Diablo was a nine-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred that I was asked to see as a fifth veterinary opinion. He had actually injured one veterinarian, scared away two others, and almost killed the fourth.
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The trainer “kind of” warned me of Diablo’s behaviors and said he was just a really mean horse, and he did not know what else to do for him… As soon as I approached Diablo, I could see his ears go back, his eyes squint, and he snorted and moved nervously as his body tightened up. Then he began to lift his right hind leg, aiming to kick me. I did all the nonverbal, loving, compas¬sionate communication I could. I slowly approached him, allowed him to sniff me, and I gently rubbed his neck. He tightened up even more, and I could see him aiming and still swinging that right hind to kick me. I performed the acu¬puncture point palpation exam as much as I was able. As soon as I reached his right hind over his sacroiliac region, he could no longer restrain himself. Diablo tried to strike me as viciously as possible, missing me by inches, clearly stating, “Don’t go there!” I was able to get close enough to perform a bit more thorough examination, and I suggested he go for a bone scan of the right sacroiliac region as I was suspicious of a possible old fracture from the racetrack in the right S-I joint. Few other injuries might cause that much chronic and severe pain in that area. I have seen many off-the-track Thoroughbreds with varying degrees of right sacroiliac injuries from strains, to ligamentous tears, to fractures due to racing too young and always going in the same direction. The trainer and owner refused to heed my advice.
Fortunately, I knew the next rider who ended up with Diablo, and upon my recommendation, she agreed to take the horse to New Bolton Equine Center at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. On the bone scan they did find an old injury to the right sacroiliac joint and through careful sedation, they were able to inject it. The horse’s personality instantly changed and he was not nearly as dangerous. Now manageable, Diablo flourished under his new rider’s loving, careful attention. The rider was able to rehabilitate the horse and bring him back to being rideable, and even nice most of the time. I rechecked the horse after the sacroiliac injection and was able to do a complete exam. He had been in such pain before that all he could do was defend himself in any way possible. I chuckled and suggested that she change his name to something more fitting for his new, improved personality, and that Diablo was perhaps not appropriate anymore.
I treated the horse with acupuncture and chiropractic care every few months and was able to maintain him pain-free for over a year. After that time, he started to become more defensive around that S-I joint again, so I suggested the owner have her veterinarian or New Bolton Center re-inject the joint. They did so, and he was able to continue work for another year or more. Periodically he would need the S-I joint injected.
I am so grateful to the rider who made the commitment to help Diablo. I am grateful to the veterinarians at New Bolton who were able to evaluate him, diagnose the problem, and treat him appropriately. From what I can see in the horses I treat, I believe that right-side sacroiliac injuries are common in off-the-track Thoroughbreds and cause a tremendous amount of pain in many of them. It is not normally part of a differential diagnosis for veterinarians who are not familiar with such injuries in racehorses. I would like to see this condition mentioned more in the veterinary literature in regard to Thoroughbreds that have raced. This is but one example of where I really feel for the horse.
This excerpt from The Compassionate Equestrian by Dr. Allen Schoen and Susan Gordon is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).