Aside World Magazine

Summer 2020 Issue 

Rosy's Ringbone Surgery

Article by Jacquelynn Holly

Photo Credits: Payton Askins and Jacquelynn Holly

I have waited at least a year to share this emotional story’s happy new beginning.


This story is for everyone who appreciates medical advancements. This story is for everyone whose equines have struggled with unilateral high ringbone. There is an answer. There is a solution to having your trusty steed sound again.


If you are like me, you don’t believe in a lot of products unless they are prescribed by a veterinarian. But then, even some solutions suggested by a veterinarian aren’t guaranteed to work either. It’s hard to know what remedies you should try, and undoubtedly certain ones work for some while they have no effect on others. I can relate to both!

This is Rosy’s story. I have owned my heart mule for 20 years and she has given me everything I have ever asked of her.


For as long as I can remember she has struggled with lameness on her right front. My mom (also a veterinarian) trailered me and Rosy to several different specialists in Southern California and did annual radiographs of all angles. Nothing was ever very clear until about 2013 when the radiographs began to reflect high ringbone.


Fortunately for Rosy, she responded fabulously to a daily quarter tablet of Previcox. She was sound and we were able to continue drill performances, parades and re-enactment. I was still cautious not to push her too hard; limiting rides to the flat and soft terrains.


Around 2016, she was doing so well on soft ground, I took her off her daily quarter tablets, and her dosage became a half tablet before any big performance and a half tablet afterwards to ensure her comfort. It was at this point that we believed her high ringbone had fused on its own. We continued to do work on the flat, missing our mountains, but playing it safe none the less.


When we moved to Idaho in April 2017, Rosy was sound, doing great on pasture and enjoying Idaho trails with the same basic limitations and routine; flat, soft terrain, and half tablets before and after performance events.


The winters in Idaho were, however, much colder than this California-born and raised mule had ever been exposed to. Maybe it was coincidence, maybe it wasn’t, but by winter 2019, Rosy’s minimal Previcox dosage had increased to nearly half a tablet daily and absolutely no riding. She was so uncomfortable to the point the increased Previcox dosage appeared to not give any relief anymore.


I was desperate to help her. My heart broke as I felt so helpless.


We went to Idaho Equine Hospital (IEH), hopeful. Dr. Wahl suggested corrective shoeing. I have known high ringbone equines to benefit from corrective shoeing, however, it’s not typical. But I was willing to do whatever Dr. Wahl recommended, even if it didn’t prove to be the solution we needed. 


As an aside, Rosy had never been shod. She has tough hard feet and has been barefoot all her life.


To my disappointment, Rosy didn’t show any improvement with shoes. We returned to IEH. Dr. Wahl suggested OSPHOS with a known 50% chance of success. It was worth trying! But alas, Rosy did not show any improvement on OSPHOS, either.


On March 10, 2019, around 9:35 pm, I walked out to bring the mules in to their stalls for the night. Rosy was under the driveway light, laying down, and Roxy, my other mule, was standing guard over her.


I called them. Roxy came over per her usual social self, but Rosy wouldn’t move. Rosy is the type of mule who will normally jump up at the sight of you walking towards her – even after 20 years of knowing each other.


That night is burned into my memory. It was a struggle to get Rosy to the barn. Each step was excruciating to watch. Her discomfort was beyond everything we had tried, but we had exhausted all our options.


Except one.


Dr. Wahl had mentioned surgery in passing once when we were first trying corrective shoeing. It was time to revisit that option. Though costly and invasive, it was the only option they guaranteed soundness with.  This sounded fantastic to me. Dr. Wahl told me about a roping mule well known at Bishop Mule Days who had undergone the same procedure and who was actively roping again.


I was told Rosy was an ideal candidate; she was (is) a healthy, fit equine, 23 years old (at time of procedure), no other forms of arthritis and most importantly, her ringbone was unilateral.

This procedure cannot be performed on equines with bilateral ringbone. It requires a week of wearing a cast post-op and the unaffected leg is really stressed during recovery.


On March 19, 2019, Rosy was scheduled for surgery.


Rosy’s procedure went very smoothly. However, mules tend to be very sensitive to different drug combinations and her recovery was an unpredicted roller coaster. The first 72 hours post-op were by far the most emotional and stressful for all of us (Rosy, me, and the entire IEH team). Rosy didn’t handle the drug concoction they’d administered, and her pain was incontrollable to the point that she nearly gave up on herself entirely.


Part of me believes our kids and their carrot visits are what kept her pushing through. We practically lived in her stall at IEH. We are so fortunate to live less than mile away from the medical facility, so it was a breeze to swing by at any given time. And enormous thanks to all those at the facility who treated us like family and welcomed us at all hours of the day and night.


Rosy’s stay at IEH was prolonged nearly two weeks due to her initial rough recovery from anesthesia and pain killers, and ultimately a continued delayed recovery once she was 72 hours post-op. She was at IEH just shy of a month. When she came home, she was limited to a 12x12 stall for another month. But at least she was finally at home.


Eventually, she was given permission to go back on pasture. And later, to start light work. From that point on, it really is all just a blur where different milestones were reached.


However, a very memorable milestone was achieved on Wednesday, May 27th, 2020. We received the most incredible news ever from Dr. Wahl. He said Rosy could resume all normal activity including hills and loping - two things we haven’t been able to do in many years!


Our entire family is so thrilled to have the family mule “back”. Since her green light to resume all activity in May 2020, Rosy has had daily evening rides down the canal banks, participated in a parade, done a mounted photoshoot aside, given our kids countless rides and participated in several online virtual shows (due to COVID-19).


If your equine has unilateral high ringbone, there is an option for complete soundness. Full recovery is expected around 18 months post-op. Rosy will be 18 months post-op in September 2020. 


My understanding is that this particular procedure ranges in cost; anywhere from $8,000-$15,000 depending on your location and all that is involved in recovery. The final cost for Rosy naturally went over the initial quote due to her prolonged stay at IEH. Every practice will be different. I can’t emphasize how phenomenal Dr. Wahl is. I hope everyone takes the time to watch the procedure.


Link to Watch her WHOLE surgery.


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