How To Determine Whether Your Horse is Starting to Experience Joint or Muscle Pain.

In a perfect world, the horses that we so dearly love and enjoy riding, would feel exactly the same every day that we sit on their backs. But, because of the rigors of schooling, jumping, showing, roping, reigning, cutting or eventing or even racing, horses are going to have one or several problems arise at some point. There is that occasional “Iron Horse” that can train very hard, never miss a show and have very little time off, sometimes for years, and will never have any issues at all. These horses do exist, but they are very rare and are cherished. Just because your horse starts to show signs of stress let’s say in their joint or joints, this does not mean that it is the end of the world. There are many remedies that can be used internally and externally to help your horse cope with these issues or eliminate them. Horsemanship is more than just feeding and riding your horse. It is important that ALL of your horses’ needs are met on a daily basis, not just when it is convenient for you. I have missed many appointments over the years due to the fact that my horse was not acting just right and I wanted to hang around, to watch, look and listen. If my instincts were correct, I wanted to be there to take action immediately and hopefully nip whatever was going on in the bud.

My first suggestion to horse owners is, take a REALLY good look at each and every horse, every day and sometimes more than once a day. If you take those extra few moments to study your horses every day, your mind’s eye will have a picture implanted into it of what each and every horse is supposed to look like including all the little quirks. As soon as you study your horse on a particular day, starting with the eyes, the face, how they hold their ears, how they stand or graze, how they walk and so on and if there is something different on that day, you will pick it up immediately. You will have a certain feeling inside of you that something is not right because your mind’s eye is sending you that message. So, if you can feel or see that your horse is not acting the same on a particular day, or for several days and when you are schooling your horse and they just do not feel right, then here are my suggestions. Look at your horses’ legs, neck and shoulder muscles, their back, stifles, rump, hocks, ankles and feet and compare both sides of the horse. Look under their tale making sure there have been no loose bowel movements. Look into their eyes. The eyes have a story to tell, every day.  Start looking for clues, did they not finish their feed, not grazing or did not finish eating their hay. Pain or discomfort can cause a horse to go off of their feed. Run your hands over their neck and shoulders, down their legs, stopping at the knees, feeling for heat, lumps, fillings or changes. Feel the front of the knees and on the side of the knee closest to the other leg. Heat behind the knee on the inside facing the other leg, can sometimes be a prelude to high suspensory problems. Run your hand down the tendon and feel the shin. Next move onto the horses’ ankles, feel them front and back, run your fingers down feeling behind the pastern checking for heat, any bulges or filling or cracked heels. Finally, turn facing the same way the horse is facing, and place your whole hand on top of the horses’ hoof. If the hoof seems maybe a tad bit warm, check the other foot and compare the temperature of both feet. Run your hand down yours horses’ back looking for tenderness, looking for vertebrae that may be out of place. Run your hand over their rump and down to their hocks, feeling both inside and outside of the hock. Continue down the tendon, run your hand down the shin, feel the ankle and pastern as well as their feet. Pick up their feet and look to see if they have a stone or anything else stuck in their feet or if they are starting to develop thrush of which you will smell a foul odor. Take your thumbs and put a little pressure on the bulbs of their heels to see if they will flinch.

Watch your horse as they walk; they should have a flowing movement throughout their whole body. If they are sore somewhere, they will have what the Old Timers would say, “A hitch in their get up”. This means that there will be interrupted motion. Look for the head bob .Let’s say your horse is a little off on the left front. Every time he or she walks and that left front hits the ground, your horses’ head will go up. Usually, the more pain, the more pronounced the head bob. When horses are slightly off, it is much harder to see it as you watch. The real telltale is when you get on their backs and they just do not have that flow. The more fit a horse is, the more difficult it is to determine the origin of the soreness as it will be easier for them to compensate as they are stronger.

Here are some other things to consider if you think your horse is becoming sore. Has your horse just been shod or had their feet trimmed. It is possible that the blacksmith took a little too much foot off and your horse may feel the effects of this for a week or so. Has there been excessive running out in the field if your horse is turned out. If your horse has just been shod, feel around each and every nail hole to make sure that the horse does not have a hot nail which means that he or she has been “quicked”. Have you had the vet give your horse any shots in the last few days? Sometimes a horse will have a reaction to particular shots and they can become sometimes very sore, even muscle sore all over.

If you are finding let’s say filling in the ankles, but there is no heat, then the ankles are trying to tell you that you are asking too much from your horse and you need to back off or perhaps your horses’ hocks are bothering them behind and he or she is compensating and putting too much pressure on their front end. I could go on and on and on about the maybe’s. There are many, many joint products with glucosamine and chondroitin for your horse that are over the counter remedies. These will take a few weeks of mixing in their feed in order for you to see the results and some of them work very well, or you can start your horse on an Adequan series that you get from the vet. There are also many machines such as electro-magnetic machines, lasers, ultra sound, bio-scan and micro-current just to name a few and super charged blankets for the body all of which I love and probably have owned or used. When you find filling in a joint, that is a warning, unless of course it is from a cut or bruising. If you have filling in a joint and start to have heat, then you are going into the realm of damaging that joint if you continue the same training. There are sweats, liniments and poultices to help your horse get through these stresses. If your horse is becoming muscle sore, massage therapy is a good alternative as well as feed supplements. If your horse is a performance horse, just understand that very sore tight muscles can cause problems to develop in the lower joints as they are all connected in a certain way. Changing your training schedule is sometimes necessary in order to help your horse get through these flair ups. Just be kind, be aware and be quick to respond to changes in your horses’ body and you will learn in time how to tackle these issues. My best advice is, pay attention to detail.

If this article is helpful, please leave a comment.  Have a question?  Just ask me.  Have a topic of interest you want me to talk about?  Just tell me!  I would love to hear from you.  Bev

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