

One last bit of advice: you will burden the horse too much, Marla, if you set it up ahead of time in your mind that, if you buy him, he must be your companion for years and years, or until he dies. That's too much -- too heavy a burden on him, and also, in many ways, on yourself also. And needless. What you do instead is you look him over, you ride him, you see if he looks at you with that look that says he'd like you to own him. You have him vetted, and you get all the bad news from the vet (the vet is legally safest, you probably are aware, if he gives mostly bad news). You talk that all over with the vet, you mull it over in your mind, you can write back here also and ask about whatever he says. You figure out for yourself whether you can love this horse -- is he music to your eye? Then, if you decide to buy him, it is with the attitude that you will do your best to fulfill his needs (whatever they may be), while also fulfilling some of your own, and asking him to help you with that. But you don't put a time limit on it. That way, if the situation evolves to a point where he needs to be with somebody else or you need him to, you can arrange that without hesitation and without guilt. Because even then, you'll be doing what's best for him. -- Dr. Deb

hurleycane
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 05:27 pm
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Dr Deb - in looking at the video frame by frame (moving the curser along)- it appears to me the "swinging" left hind hit the "downed" right hind causing the buckle.   The stop frame in the post seems to be after the event (hit). 

Mary Ann

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 11:02 pm
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Hurley, the horse striking itself cannot cause him to fold up behind as we see him doing. The horse folds the croup down precisely because it is the lumbo-sacral joint that governs reciprocation. I didn't say this straight out in the explanation above, and should have: so that when the animal feels himself locking up, he quickly coils the loins to the very maximum, in an effort to drive slack into the system from the top.

I think what you are perceiving as 'striking himself' is the hop the animal must take when moving at speed, when the stifle suddenly sticks. He hops -- he folds the croup down -- the right hind leg drags through the substrate -- it hurts -- the throws his head up. This is what I see when viewing the film.

Long and short of it is, that the animal must be taught to round up when moving; and the rider must stop trying to slam him into a halt, or perform sharp halts, before the horse is taught how to stop "round" through less abrupt stops. -- Dr. Deb

hurleycane
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 Posted: Wed Feb 16th, 2011 11:49 pm
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Thank you Dr Deb.  As I wrote ehat I thought I was seeing, I was thinking the info you offered would be helpful in either case for both the horse and rider.

DCA
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 Posted: Thu Feb 17th, 2011 01:52 am
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What an invaluable thread in so very many ways...

Last edited on Thu Feb 17th, 2011 01:53 am by DCA

Jacquie
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 Posted: Thu Feb 17th, 2011 06:04 pm
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Gosh, I just sat down with a plate of nachos and some red wine and read that huge long response DD gave and it was so good I am driven to write thanks. Thank you very much DD, I understand locking stifles so much better now.

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 Posted: Fri Feb 18th, 2011 05:12 pm
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Very interesting and informative! I had exactly the same issue with my old rope horse when he was young. And like Dr. Deb said, doing a lot of lateral work and getting him fit totally fixed his issues and I roped off of him for many years. He is 29 now and retired.
Watching the video I agree with Dr. Deb. That is exactly what my horse did when he was having stifle issues.

thegirlwholoveshorses
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 Posted: Thu Feb 24th, 2011 08:36 pm
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I have seen the Birdie play a part in this, too.  My horse went through a spell of catching her stifle a few years ago-- it was troubling and perplexing to me.  Dr. Joe Lally told me she was out of balance, which I was not able to fully understand at that time, but he told me to come here and I would find everything I needed to know.  I am so grateful for his guidance.  I did not realize the magnitude of what I didn't know.

I began working through the exercises discussed in one of the Inner Horseman issues.  Those exercises, along with a properly fitted saddle (thanks again, to Dr. Lally), putting her in a better boarding situation (one with turnout, better arena footing, more peaceful human interactions) resolved it nearly 100%.  It is extremely rare for it to occur now--when it does, it is completely because I am not paying her Birdie and level of "okayness" the attention it deserves and requires.  

I have been re-reading the Birdie Book over this past week and I get more out of it each time I read it (which makes me wonder what parts I am still not GETTING). :) Calm comes before straight.  How many times did I read that before I made the connection?!

 

Last edited on Thu Feb 24th, 2011 08:38 pm by thegirlwholoveshorses

kimc911
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 Posted: Mon Jan 2nd, 2012 01:26 am
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Marlab,

I am catching up on back reading her on ESI and when clicking on the link, shows it unavailable.  If you still have the video I would be interested in viewing it, perhaps it just needs to be reloaded or it could be my old computer :)

Currently have/had a filly (rescue/dumped - unknown to what breed she actually is) and her left hind leg does this, the Veterinarian said probably nothing to worry about, she may grow out of it, but watch it in case it gets worse, she has a few acres to travel on with some older mares.  After her arrival when she would stop hard she would (few months ago) lose her balance and fall on that side.  She would lay still and slowly get up.  She found her way to the property, through field fence no less in a very emanciated condition; the Vet said that with muscle tone and weight she 'should' get better.  So far the Vet's advice is holding true.

It has been about eight months now and she is probably close to a yearling; now when she stops her hoof sometimes (knuckles under her) but she is more experienced now and gets it back under herself, you can still see it on occasion.  The filly went to a 4H home last week (Owners have several one eyed horses - other folks rejects - that all trail ride safely) that the kids use in 4H for their own learning.

Long story short, would just like to see the video and compare it what I see in the filly for future reference.

Thank you,

Kim

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Jan 2nd, 2012 01:55 am
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Kim, your horse is locking the stifles, as mentioned above: your description is classic. Please go look up all the many threads cited in the above posts in which I have thoroughly gone into this topic. If you find the descriptions not enlightening or clear enough, write back, and we will point you to more resources. Your vet is correct; proper (underline "proper") conditioning can help the horse greatly. The key is getting the animal to coil its loins after having released all tension in the neck and back. -- Dr. Deb


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