Joe’s Journey, a Fight To Find Out the Unknown: Part II

When Casey French first got Joe, she knew he could be competitive at the highest levels of barrel racing. However, a series of mystery ailments and a gut feeling let Casey know that something just wasn’t right. Here’s the second part of Joe’s journey. 

If you missed the first part of Packin French Socks’s (“Joe”) story, you can catch up here. It ended with Casey looking to get as many sets of eyes on Joe as possible in order to help determine what was going on.

2nd in RFD-TV’s The American Qualifier. Photo by Monroe Photos.

One vet recommends a stifle scope.

One vet recommends hock injections.

One vet recommends Tildren.

But then one says, “I think it’s his back. Let’s try this combination of anti-inflammatories.”

I agreed with the last vet. Back pain did explain many of the other oddities I was experiencing. The medications he prescribed worked! I worked on core strength, took dressage lessons, did all I could! And it helped…
for a little while.

Then I started to press and investigate more. X-rays were taken of his back and sent off to multiple vets. One said this could be it, but no way to be sure, since they’d seen worse. Other vets said he didn’t really look that abnormal. So it sounded like there was still no smoking gun — again. I was left completely defeated and back at square one.

When this first came about and I was quizzing literally anyone and everyone I could to find some comfort for my horse, ANOTHER vet was recommended to me. At that point I was just exhausted with being told no and dismissed it.

Finally in the fall of 2020, I knew I was watching my horse deteriorate before my very eyes. I started to think about his quality of life and even considered euthanasia. That’s when I decided to give the final vet a call. What could it hurt?

I called Dr. Reese Hand of Equine Sports Medicine Services in Weatherford, Texas. After reviewing videos and multiple discussions, he told me to bring in Joe so he could take a look at him. We loaded up and began the 11 hour trip to Texas. I had been told that Dr. Hand is an excellent lameness vet and I knew if there was any sort of surgery needed, we could likely do it there.

I found myself crying off and on the entire trip — even in the exam room once we arrived. What if I was told no again What if they couldn’t help him? I had told myself that this was my last stop. I had to quit this search no matter what the results of this visit were. I prayed every night that whatever happened this time around I could have peace with it.

Twenty minutes into our exam Dr. Hand said, “I cant find anything wrong with this horse’s legs or feet.”

I laughed and said, “Well, neither can we.”

He responded, “Let’s take him in and get some x-rays of the back.”

Once the films came back, Dr. Hand came to get my husband and me to look at the findings.

“It’s kissing spine,” he said.

Wait. What? We had looked at his back before. I began to plead my case to him about all the things I had been told.

Dr. Hand replied, “I’m not sure how you could say this isn’t what is going on here. Not only is it kissing spine, he has nine touching spaces. That’s close to ringing the bell for the most I’ve seen.”

We talked about options, and everything resulted in me saying I’d tried that. Also, they were only short term solutions.
He then agreed that Joe was a strong candidate for surgery.

Dr. Hand performed Joe’s bone shaving procedure on September 30, 2020. We are now four weeks post surgery and I am already seeing positive results.

Before on top, after on bottom. Photo courtesy of Casey French.

Before on top, after on bottom. Photo courtesy of Casey French.

There were many symptoms that pointed to this diagnosis, but they were masked because they could have been symptoms of something else. One thing that always had my attention throughout my decade together with Joe was that he never stood square. He always shifted his weight, was spread out in the front and never stood on both hind legs. Despite our best efforts, his feet remained unbalanced. He would stay high on the side on the hind feed and over time one even began to turn itself outward.

Ten days post surgery — standing square! Photo by Casey French.

Starting in 2018 he also would have these weird outbursts while riding, like mild explosions that would only last a split second and were very sporadic. Also, no matter what types of training or methods we tried, even with him being such a willing horse, he always was above the bridle. He also was a perpetual front shoe jerker, which lead to even more hoof problems.

I can say with certainty the horse I am seeing now is again the bright-eyed bay gelding I knew was hiding inside all along. His back legs are working more like they should. He’s once again taking that big, long-strided deep step with no more toe dragging. I rarely find him resting a hind leg at all now and he is almost always square up front. It’s like the hands of time have turned back the years. I see hope again. Not only in Joe, but also in myself.

The day after surgery at ESMS, Weatherford, TX. Photo by Allie Zant.

When you are at the point where you feel that your horse is better off being euthanized than staying in the pain it is in, you don’t question whether surgery is a viable option. It’s your only option, your only hope. So when presented with the option, my husband and I both whole-heartedly agreed that we wanted to proceed. There are so many opinions on whether or not surgery is the correct way to go — there is a lot of finger pointing and judgment. Some attribute kissing spine to how a horse is trained or some other failure on the part of the rider. However, I can assure you that what this horse had, he has always had. Kissing spine has been documented in yearlings and the exact cause remains unknown. I do feel confident in the new research and studies that are underway, and believe there will be more insight soon.

Joe’s first day at home. Photo by Casey French.

I don’t know where this ultimately will lead us. If Joe returns to the arena, great (which he is expected to). Bit if not, he has given me enough. He is my once-in-a lifetime. Even considering the circumstances, I would do it all again. In the process I have also learned so much, from horsemanship through the medical aspects, and I can’t imagine any horse out there that would have driven me quite so far. For that I can say with sincerity that I’m truly thankful!

Despite the pain I know he must have been in, Joe never once hesitated to go in and do his job. Not once. He always walked in calm, cool, collected and ready to compete. This horse either truly loves to barrel race or he truly loves me. In my opinion the best gift I can give him — or anything! — is a chance… and that is exactly what we did together.

I have no regrets.

On our daily hand walk. Photo by Casey French.

Stay tuned for Joe’s progress.