"I am going to make you cry." My long-time veterinarian said to me as I handed my 2-year-old thoroughbred to the technician and stepped around the corner to look at the hoof radiographs that had just been taken.
I looked at the x-rays and tears immediately filled my eyes, then made eye contact with my vet, who also had tears brewing. Rain had foundered. His coffin bone had rotated due to laminitis in his left front hoof.
Although I could clearly see the rotation on the first image we looked at, I was not prepared for the conversation that followed.
"Rain has foundered in his left front hoof, and also has a bone fragment present here." She pointed to the screen to the tip of his coffin bone, where I could see the fragment. On another image she showed me, she pointed out that he also had pedal osteitis. I was familiar with pedal osteitis - inflammation in the coffin bone - Because my other horse, who had raced for 9 years, had it in both front hooves.
"Rain will most likely never be a rideable or sound horse."
The tears finally spilt over.
"God!" I choked and looked back at my vet, who although was typically much more stoic than I, was also crying.
"Why am I crying?" She said, making eye contact with her technician, "Because Lauren's other two horses were lame and this was supposed to be the horse she could ride. This is the part of my job that I hate."
How could this be possible? I had just adopted Rain four months prior, and he was seemingly sound at his pre-purchase exam.
I wiped my tears, ready to know whatever else I needed to know - I could cry more later. Would Rain be okay?
"I don't think, knowing what we know now, deciding to euthanize would be a bad decision for him. He may never have a great quality of life. We of course don't have to do anything today. I think he has been living with this for awhile so it isn't something we need to decide right this minute, but it is something to consider."
I felt my heart drop to my stomach. This was coming from a vet who knew me well - Knew how willing I was to keep and care for unrideable and challenging-to-care-for horses. She explained to me that she believed Rain had been living with his hooves this way for a long time and that trauma to the left front hoof is what caused the laminitis, founder, bone fragment, and pedal osteitis.
So many thoughts ran through my mind - Was there information withheld from me from the rescue I adopted him from? How was he possibly sound at the PPE? Was this why the seller had told me he was horrible for the farrier?
I told my vet that I would like her to have the clinic's podiatrist and radiologist look at the x-rays, and then for her to let me know what our options were.
So how did I decide to have his hooves x-rayed? I will rewind to the first day that Rain came up lame.
I adopted Rain on December 17th and had a pretty easy first month and a half with him - Aside from him getting cast under the fence on his first day at home.
On February 7th, Rain went out to pasture with a buddy. He was out for a little over an hour, and when I went to fetch him, he was standing by the gate waiting. That wasn't normal for him. I put his halter on, took a step, and realized he was lame.
I didn't see any obvious injuries, but was worried. A fracture? I called my usual vet clinic on emergency to have a vet out. The vet that came wasn't my usual vet. She did a basic lameness exam - Hoof testers and watched Rain trot. He didn't react to the hoof testers, and after I walked and trotted him, she told me she believed it was his right hind leg. I thought it was his left front leg, but she assured me it was his right hind, although it could be presenting left front due to the diagonal nature of the horse's limbs. Since there was no heat, swelling, or increased digital pulse, she recommended giving Rain bute for 5 days and then reassessing his lameness.
He seemed to get better; however, outside of his paddock, walking on the gravel, he still seemed off in front to me. The emergency vet had seen that, but believed he was just tender-footed on the gravel. In his paddock, which is dry but not rocky, he was walking okay but seemed to place his feet gingerly.
I started to really look at his feet. I knew they weren't great when I got him, but hadn't previously worried about them. Over the course of the next few weeks, I noticed how much hoof he was growing. His front hooves looked a little concave/dishy to me. They were asymmetric. Both of which I thought we could work on over time with my farrier - I initially didn't think there was something too sinister going on. By the time the ground dried out and I could really see his hooves well, I noticed rings around his hooves near the bottom of them. The rings were so far down they happened prior to me owning him - Going by the general rule of thumb that a horse grows about ~1/4" of hoof per month. I became fearful of laminitis and started sharing my worries with a few of my close friends. Was I crazy? Could that even be possible?
