It’s a medicine basic: Look for the simple problems first. For instance, if your horse starts to limp, check first for a rock in his hoof. However, when your horse is in pain, it’s easy to forget simple ideas.
Horses can compensate for pain in different ways, often making the trouble appear to be a lameness when it’s not. A complete physical exam is a critical first step. Without this, you can find yourself looking at expensive unnecessary treatments.
We found two cases to be particularly good examples of how it’s easy to overlook basic problems in our horses.
Resistance To The Right
Stan’s owner noticed a gradually increasing tendency for him to be resistant bending around the right leg though he tracked freely, almost too quickly, in response to the left leg.
The 13-year-old Hanoverian dressage horse was also resistant to turn to the right and would toss his head during any attempt to get him to bring his nose and neck around to the right. The slightest pressure on the left rein got an immediate response. Going straight, he carried his neck bowed out slightly to the right, nose a bit to the left.
The veterinarian was called. Watching him move under saddle, Stan’s footfall looked and sounded even, with no stride shortening. However, his reluctance to bend around to the right was obvious. No heat or swelling was found. Flexion tests were negative. Blocks on his front feet showed nothing.
Two chiropractors then looked at Stan. One of them said he had a temporomandibular joint problem and adjusted that, but there was no change in Stan’s behavior. The next chiropractor said he had a cervical and atlanto-occipital subluxation and gave him a series of three adjustments. No change.Stan was also starting to eat less and would sometimes stop in the middle of taking a drink, pin his ears, try again and more often than not would walk away. Stan’s owner started to wonder if he had an ulcer.
During a regular farrier visit, Stan’s owner described the problem to the farrier. Without a word, the farrier put down Stan’s foot, went to his head and examined inside his mouth. The gum on the tongue side of his first lower cheek tooth on the left side was swollen and red.
Stan flinched with even the slightest amount of pressure near this area. Using a flashlight, the farrier found a splinter of wood wedged between the horse’s tooth and the gum. The vet removed the splinter the next day. After three days of saltwater rinses several times a day, Stan was back to normal.
Touchy Rear End
Star is a feisty little nine-year-old Arabian mare on constant turnout with three other horses and light riding. However, her owner began to notice Star would pin her ears and bite at the other horses at the slightest provocation, which wasn’t typical. She would also position herself to kick but seemed to think better of that and never followed through.
Star got defensive about having her flanks and stifle areas brushed to the point her owner decided it was the better part of valor not to push the issue. Star also didn’t play and move around in the pasture like she usually did, and her owner saw her bite at her flanks a few times.
On a weekend trail ride, Star’s owner noticed Star’s back seemed rigid. When asked to trot, she would trot a few steps then stop, swish her tail violently and act like she wanted to buck but would follow through with only a little hopping. Her owner abandoned the idea of a ride, wondering if maybe she tied up. She put pressure on Star’s rump muscles, which didn’t feel particularly hard. However, as soon as she got around Star’s back end she would tense and move away.
A chiropracter said the mare had ovarian pain and a lumbosacral subluxation. He adjusted her. No improvement. Star’s vet noticed the same sensitivity to touch around the stifles and that she was resistant to letting him pick up her back legs for a flexion test. He took radiographs of her hocks, which showed minor changes, but injected her stifles anyway. No change. He then injected her hocks, but that made no difference either. Someone also mentioned the possibility of EPM or Lyme disease.
A call was put in to another vet experienced with spinal taps. He first did a neurological exam, which was normal, although Star didn’t like anyone around her hind end. He then attempted to palpate her stifle but almost before he could touch her she started stomping, tail swishing and threatening to kick.
At this point, he noticed Star had some edema along her midline in front of the udder. When he attempted to touch this area, Star pulled back violently. He then tranquilized her lightly, twitched her and, on examining her udder itself, found it was hot to the touch and there was a heavy buildup of waxy material and dirt between the inner thigh and the sides of her udder.
After washing the area gently but thoroughly, he found the skin had a severe dermatitis with several areas where it was cracked. After cleaning, he applied a topical aloe-and-calendula ointment and left a generous supply for Star’s owner, instructing her to hose the udder with cold water for 15 minutes three times a day, pat dry with a soft towel then reapply the ointment. The next two treatments required Star be twitched, but after 24 hours she showed a dramatic improvement in her attitude and how freely she moved around.
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Click here to view ”Healing: You Can’t Replace Time.”