Horse still feels the effects of a pasture injury

Pasture injuries in horses often involve soft tissues that are slow to heal.
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Question: My yearling slipped on the ice this past winter with his hind legs going in different directions, in a sort of “splits” move. He was very sore for a few days, despite being given bute, but improved. He is now mostly sound, but every now and again he’ll take a few short strides behind. There is no heat or swelling in his hind legs. Is it possible to radiograph or ultrasound a horse’s pelvis? Could there be a break there causing his ongoing issue

Answer: I am sorry to hear about your yearling’s mishap. From what you describe, it sounds like he most likely suffered soft tissue damage from the incident, as indicated by the acute soreness in the aftermath. Given that he is mostly sound, it is unlikely that he sustained a major disruption of bone (also known as a fracture).

The short strides you are seeing could be due to residual soft tissue damage, a stress fracture that has not healed completely---these take four to six months to heal completely---or another related injury in the area that was not immediately apparent. It’s also possible that these episodes of the short strides are entirely unrelated to the slipping incident.

To answer your question directly: Yes, it is possible to both radiograph and ultrasound the pelvis. Ultrasound would probably be the best first step because it is more commonly available for field use and the gracilis muscle, which can be injured in the type of fall you described, can be readily imaged using ultrasound. You’ll want to find a veterinarian who regularly performs ultrasound exams, so ask your regular veterinarian for a referral if necessary.

If ultrasound doesn’t provide any insights, you may want to pursue further diagnostics with radiography. Depending on your yearling’s size, however, a specialized, high power radiograph machine might be required for a full exam. This process also sometimes involves general anesthesia, which is not recommended for horses with pelvic injuries, so it’s a bit of a bit of a catch 22.

Having a veterinarian experienced in lameness issues rule out other possibly causes for the short strides using diagnostic analgesia (the numbing of specific nerves to pinpoint the origin of pain) might also be a consideration.

David Frisbie, DVM, PhD,

DACVS, DACVSMR

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, Colorado

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