27 has, overall, been a pretty good year for me, but with the end of it, I can't help but consider it to be more along the lines of bittersweet. There were the highs of a new job and a reserve world championship, but I have some pretty mixed emotions right now.
Star was diagnosed today as having significant arthritic changes in her left knee; up until recently (within the last three weeks), she had never taken an off step a day in her life. There were a couple of times recently that she seemed to take a bit of a soft step, but it was subtle. A bit over a week ago, it became much more obvious. The farrier looked at her first, to determine whether we might be dealing with a bruise or an abcess. I was hopeful, but I knew in my heart that it was something more. I know my horse; if she is unsound, something is wrong.
The vet was already scheduled to be at the barn today, so she examined Star, determined the lameness was in the knee, and did x-rays. The arthritis was pretty apparent; it's clearly not something that has developed in only the past three weeks. It seems that a teeny fragment of a spur that has formed may have chipped off and irritated the joint capsule, causing the acute lameness. The vet felt the best course of action would be to inject the knee with steroids (a bit of a stronger one, and more of a less-strong but longer-lasting one) and hyaluronic acid. Star is to stay in a stall overnight, rest for the next three days, back into light work for five days, and then regular work. We'll see how it goes.
Because the knee is a more high-motion joint than the hock, the long-term prognosis is not as good as if it were the hock. The vet thinks that Star should return to complete soundness with the injections and that, with maintenence (as needed), Star should be comfortable to be ridden and compete for another couple years. The vet also recommended that putting her on either Cosequin or Adequan could help lengthen the amount of time needed between joint injections.
The disease will continue to progress, regardless of the amount of work I have her in or what treatment/therapy I use, so I don't have to feel that I might be making it worse by keeping her going. Star has been my best buddy for 14 years - half my life! - so I will absolutely do what is best for her. The minute she tells me she's done competing, she's done; from that point, I will continue to do whatever she needs to be comfortable for daily non-competitive life and beyond.
I'm relieved and grateful that the diagnosis wasn't worse, and honestly, I'm not surprised at what it was. As soon as I heard that the farrier thought it was her knee, and when she was still unsound a week after she was confirmed unsound, I had a pretty good idea of what was in store for today. I would be lying though, if I were to say that I wasn't a bit disappointed, though. Hope springs eternal, I guess.
Part of me, however, is broken-hearted, looking at the long-term picture. I couldn't care less about any of the implications in terms of competition. What bothers me is that, while Star is getting older, she's still not an old horse. It's not unreasonable to think that she'll be with me for another 15 years... but that means that her already-significant arthritis will also be around. And I hate the idea of what that could mean for her comfort level and quality of life. It progressed as far as it did with no indication whatsoever that it was even there... Star is so tough and so stoic that I'm a bit terrified of in the future, how much further it will continue to progress and how bad it will get (and therefore how much pain she'll be in) before I have any indication. I can only imagine how much pain she had to be in now to finally be unsound. It breaks my heart to think of anything causing my horse pain and negatively affecting her quality of life.
The upside to this, however, is that I will not have to play as much at "ignorance is bliss" regarding her hocks. Because she hasn't been unsound, I've not had her hocks examined for the effects of wear and tear from jumping. Now that she will be on either Adequan or Cosequin, that should help any issues that may be bubbling under the surface as far as her hocks are concerned. In the relatively near future, I will have an actual examination done on her hocks, just so I'm dealing with a known quantity, even though there has been no real indication that there is a problem.
We're likely not going to the Morgan Grand National this year. The money that had been earmarked for those entries will now be going to the vet. I would be lying if I said I'm not slightly disappointed, but the long-term well-being of my horse FAR exceeds the importance of going to a horse show. It does make me even more glad that we did go last year and had an amazing show; it may have been the last time we will go.
Star is my baby, and she's done so much for me, I can't not do right by her.