Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Just want to start off with: none of this is medical advice. Consult with your vet, farrier, etc... on issues. This is just me writing about my experience with locking the stifle/intermittent upward fixation of the patella. I have seen Carbon almost every day and let him be free in the arena after working with him a little bit. I usually walk him in hand and trot with him in hand which is more of a workout for me really. I have been afraid of overdoing it (apparently not the case). When free he usually runs and bucks and rears of his own free will. One day he ran particularly fiercely and looked like a little racehorse. He jumped up in the air and did a double barrel kick. It was impressive. He does a good job of respecting my space and I run around with him too if I have the energy. When he is tired he gets a certain look and comes trotting up to me to be put back on the lead line, which is pretty mind-blowing for me as it took a bit of effort to get my horses in the past to come up to me after so much activity and excitement. Will admit he is getting big and after watching him go full out it is a little intimidating when he comes trotting up to me but he must not know that hahaha. shhhhh... it's a secret. Have a short clip of what it looks like when he is done and ready to be put back on a lead rope.
Anywho, I usually walk him around the arena to cool down after those bursts of energy. This time I noticed a loud dull clicking sound. At first, I thought someone was banging on something in the distance. I stopped. He stopped. The sound stopped. Finally, I figured out it was coming from his back left leg. I noticed his movement was off, very subtle but it was there. I think I panicked a little on the inside. I continued to walk him and then put him in his stall where I stretched and checked all his legs. No heat, no swelling, and no pain from the looks of it.
One of my friends was around so I asked him to take a look. When I took Carbon back out the sound and the odd gait were gone. My friend reassured me he did not see anything, and neither did I. I thought, well, he did run the hardest I ever have seen him maybe did pull something. It happens. I just never experienced it, especially with a horse this young.
Roll forward to the next time he ran in a similar fashion, November 14. It happened again. Except for this time, it did not go away as fast. I decided to let him rest and did not let him run free. We just did hand walking and trotting. I kept an eye on him. The next few days it was more obvious and walking on the uneven ground he would have a dull click. He would also drag his back left toe slightly (front of the hoof) occasionally. Had a few people look and see if they were noticing what I did. They did but they were not sure what it was.
At this point, I called the vet. He was due for his vaccines and microchip so mind as well. I may have lost a bit of sleep trying to figure out what it could be. I knew something was off but not sure what. I finally came upon "Locking Stifle." It looked very similar, mild cases. It can be very dramatic. A horse can essentially lock their knees since they sleep standing up. However, sometimes it doesn't release so their leg is locked and this affects the hock and the pastern hence the toe dragging.
I also read up on common foal problems. Turns out foal's bones can grow too fast and their tendons don't keep up and a symptom can be locking stifles. I was pretty sure that is what it was and hoping for that because the treatment is exercise. In the meantime, until the vet came, I restricted his exercise to just walking in hand just in case it was something else. He was not pleased but he did so well.
The vet came out on Nov 26. Carbon was a very good boy for his vaccines and microchip. Was not pleased about the rectal temp check. He was not really showing much of a gait abnormality at the time the vet was there but luckily I had videos. She said it was "intermittent upward fixation of the patella." His tendons are weak. She said needs plenty of turnout (being out in the field outdoors) as much as possible. Luckily, a paddock became available and it is on an incline and not flat which is perfect for this. She also recommended hill work and ground poles, a change in diet, and balanced hoof trim, shortening the toes help. Farrier did say he has some imbalance but it was not bad and he easily corrected it and we will keep on top of it.
Carbon is a big boy and he has grown so fast that in a few months I think he will be Sahara's size! The vet was not familiar with the feed I chose. And I spent so much time researching the best horse feed too! Sigh. Highest reviews for best ingredients, no corn or molasses, no rapid growth. The number of choices there is for horse feed is INSANE. And one brand has 5 different varieties for foals. It might not even be related but just in case she recommended a ration-balancing feed to switch him to. A ration-balancer feed is all the minerals and vitamins they need without the calories.
They are not really sure what causes/triggers the problem but I read that a lot of issues can show up after weaning. The process is stressful and when the horse is no longer stressed it can have a "catch-up growth spurt" that can cause some issues. Also, lack of fitness and straight leg conformation can play a part in it all. The vet said it can be a pretty common problem in big breed horses regardless and usually resolves on its own with exercise and growth, she did not seem concerned. We were encouraged to let him run free as he does which he was extremely happy about. The major hurdle for him is he is not kept in a more natural environment like my foals were. He has a good-sized space but there is not a real incentive for him to move on his own so much, especially in this cold weather.
So guess who is getting super fit? Me! I lost 6 pounds! Not that I want or need to. I have my own issues. Maybe I should start eating his old food haha. I am jogging with him over poles and making him walk up and down the only tiny hill, we have access to. I also back him up on flat ground and the hill. I also stretch his hind legs in front and back of him 20-30 seconds each stretch, his favorite part as he is super cooperative. I even learned about tail stretches which I never did with any of my other horses but Carbon seems to relax and enjoy it.
We have been aiming for 20 minutes of exercise a day. Maybe 30 all in all if you count the walking. I also put him with his brothers for an hour and they get him moving around and playing. Super fun to watch if he is super active in there with them I don't make him exercise. He does come to the gate and give me similar look that he is done with socializing and pretty much sticks his face in the halter and is ready to go to his paddock where hay awaits him. My husband comes out on weekends and we take turns running with him around the arena. Also, Nathan is working on him with some simple basic groundwork exercises.
When we first started the increase in an exercise he kind of got worse. He was reluctant to move forward the next day. He walked incredibly slow, he was a bit sore. I would massage his stifles, he would back away and kick out gently telling me he was uncomfortable but I persisted and he relaxed. His stifles were a bit swollen and hot which went away the next day but he was still sluggish/sore for a few days. December 2, at one point his left leg fully locked up and he looked a bit panicked. He came over to me dragging his leg behind him. We are such an emotional pair when things like this happen haha. Trauma surgery? Easy, let's do it, team. My baby's leg locked up for 5 seconds. An emotional wreck, both of us. Funny now but not at the time.
We were able to unlock it by working together. I made him walk and turn (backing up I read can unlock it but we didn't need to do that) and I massaged and stretched it and after warming up more it went away.
This week of Dec 5, I notice a huge difference. He was walking beside me again with great impulsion. Trotting looks very nice. There is still some stiffness on harder ground. I have not heard clicking as much. His canter at the beginning of the week was a bit like a bunny hop. Which upon reading up, means that his Sacroiliac Joint and surrounding tissues might be affected. My theory is he really strained himself that one day he went all out. Unlike my foals in the past who 24/7 were free and on different terrain and playing, they probably had the fitness and whatnot built up to handle big movements. Plus no such thing as winter in the Philippines so every day is a good day to play and run. Here horses slow down a lot with the cold weather. Towards the end of the week, he was trotting and cantering around normally. Threw in a few rears and bucks.
So far we are looking better. Hopefully, it stays that way. I'm not saying he is cured but so far what we are doing is helping.