Pain: how to detect it, what to do about it
November 11, 2009
It’s a well-accepted idea that horses weren’t intended to carry significant weight on their backs; horses were bred and conditioned specifically for their work. After all, you can’t wage battle on broken down horses.
The modern horse is bred for performance and physical characteristics. Ruggedness and performance longevity have often been sacrificed to meet short-term goals. (Consider the racehorse industry.)
So what does it mean for you and your mount? It means chances are very good your horse is going to experience physical pain from time to time in his efforts to do as you are asking. In fact, in working with horses with “behavioral problems,” I have found that in 90 percent of the cases, pain was behind their behavior, not personality or training.
Colic pain is obvious to the trained eye and so is lameness. But other pain is not always so detectable, or is it? Pain is actually very obvious and it presents itself in the following ways: Ear pinning or tail swishing when asked to do something, teeth grinding, tossing or shaking of the head, crow-hopping or bucking, bolting, balking and refusing to move forward, not using the hindquarters, or general crankiness.
If any of these describe your horse chances are very good there is some discomfort going on, and if you own a stoic fellow there may be a lot of discomfort going on.
Where to begin? If the head is involved, think teeth. Have your horse’s teeth checked and if needed, floated. For all other behaviors, think muscular first. Give your horse several days off and if his behavior improves your horse’s muscles are sore. If time off does not yield a happier horse, bring in a chiropractor to check for alignment issues. If your horse is still cranky, check his feet. Even if he seems sound, you may need x-rays to get to the bottom of feet problems. If all of these steps do not help your horse it’s time to move on to hormonal, nutritional or digestive problems (such as ulcers). You can ask your vet to help you in these areas. And finally, if you’ve explored every physical avenue and your horse is still complaining, then your horse may be unhappy with his lifestyle: it can be social (other horses), management (he needs turn out), or training (he’s burned out or doesn’t like his work.)
Take the time to get to the bottom of things … your horse deserves it!
Leslie Nichols is a progressive horsemanship professional and innovator of the Leslie Nichols Relaxation Program for horses and their owners, and The Fusion Method for Starting Horses. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kay Smith took this shot during the Oct. 11 rodeo/carnival at Saguaro Creek Ranch on Maddock Road across from the Memorial Arena. The Pinto yearling, Zeus, belongs to Beth Bradshaw, a boarder at the ranch.
Courtesy Photo/Kay Smith