Q: I have a 7-year-old Thoroughbred I got off the track three years ago. I had my veterinarian come out when I first got the horse to investigate a strange popping sound I heard when he turned in a small circle. My vet told me it was in his stifles and told me to adjust his diet to reduce protein, work on conditioning, and it should improve. My dressage instructor has told me that he seems to be slightly off in the hind end and suggested I get it looked at again. I’ve decided to get another vet’s opinion about what it could be. I would like to know what questions are most important to ask, what things should I expect the vet to do when he is examining my horse, and how to be sure that this time I get answers instead of more questions.
—Jessica Shier, Saint Clair, Mich.
A: Stifle problems are common in equines. Part of a complete examination would include a good set of nerve and/or joint blocks to isolate the gait deficit to the stifle joint. More often than not there are multiple areas of the leg causing pain. A systematic methodology for determining where the lameness is should be attempted.
Once the veterinarian identifies the areas of pain, performing appropriate diagnostic tests can further characterize specific causes. Conditions usually can be diagnosed with simple X rays or ultrasound; if not, a nuclear bone scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan might be necessary.
In your horse it sounds like the classic upward fixating patella. “Popping” sounds from the stifle are almost always related to this phenomenon. There ar