parallax background

Sacroiliac Joint Disease – Our Journey Six Years On

Kerrits Microcord Breeches
December 11, 2017
Epiony Heat Pad
April 10, 2018

This particular blog has been written about a subject really close to my heart...

It's really important to me that I share my story with fellow equestrians in a bid to try and change peoples perceptions of Sacroiliac Joint Disease in horses.

Now, before I start I want you to know that I am not by any means claiming to know everything. What I am is a fellow equestrian with an experience that has had a positive outcome that I wish to share with you all in hope of inspiring others that may have been through, or currently going through something similar to our story with their own horse(s).
OK, if you have ever Googled "Sacroiliac Joint Disease in horses" you will be sure to find prodominately negative information. I have yet to find anything overly positive on the subject, which is why I plan to break the mould with my personal journey right here! I fully appreciate that each and every horse has a different coping mechanism, as well as well as each owner’s needs and circumstances being totally different. I am simply explaining what has worked for us.
Owning a horse with Sacroiliac Joint Disease isn’t as bad as some may believe. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe I chose not to accept that the diagnosis meant that Lizzy's ridden career could be over. Lizzy is a super strong spirited mare who doesn't give up easily, she has fire in her belly and if any horse was going to try their hardest to come come back in to ridden work, I knew it would be her!


In late 2011 Lizzy was diagnosed with Sacroiliac Joint Disease.

Eagerly awaiting to see the vet in the reception area of the practice to be given the results of the Scintigraphy scan for Lizzy. I could only think of Lizzy and how all I wanted was my kind hearted mare in my sights and home again.

The vet sat me down and explained to me that Lizzy had been diagnosed with Sacroiliac joint disease, I had never heard of this in horses until that moment. I was told that what ever my decision for Lizzy's future, they would fully support me. My only question to the vet, "Lizzy loves to lay down to sleep in her stable and to have a good roll in the field, would she ever get to the point of getting stuck and not able to get herself up again if the disease progressed?" The answer was a firm "No." That was all I needed to hear, Lizzy was coming home with me, she owed me nothing and I owed her everything. That winters evening I left the vets with my most prized possession on board my horse box, tears streaming down my face with the glare of the headlights of the oncoming traffic in my eyes. Part of me felt sad that maybe she would never be ridden again, but the other part was relief now we had answers. I now knew what we were dealing with after weeks of unusual lameness that wasn't highly obvious but knew she wasn't right. I was now able to help Lizzy be happy and comfortable for what I thought would be possible retirement.


Our plan of action.

I was relieved to be bringing Lizzy back to the yard and settling her into her stable.

I went home to have a sleep and wake up fresh minded after feeling emotionally drained. The next morning I awoke with a fresh mind and arranged to book Lizzy back into the vets for one treatment of Tilden that next week. This was one of two options we were given, the other was a steroid injection directly into the joint. I opted out of this as I was told the procedure would possible be uncomfortable for Lizzy, I'd have rather not ridden her again than put her through anymore. Lizzy has a rather long clinical history from her early years which you may hear more on in later blogs, but with this in mind I wasn't prepared to put Lizzy through anymore treatment other than the Tilden. Once back from the vets after our one day visit for Tilden, we started our work plan that the vet had put together for us to see if Lizzy would come right.
We are now 6 1/2 years post diagnosis, and although Lizzy doesn't move bio-mechanically as well as other horses, you will see from the images below how happy she is in her work and how much she enjoys it! I think a big plus point is that Lizzy LOVES her work and she has a very busy mind that likes to do something. She isn't a horse that would retire easily and I do believe this is one of the reasons of her doing as well as she has. The photos below are from May 2017.


Key components to keeping Lizzy comfortable.

What I feel are key components to keeping Lizzy moving well and staying comfortable:

We attend regular pole work clinics and school over poles twice weekly with varied layouts, keeping Lizzy's active mind busy and her hind legs active!

I find Zig-Zag trotting poles a fantastic exercise (stolen from our pole work guru) these help encourage Lizzy to really open her frame and allow her to remember she can lift her hocks.

A weekly session of in-hand lateral work, gives us both a break from schooling and helps to keep work varied and interesting for Lizzy as well as her legs active.

We keep our bursts of work short, sweet & FUN. Lizzy appreciates regular short intervals. I find if I ask too much in one go she will let me know it's a little too much.

We hack 2-3 times a week in the summer months, at least once a week during the winter months keeping our hacking on varied terrain from road work, to farm hacks and woodland. The hill work is fab to keep her hind legs working so that Lizzy's engine stays strong. I rarely trot on hard ground or roads, only to move out of the way from traffic as concussion doesn't help SJD.

Weekly long lining sessions allow Lizzy to work in a stretchy long and low frame without the weight of me as a rider on her.

A comfortable bed to lie-down on if desired. Lizzy does enjoy a relaxing snooze every evening and I feel it's so important for her to rest when she feels she needs to.

Daily turn out for as long as possible, or at least daily. Long periods of time standing in will not help stiffness. Lizzy loves to come in around 2pm so I ensure she is walked every evening in hand for 5 minutes or so if she is having a day off from ridden work.


A short clip of Lizzy working at home, January 2018


What I find works best for us.

Keeping Lizzy out of work for long periods of time can cause her to become a little more stiff behind.

I wouldn't advise to drill a horse with this problem but I find either working Lizzy every other day, or two day's in a row and one day off type of routine works well for her. Lizzy has had the occasional week off here and there over the years which is very rare, but she has always come back into work well after a week off. I have never left her longer than a week however, I do tend to start with ground work when I first bring her back into work to allow her to ease into work without the interference of me on her. Obviously if other injury's occur and she need rest, then that can throw a spanner in the works. Lizzy has had a tendon injury since her diagnosis and I was fortunate enough to be able to turn her out for an hour a day in a small paddock as well as starting ridden work for ten minutes under saddle in walk. So although she was on rest I was able to keep her moving daily and not totally confined to her stable. I have read articles where horses have been diagnosed and turned away for a few months at a time and never come back right. I don't feel you can expect a horse to rest and loose muscle around the engine that powers him. Those muscles need to be used regularly and correctly to remain effective for the horse to stay strong. As mentioned previously I do understand that every situation is different, this is simply the journey I have personally been through with Lizzy. I do hope that it brings some inspiration and comfort to some of you going though a similar journey with your own horses, we all know that they are total heartbreakers when things don't always go the way we had planned. What we do know, we as horse owners will do anything to get our horses right or comfortable at the very least.

A little side note.

Lizzy hasn't been on any supplements since her diagnosis however, she is now 16 and I felt she could probably do with something to help her a little. At end of 2017 I researched a few options and decided to try her on PremierFlex HA. After three weeks of being on PremierFlex HA i've noticed an obvious positive change in Lizzy's way of going, she feels elastic and supple! So much so people have asked me what I had changed with Lizzy as she looks much more relaxed! It may not work for every horse but I wanted to add this in as a side note as it could be helpful to you.

If you have any questions you would like to ask after reading this blog, please feel free to drop me a message or leave a message in the comments box below. What ever your journey, sending you my equestrian well wishes, Kirsty x


Follow our journey, tips and inspiration over on Instagram!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *