Subtle Changes May Indicate Pain

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At one time or another, nearly every horse will be lame to some degree during their lifetime. Problems that go undetected until the horse is seriously lame can be significant, and at that point the damage may not be completely reversible. Training yourself to check for early indicators can prevent that and decrease the amount of lost training time.

You should be constantly on the lookout for subtle changes that could indicate an oncoming problem. Record any small changes you see in a notebook that you keep in the feed room. Write what you saw, no matter how vague, and the day and time. If it’s nothing, all you’ve wasted is a few minutes of time. But if it worsens, the onset may help your veterinarian make a quicker diagnosis.

In order to do this accurately, you need to be familiar with what’s normal for your horse and what’s not. Report abnormalities to your veterinarian immediately and discuss if he or she thinks it warrants a barn visit. It should become second nature for you to include these checks in your daily management of the horse:

• Run your hands over all surfaces of all four legs daily. Be alert to areas that feel warmer to the touch or have any filling/swelling.

• Watch for the horse pinning ears, swishing tail, flinching, stiffening, or moving away when you approach or touch an area. This could occur when picking up the feet, grooming, tacking up or riding. Pay close attention if the horse reacts negatively to being brushed or touched anywhere.

• Check the temperature of the feet on a daily basis. Pick them up, pick them out and make sure the frogs, soles and heel bulbs are normal.

• Inspect the shoes for uneven wear at every farrier visit. Discuss odd wear patterns with your farrier and veterinarian. Shoes should wear evenly.

• Be alert to changes in how the horse feels underneath you. The horse is an expert at making gait compensations when there is low-grade pain, with the result that someone looking at him might not see anything amiss, but you can feel it.

• Note changes when you’re riding, including a:

• Difference in the horses preferred speed of walk, trotting and cantering.

• Reluctance to go in a particular gait or take a particular lead.

• Change in where the horse wants to take off for a jump, roughness on landing or always landing with the same leading leg.

• Remember that changes in appetite and personality/“attitude” can often be indicators of pain, and a brewing lameness is by far the most common cause of pain.

• Head carriage abnormalities (rigidly in the horse’s neck is common with front leg pain).

• Reluctance to accept the bit.

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