Operation hasn't worked well - what next?


Well-Known Member
3 August 2009
Up North
I have posted about this before but I have a lot of stuff going through my head at the moment about my horse's future and just need a bit of advice.
My 16 yo semi-retired gelding has bone spavin in both hocks for which he has had a year of treatment and which, according to the vet, seemed to be fusing and he was pain-free for happy hacking.
He stumbled out when we were out for a blast and hurt his hind leg.
Vet initially thought foot injury - hosed, tubbed , poulticed, box rest etc but after a couple of weeks he was no better, farrier couldn't find anything - other vet came out and said straight away it was fetlock. Box rested for longer but we were worried about his arthritis making him stiff so turned him out in a small paddock for a month to see if it sorted itself out. In hindsight we should have investigated more thoroughly but I have a lot going on in my life and trusted it would sort itself. I also was very reluctant to box rest etc as he absolutely hates it and can go on hunger strike, he'd get too stiff etc etc.
However it hasn't. Called vet again as he was getting worse not better. Scans showed thickening of annular lgament and lots of scar tissue in tendon sheath. Only option was to operate.
Horse had an operation a few weeks ago to clear the scar tissue and cut the annular ligament.
Unfortunately the op was not very successful and the vet couldn't clear as much scar tissue as he wanted. Prognosis is now very guarded due to the amount of scar tissue left inside the tendon sheath. Horse will be assessed again 1 month after op. He's home on box rest with 2 x 10 min walks a day. Vet said best case scenario is field-soundness and retirement. Highly unlikely he will be ridden again. However if he doesn't improve after a month or so we will have to rethink. Obviously nobody has a crystal ball to predict how long recovery may take.

I have never had the experience of deciding whether and when to end a horse's life before. I know it's early days and he has 3 weeks before vet comes out to assess but as you can imagine I am very worried about it. I am terrified to watch him suffer, stiffen up more and get depressed as we go into winter. The last thing I want is for him to lose his sparkle - I'd rather he went happy than fade away. At present he's pretty cheerful and glad to be home from horsepital, and enjoying his walks out and attention.

I think what I am asking is, how long do people give horses like this to recover? Am I being unkind, given the op was not successful, to keep him going for more than a few months? Is it fair to put an arthritic horse through winter if there's no guarantee to come sound?

ANy advice would be really appreciated!


Well-Known Member
1 June 2012
Hi noblesteed. Really sorry to hear of your situation.

I posted a couple of months ago regarding my 19 year old mares on and off lameness (you may find some of the responses on there comforting as I was asking the same questions as you).

I have chosen to retire her, and give her one last summer to enjoy before PTS. There are various reasons I am choosing not to investigate further and rehab her. I also think next time she goes lame (knowing her history with it), it will go badly, and like you, I don't want it to be in the depths of winter when it is cold, miserable, and I have left it too long for her. Mine is now on 24/7 turn out on grass livery, and is field sound. She is quite happy bumbling around with them stuffing her face, so has the next couple of months to enjoy the good weather and plenty of grass with two buddies as long as she stays comfortable.

I completely understand your concerns about the box rest/arthritis- I think any owner would be the same and it is a big consideration when making any decisions. The fact the current operation and treatment probably requires box rest then contradicts the other conditions, can really make things hard to manage. I do not envy you.

I don't think anyone can really make the decision for you. And I think you need to ask yourself more the question of when is the 'wrong' time, than the right. To me, the wrong time is when the horse has little quality of life due to pain, mobility, old age etc.

Any other time, based on the horses welfare, their comfort and care, your own personal feelings, finances, or anything else, means that as an owner, you are selflessly putting your horses needs first, and that is the last piece of dignity we can offer them. You are by no means being cruel or selfish by making the decision, in fact quite the opposite.

Going into winter is such a horrid time even when you have a perfectly healthy horse. Personally though, having one retired, with various conditions, I would definitely rather make the decision sooner, rather than later.

Thinking of you and big hugs. x


Well-Known Member
7 February 2013
I am sorry you are in this situation, and my advice is that you will be right, whatever you decide. The right time depends on so many factors. I think the worst thing is drifting on, where it is hard to make a decision as each day is much like the last.

Our Charlie horse only had 6 weeks from first lameness to PTS. He was uncomfortable on 4 bute, and although it was sudden onset of pain, the arthritis had been there a while. It just developed until it was in the joint. We knew when he was not sound on 4 bute, and he no longer laid down. Some people thought we had been hasty as he was walking well, but if asked to trot he was in agony and the other tell was that he was grey and was still white in the morning. Poor guy dare not lie down in case he could not get up, I think.

I like that he went on a sunny day, looking well, and it was all planned. We actually did it in spring, but he was a sweet itch horse so the summer was not as nice as winter for him.

I feel for you, but whatever you decide is right.