At this point, I decided to put Rain on a few supplements: California Trace and SmartLamina. I also switched his diet to grass hay, just to be safe.
I had a new farrier out for Rain and expressed my worries. She said it was possible that he had previously had a bout or two of laminitis, but that it wasn't something I should worry too much about, and that it may of coincided with a diet change. She said it was more common than I realized. After his trim, he was moving much better. I felt relieved - Maybe Rain just needed this new farrier.
In March, my regular veterinarian came out to the barn for Rain's first annual physical and spring vaccines. I expressed my concerns about his hooves and asked what she thought about the potential of him having had some laminitis in the past. She said that she highly doubted that he could have had laminitis - He was only two, unworked, and not metabolic. She had also seen him at the PPE just four months prior and didn't think that would be his diagnosis. She told me that he most likely had crummy thoroughbred hooves with thin soles. I again, was still worried, but felt relieved.
She agreed that taking x-rays to get some farrier views would be helpful for us, and to book an appointment for 2 weeks after his next trim. The appointment was the morning of April 20th.
I cannot believe that my worst fears came true. I spoke with my vet the night after the appointment. She had already spoken to the clinic's podiatrist. He agreed with my vet that Rain would most likely never be sound or rideable, and that putting him down wouldn't be a horrible decision for him. He also said that because of the bone fragment, Rain's hooves would not be able to be corrected over time, unlike other founder cases. He said that Rain's best chance at comfort would be to come into the clinic so he and the clinic's farrier could put special shoes on him.
While I am waiting to get an appointment, I have put Rain in Easyboot Clouds and started him on Equinety (in addition to his other supplements). He seems more comfortable in his boots and seems his usual self. Some things I have noticed since putting the boots on: Rain now walks next to me while I am leading him outside of his pen - Usually he walks very slowly behind me and I have to really encourage him, he stands square (or closer to square) much more often than he used to, and he seems to have much more of an appetite! He gets a bucket daily with alfalfa pellets and his supplements. He used to barely want to eat it - Now he trots after me if I have the bucket.
I received Rain's report back from the radiologist last night. I learned that in addition to what I knew about his left front, the radiologist determined that he also has laminitis in his right front hoof with minimal rotation. I haven't spoken to my vet about this yet, but I am wondering if maybe it was compensatory laminitis that occurred from him favoring his left front when it foundered. I thought my boy had one bad hoof, but it turns out that his "good" front hoof is also compromised.
I have no idea what the future has in store for Rain and I. As I write this, it is a Saturday, and his veterinary appointment was on Monday. I am still processing the news and don't know how I should feel. While I am devastated Rain and I won't be jumping or doing dressage someday, I am feeling lucky to have him. What would his life be if somebody else had adopted him? If he had stayed at that rescue - Which was feeding oat hay.
I still don't understand how he could have been sound at the pre-purchase. I don't think I will ever know, but I am pretty well at peace with that. My only hypotheses? Now knowing that he has foundered in both front hooves, I wonder if he was lame on both front hooves, and that made it hard to tell. We weren't able to hoof test because he was practically feral at the time. I also wonder if maybe he has a very high pain tolerance since he has clearly been living with this for some time - Maybe he will look sound in certain situations. I also worry that it is because he has grown so much since I brought him home, and that he will continue to become more uncomfortable over time.
Regardless, I am thankful that he seemed to be sound at the pre-purchase exam. I don't know how much I can do for Rain, but I am thankful he is mine. If he wouldn't have been sound, he wouldn't be mine. I found Rain because of Dante, and I am choosing to believe that Dante sent Rain to me for a reason.
When Rain is ready to go join Dante, I think he will tell me. Whether that is in 6 weeks from now, 6 months from now, or 6 years from now.
I will do everything I can for him - I wouldn't be me if I gave up on him.