Every veterinarian is presented from time to time with a horse that has a case of the “just ain’t rights.” The owner is concerned because the horse isn’t acting himself or is being bothered by something. The veterinarian looks the horse over and says he’s OK.
If you’re the owner, now what do you do:
A. Forget about it, or
B. Insist on more tests.
Choose B. No one is more closely attuned to the horse’s well-being than you. You see the horse every day, know his habits, know his personality, and know how to “read” his body language, even if you don’t realize you’re doing it.
In fairness to your veterinarian, the only reason you can do this is because you spend so much time with the horse. However, bridging the gap between what you “know” and what the vet can see is important, since problems caught early usually have better outcomes, and uncovering what’s wrong may take more than just a quick going over. Try these steps to help guarantee your concerns don’t get brushed aside:
• Schedule a visit just for this horse. Don’t ask the veterinarian to look at him as an afterthought.
• Try to explain why you think something’s wrong. “Ain’t right” isn’t helpful. Specific symptoms give your vet a starting point. Otherwise it’s hard to tell whether to do a rectal or a lameness exam. Give your veterinarian more solid information, such as:
• The horse feels different under saddle (less energy/impulsion, won’t accept a certain lead, feels rough on one diagonal, etc.).
• You’ve noted changes in eating, drinking, manure production.
• You’ve seen changes in attitude.
• The horse has gained or lost weight.
• Talk in terms of symptoms, not diagnoses. Don’t say, “I think she has EPM.” Instead, say, “She knuckles over behind sometimes, has trouble backing, looks like she’s losing muscle on the right side, etc.” It’s your vet’s job to come up with diagnoses.
If you offer a diagnosis, it directs the whole exam toward proving or disproving a specific thing, rather than systematically working through a list of likely possibilities.
• If you still don’t think your concerns are being taken seriously, push harder. For example, if the horse feels “off” when you ride him, but an exam of the legs doesn’t show anything, ask for a formal lameness exam, including watching the horse under saddle.
If your vet still won’t listen to you, get another one. It’s your horse and your money. You have a right to an answer that satisfies your concerns.
-Eleanor Kellon, VMD