The Blueberry Bulletin Presented By Equine Equipment: Them’s The Breaks

Even before I had a Thoroughbred, I knew how important it was to savor the sweet moments when they happen – a training breakthrough, trotting down center line in the Rolex Stadium at the Thoroughbred Makeover, sunset snuggles – because horse ownership is a journey of ups and downs. After our wonderfully successful outing at last month’s Makeover, Blueberry and I have been on the shelf in one of those ‘down’ phases.

After a short vacation, we had just been getting him back into work when he came in with a bump on the inside of his right cannon bone. My veterinarian examined him and came to the reasonable conclusion that he had popped his splint bone.

Horses have two tiny, thin little bones known as splints that sit on either side of their cannons, running downwards from the knee and tapering off about three-quarters of the way down the leg. They serve no structurally useful purpose and are held onto the cannon with a ligament that runs between the two. It’s pretty common for young racehorses to have what we call “popped” splints, which refers to a bump that appears along the bone, where the periosteum (the wrapping layer that sits between the bone and other tissue) has become irritated and inflamed. For young racing horses, this may happen as a response to a sudden increase in high-intensity speed work. In slightly older horses, like 4-year-old Blueberry, who isn’t in what anyone would call “heavy” work, you usually see this because they’ve experienced direct trauma to the leg – banging it against something, getting a kick from a pasturemate in the wrong place, kicking themselves, etc.

Popped splints are not uncommon and usually heal within a couple of weeks with little treatment. Horses have to stop work, but usually can remain on turnout.

At first, what we all thought we were dealing with was a popped splint. It was hot, bumpy, and high up on the leg and it initially responded well to rest and anti-inflammatories. When it got a bit worse again though, I had a feeling it was more serious.

Indeed, two or three weeks into the process, the bump was no smaller but no longer hot and Blueberry was no sounder than he’d been at the start. This time, our veterinarian took radiographs, kicking himself for not doing it on his first visit. They revealed a crack along the inside of the splint bone – so that would explain why it wasn’t progressing as we’d hoped. Breaking a splint bone is much less common than just bumping/irritating one, and while I wish we had caught it earlier, it looked up to that point like a very classic case of the more common problem based on its location, his response to palpation and initial response to anti-inflammatories.

The good news is, because his splint is cracked but doesn’t have either end broken off, he doesn’t require surgery. The bad news is, the only real treatment is time…and rest. Time doesn’t worry me; it’s winter, and the weather in Central Kentucky doesn’t lend itself to really consistent training this time of year anyway. Plus, he’s four and we are not Olympics-bound; whatever time he needs, he can have. But rest in this case means stall rest – at least 30 days with no turnout. For Blueberry, that means staring at the same four walls for a staggering number of hours and not getting to rough house with his buddies. For me, that means driving to the barn twice each day instead of once for hand grazing sessions, juggling as much work as I can on my smartphone in the cold, and watching him anxiously for signs of ulcers, colic, new stereotypic behaviors, or basically a hair out of place. And it means I’m spending a stupid amount of money on stall toys for this not-at-all-spoiled little dude.

The barn cats are usually not too far away during our hand grazing sessions

This will be new territory for me though probably not for him, given his previous injuries on the racetrack. I’ll have the chance – for better or worse – to see how he reacts to prolonged stress, and what strategies are effective at minimizing that stress. We hope at two weeks we’ll get clearance to tack/hand walk, which will open up a new world of possible amusements. In the meantime, I am doing all the research into stall toys and low impact games that I can.

Our verdict on what we’ve tried so far:

  • Jolly Ball: Hates it. Doesn’t see the point of it. Not convinced it’s peppermint-scented and thinks it gets in the way of his hay net.
  • Super slow feed hay net with half-inch holes: Convinced it’s a solid plastic bag hanging from the ceiling and that there is no actual food to be extracted from it, so mostly ignores it.
  • Slow feed net and bag: We like the net more than the bag, despite them both having one-inch holes. I’ve no idea why, but as long as he will eat out of something I won’t question it.
  • Spinning, wall-mounted chew toy: He doesn’t know why I added more plastic to his stall. Hasn’t this human heard yet that plastic is killing the planet? Have yet to try: smearing some honey on it to see if I can convince him to start mouthing it – and not his doorframe.
  • Traffic cone: Wonderful. The absolute most exciting thing he could be given (I suspect because it was free). With no honey as a bribe, he will pick it up and throw it around the aisle joyfully.
  • Stuffed dinosaur: Per policy in the Roger Attfield barn, we removed the eyes so he wouldn’t actually swallow one – and if there’s anything to make you feel like a monster, it’s hacking the eyes off a stuffed animal and then hanging it with bailing twine by its neck. Regardless of its rather violent look, he thinks this is great, and likes to grab it by the tail and wave it at onlookers.
  • Dog chew toy stuffed with hay and carrots: He doesn’t quite get the concept, or is just lazy. Pulls out the carrots he can see and ignores the bitten-off ends and hay inside the ball, despite (I’m sure) being able to smell them.

Yet to try:

  • A snuffle mat with food or hay pellets sprinkled inside
  • A Likit toy
  • Moving into the barn and putting on a variety show outside his stall each hour

The sun is setting on Day 9 of our 30 days, and while Blueberry has grown a little impatient and grumpy, he’s still basically himself. We’re taking each day one grazing session at a time. We will get through this [someday] and move along to bigger and better things. In the grand scheme of bones he could have broken, this one really won’t have long-term consequences for him. In the big picture, it’s a blip, but for now it feels very overwhelming and unending. I have to remind myself though, that the nature of rollercoasters with horses is that the dips don’t last forever. Sooner or later, you end up back on top again.

The post The Blueberry Bulletin Presented By Equine Equipment: Them’s The Breaks appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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