Sunday, July 09, 2006

How to "manage" your blacksmith

Navicular disease. Most horse people shudder when they hear that, whether it's about their horse or someone else's. It's because they realize that it's an uphill battle that you really can't win. Once degeneration starts in that bone, it can't be reversed or stopped. It can only be treated, or what the vets like to say is "managed."

The official results from the radiologists at Washington University say that my horse has navicular disease. He has a confirmed, inflamed, active cyst in his left front navicular bone and a very small area of degeneration beginning in his right front navicular bone. That's the bad news. The good news is that they agree with Dr. A that the deep digital flexor tendon is not involved at all.

So we have a diagnosis. Great. What next? "Management of the condition." Ugh. Basically we start by changing his shoes in the front. By putting a special wedge pad (a hard piece of plastic) between his shoes and his foot and rounding his toes off to make his foot shorter, we will reduce the load on the tendon, thus reducing the stress on the bone. Then we'll start with three medications in doses that we know will alleviate the inflammation and the pain. After that it's a matter of slowly reducing the meds until we find the lowest dose that controls the pain.

The shoeing is the tricky part. No because it's hard to do, but because of the personalities involved.

I first met my blacksmith 6 years ago when I started riding with my trainer. At that time I was having problems with Kaswyn taking uneven strides in front. He wasn't really lame, just uneven, and I had resorted to giving him a dose of anti-inflammatories every other day cause it seemed to help. Since I had been through 5 blacksmiths and was not happy with the current one, my trainer asked this blacksmith, J., to shoe Kaswyn. After one shoeing my horse was even. It was like magic. When I asked him what he did, he just looked at me and said, "Well, I evened him up in front. He has two differently shaped feet. I just got them even. That's it."

See, while that might seem like he's pretty casual about the whole thing, what's actually happening is that he's really digging on being the big savior. J, like almost all blacksmiths, thinks quite a bit of himself. And he is a huge character. He'll say he needs you there to hold the horse just because he wants to have someone to chat with while he works. He'll tell you jokes, talk about the latest barn gossip, talk about politics or unemployment or whatever. He always has an opinion, and he has these crazy metaphors that he uses to get his point across. More on that later. But don't get me wrong - I love J. I would not want anyone (well, except Kaswyn's very first blacksmith in California, Paul) touching my horse's feet again.

Like I said, J has an ego. And when you get a bunch of backsmiths that have egos, they sometimes butt heads and end up not getting along. Most barns have multiple blacksmiths that service clients, so every now and then you'll have two of them at the barn at the same time. If they're buddies, no problem. If not, there can be trouble. So when I moved my horse to a particular barn, this is the conversation I had with J -

J: "I can't go there and shoe your horse. R shoes all the horses over there. "
ME: "Well I don't want him to do it. I want you to do it."
J: "Look, I've seen his work. He does a nice job. Just have him do it."
ME: "No. I don't like his work. I like your work. Please, J."
J: "I just don't think I can do it."
ME: "Okay. Then you tell me the next time you'll be at a barn in the area shoeing horses. I will bring my horse to you and you can do him any place you'd like to."
J: (long pause, followed by a sigh) "When do you want me to come over there?"

After that, whenever I've moved my horse he just comes and shoes him, no questions asked. Usually I try and be there when he works because I enjoy talking to him. Most of the time he asks if I've had to give my horse any anti-inflammatories, and when I tell him no, he implies that since he's the reason I don't have to medicate my horse, maybe he should be getting some of the money I'm saving. He's kidding, of course. I do, however, appreciate his work, so I bake him cookies or a pie as a little thank you. When he's all done with Kaswyn and I say thank you and hand him his goodies, he'll say "Well, I just want you girls to be happy." And I've been happy.

The best way for Kaswyn to get his special navicular shoes is for Kaswyn to go to Dr. G's place and get x-rays of his feet. Then J and Dr. G will measure and look at the films and decide what the best angle will be for his foot so that J can make the wedge pad the right height. Major problem #1 - J doesn't like Dr. G. Major problem #2 - the feeling is mutual.

This is not a new problem, and I suspect it's not something that happened over night. I imagine that it arose from Dr. G telling clients "Tell your backsmith to do X with your horses shoes." and then J saying "I don't think that's going to help. It's a bad idea." Then the horse owner gets caught in the middle. Dr. G is a lameness expert and feels he knows the best course of action. J is a blacksmith and feels that he has put more shoes on horses than Dr. G has so he knows best.

I left it up to my trainer, L, to tell J that he had to go to Dr.G's to shoe Kaswyn. For some reason J really likes my horse, so he told her that he would do it. He made a big deal about how he hates going there, and told L that she and I have to take him out to dinner as a thank you. She agreed and told her that she'd call him when we had an appointment for Kaswyn. When she called him and left a message about the appointment, he didn't call back. Four days later, on the morning of the appointment, she called him and he said "Well, I don't know if I can make it. I have four horses to do that morning. But I'll try." When she pulled into Dr. G's place, J was right behind her.

I had to work that day, but went right over there after work. As I pulled up I saw J putting his anvil away. I came up and we talked about what he did with the shoes. We were discussing navicular disease and how it's very uncommon in arabian horses (which Kaswyn is), and I said that it probably wouldn't have been as advanced as it is if I hadn't trained and showed him so much. This is what he told me:

"Look at it this way. You got two guys. Over here we have Joe Stud the athlete, and over there we got Dweezil McGee who sits in the library all day and reads. Now, Joe, he gets up every day and runs and lifts weights, all that jazz. Dweezil keeps reading those books. At 30 or 40 years old, when Joe gets out of bed he starts to feel his age. He's got those aches and pains. Dweezil doesn't. But what's Dweezil done with his life? Nothin'. So if you ask me if I'd rather have a horse that's done nothing with no navicular disease or your horse, there's no question. . . (points at the barn) . . . I'd rather have him."

As I handed him his plate of cookies (chocolate chip, no nuts), I told J how much I appreciated him coming out there for me, and he said "Well, you know what I say. All I want is for you girls to be happy."

Thankfully both Dr. G and J were on their best behavior and there were no incidents - just shoeing of my horse. They may disagree at some point down the road, but I guess I'll deal with that when I have to. Whatever they did seems to be working - I've ridden Kaswyn 3 times since he got his new shoes and meds. He moves differently because of the new shoeing, but he is back to his old self as far as wanting to work goes. He seems like a happy camper.

I hope he knows that, like J, I just want him to be happy.


Lil Kate said...

I'm glad to hear that you finally have a diagnosis and a plan of action. I hope that Kaswyn continues to feel better and want to work. Poor kid!

Garlanda said...

I'm really glad to hear it. Will hte diagnosis and treatment mean you have to do anything different in terms of riding, training and showing?

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