For over five years, Tru and I rode on a magical mystery tour of blossoming back pain. I tried at least five saddles, four vets, acupuncture, chiropractic, bodywork, essential oils, flower essences, injections, ultrasound, barefoot to shoes, and three psychics. Ya, okay, whatever you’re thinking: I was searching for solutions, and literally, would ask anyone.
Every time I would think that I had it figured out, I would do a limited distance ride of some kind, and ask Tru how he felt: sore. After pulling him from the second day of Wild West in 2017, I had a flexion test done about 12 days later, and he was sore. That vet recommended injecting his hocks, and let me know that Tru could probably not do endurance or dressage.
I was open to other disciplines, but that just could not be right. At 7 years old, with an excellent genetic profile for a sport horse—two imported Shagya-Arabian grandfathers who were eventing champions and completed Tevis with no history of early onset arthritis—I could not give up so soon. I had his hocks x-rayed: totally clean.
Two years later, after many saddle fittings, that persistent blossoming back pain, and a slip on icy mats in the winter that strained his sacroilliac joint (and failed treatment of that), I met Dr. Noel S. du Celliee Muller of Los Caballos Equine Practice, while volunteering for Tevis. Dr. Noel’s kindness and intelligence at the Deadwood vet check got my attention; his focus on performance horse soundness and extensive international training and ISELP certification in equine locomotive pathology got me to make an appointment the next week.
Dr. Noel spent over three hours with us, examining Tru with acupuncture, ultrasound and at the walk and trot on grass and concrete. The sacroilliac joint strain was obvious. For the persistent, blossoming back pain, x-rays showed two spinus processes bones were rubbing on each other, L2 and L3. He treated him with ultrasound-guided injections into the SI joint and L2/L3, plus acupuncture. I continued therapeutic ultrasound at home.
I asked about the L2/L3: Was that how he was born? What’s the prognosis? Are those bones going to move? They are right under the saddle, and that concerned me that Tru would always have pain there.
Dr. Noel said, “It’s how he was born. You have to manage it. There are no perfect bodies. If there is a perfect horse, it’s not a good horse. You have a good horse. Take it slow. Focus on performance, not on palpation. In 9 months, you’ll have your strong horse again.”
We also started shoeing him. Dr. Noel proved to me that Tru’s hooves needed to be much bigger to handle the concussion of his body on the trail. I had given it a good run, and learned a lot, but barefoot just was not going to work for this horse. I let go of my beloved Arabian Saddle Company Rubicon and got a Specialized Eurolight Saddle that needed three major adjustments to dial in for my sensitive horse (Thank you, Susan Hartje at Saddles that Fit!). I also changed to a Coolback pad, which made a huge difference.
“If there is a perfect horse, it’s not a good horse. You have a good horse. Focus on performance.”Dr. Noel du Celliee Muller, DVM, ISELP
Believe me, that is a summary of our tour. It’s the tour of the physical plane. I hope it’s useful to people who are stumped, and watching their dreams slip by with time, as I was. Now, there are many levels on which we can be ill at ease—emotional, psychological and spiritual. Our magical mystery tour followed these paths too, if you’re willing to go there with me.