It’s bitter cold, and a snowstorm is on the horizon. I tighten up my jacket around my waist to block the wind. I’m standing next to Chaco begging his left leg to stay strong one more night. Just one more night, I whisper, that is all we need. I hug him to the point of annoying the heck out of him, when I see resignation in his eyes. He is starting to give up. Scared I head back to the house where I watch him on the cameras. I see an image next to him. I check the other cameras, and this image makes no sense. The other horses are on camera 3, yet there is another dark horse standing with Chaco on Camera 2.
Chaco, if you know me or followed my blog for a while, went down in a race several years ago and was run over by two other horses. He got kicked in the stifle, broke his pelvis, and broke a rib. The kick in the stifle is what haunts him to this day. That kick caused three marbles the size of adult teeth to break off and meander and destroy the cartilage in his femoropatellar joint. I fine myself every time I call them chips because they are anything but chips. After three hours of arthroscopic surgery, it took that long due to difficulty finding one of the marbles, I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to maintain his stifle.
If any of you suffer from arthritis or have a horse that does, you know winter brings on feelings of dread and fear. How will they get through it? You wonder if this the winter where it becomes clear that your beloved horse can’t do it anymore. It is not easy for you or the horse, and it is a grave challenge for Chaco. Last winter he struggled, but this winter he plummeted. He slipped on a bit of mud, and his leg went downhill. He no longer could put full weight on his right leg. He was trying to tripod it meaning he was standing with his left leg directly under him trying to support his hind end. Instead of getting better, he remained the same no matter what I did.
I feared that his racetrack injury finally caught up with him, and the time to say goodbye was near. However, despite the pain he obviously was in it didn’t diminish his spirit at all. As long as his spirit was strong, then I needed to fight for him. I heard about Noltrex, a new type of injection, but it was available anywhere but our country. A few European friends told me about it saying how much it helped their horses. When this happened to Chaco, a friend got injections of Noltrex on her horse’s front knees in the states. This is when I found out Noltrex was finally available in the US, and I couldn’t believe the transformation on her horse. However, would it work on a stifle? The answer is yes! It is made for joints like the stifle. According to their FAQ:
What joints should I consider injecting with Noltrex®Vet?
The short answer is any joint. Initially, Noltrex®Vet was recommended for high motion joints. Common examples would include coffin joints, fetlocks and stifles. However, other joints considered low motion joints (limited movement, but important) have also shown great improvement from Noltrex®Vet therapy. The most common example of a low motion joint would be lower hock joints.
What is Noltrex? Here is how they describe it:
Noltrex®Vet (4.0% Polyacrylamide) is a highly viscous, non-soluble, synthetic hydrogel for intra-articular injection. The hydrostatic pressure inside the joint presses the gel up against the inner linings of the joint where it forms a fine, lubricating film. By restoring functional joint lubrication, Noltrex®Vet reduces friction and physically protects the joint from the adverse effects of overuse which leads to inflammation and pain.
If you want to learn more about Noltrex, here are the faq’s: https://www.iselp.org/index.php?src=documents&srctype=download&id=77&category=PDF
I decided this was it. This is what he needed, and I wrote to my vet asking him to order it.
A friend of mine acted as devil’s advocate for me even though I really didn’t need or want it, yet it was appreciated. She is very anti-injection, and she also believes if a horse can’t be ridden, they should be put down. She challenged every single one of my decisions and helped me realize, much to her chagrin, that I made the right choice to go ahead with this.
I understand why people are anti-injections. Many people do it to mask serious injuries and work a horse beyond their capabilities. I have neither hope nor plan to do this. All I want is to give him more time with his horse buddies, to let him enjoy his life, and to spend more time with him if he is pain free. He deserves it. If I’m lucky, maybe I can pony him with Dulce a few times this summer on easy rides. Maybe he can pony Sueño on his first excursions into the forest. He is such a good mentor to Sueño, and I want him to keep teaching him what he knows.
My friend says that all I’m getting is borrowed time. Is that such a bad thing? To borrow some more time for him? He is a happy horse that loves to live. He somehow survived a really bad wreck on the track, so I think he deserves to have someone fight for him and give him some more time. He lives to play with the other horses and to sleep in the sunshine.
The morning of his first injection, I ran out to check on him. His left leg was holding strong. His eyes sparkled despite the pain I knew he was in. Hope coursed through my veins. I loaded him and off we went to the vet. The thing I like the most about Noltrex is no special machine is needed like for IRAP. My vet doesn’t do IRAP, and instead of needing five injections as it was recommended for Chaco regarding IRAP, he would need two at the most. I didn’t need to go to a vet I didn’t know. Instead. I got to go to our primary. All positives in my mind. The injection went in well. He didn’t fight it or even flinch like he did when we tried the ProStride.
I wondered if I’d see any improvement at all after the injection. When I got him home, I was surprised to see that he no longer looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He stood squarer, although he still favored his right leg some. He was supposed to rest for three days before I started taking him for two ten-minute walks a day. On the third day of rest, he protested a lot. He dumped his water bucket, which he would only do if his stifle didn’t hurt. He has to put one of his front hooves into the water bucket, and then he leans back onto his hindlegs pulling the bucket over. This was a great sign! Off we went. He did really well. Each day we went on a walk he seemed to improve more and more. From what I learned; the horse will improve over the four weeks after the injection. Also, you aren’t supposed to put them back to regular work for ten to fourteen days as inflammation may develop at site of injection. Since Chaco has a severe injury, my plan is to bring him along slow.
Each day I saw him improve little by little. He stood more and more square, and I finally could trim his hooves again, which is a huge relief.
On our walks he began to trot. One morning it got down to ten degrees, so I ran outside dark and early to wait for Chaco to wake up. When he got up, he took three stiff steps, and then he walked normally. It took all day, if not days, for the stiffness to disappear in the past. Maybe we finally found a way to get him through the winter!
I about started to cry when he began spontaneously resting his left leg. This means that he is standing with full weight on his right/injected leg.
He improved to a point that thrilled me beyond belief. It brought him back from the edge of the abyss, but he wasn’t to the point where I felt he could be turned out with Dulce or Harley. This is one of my goals for him, because he so needs to be with another horse. They say that if your horse improves to a point yet stalls, to get the second injection at the 5th or 6th week. So, for Chaco’s 12th birthday, he got a second injection, and I’m hoping and praying this brings him to a place where he and his best buddy, Dulce, can hang out together again.
What is next? Well, today is his 12th Birthday and Dulce’s Adoptaversary. I plan on loving them both incessantly all day. Chaco gets to rest for a few days, and then we start going for walks again. After a couple of weeks. I will start to incorporate some pole work into his daily walking to try and strengthen the muscles on the right side. He will be getting body work done once or twice a week to try and help balance his body. He has stood and worked a certain way for four years, so we also need to work on reeducating his body posture. Hopefully, he and I will go for some lovely walks through the forest together soon, and he and Dulce will be able to hang out together once again. Yes, borrowed time yet sweet, wonderful time.
I want to thank my vet John Shull for putting up with my constant questions, and for doing such a great job with Chaco. A big part of the reason why Chaco was ready to go for a walk on the third day was because of the excellent job he does at injections. Chaco was barely even sore the next day. I am truly grateful to have such a great vet in our lives.
Who was that horse that I saw on the cameras that night? I don’t know. I was sure a horse had jumped the five foot fence into their dry paddock. Of course that wasn’t the case. All I can say is that I saw a dark bay horse eating alongside Chaco until I didn’t. A wave of comforting faith that all would be well washed over me…..