When going through a growth spurt/uncoordinated phase....
My 4.5 y.o. is going though what I think is a growth spurt. For the last few weeks his canter (both directions) has been atrocious: fighting to pick up the lead, falling out of it, or when I push him on, he just runs around hollow. When I lunge him, with and without side reins, I get similar results. His walk and trot have come on very well lately, and he's jumping well despite the canter issues.
Back palpations show what I consider an even, normal amount of general soreness from work, nothing that sends a red flag up to me. He had his teeth done a month ago and his contact through the back into the bit improved dramatically. He is due to get his feet done Monday: front shoes only.
So when you've got a gait that's gone wonky like this, what do you do? Work them harder on it to build strength, even if the work isn't correct? Work it less and let them find their coordination? Would love any exercise tips or ideas. Thanks!
Drop the pebble and trust in the ripples. -- John O'Leary
My trainer has a young TB who went through this all winter. He got regular chiropractic adjustments, farrier work, and teeth done. He too would be wonky even on the ground lines, and worse on the lunge. He is a very long-backed horse who MUST be ridden properly, with his back up and his hind end engaged, to not be strung out. Thankfully he seems to be coming out of this phase. He has been sound, and was actually looked over by the vet a couple different times just to be sure.
We ended up (and still do) ground driving him once a week, so he would be ridden 3-4 times a week. We stopped teaching, essentially, and focused/worked on maintaining what he had already learned; Leg yields, transitions, ground poles. When we would canter him it was only for a few correct strides. If he would switch out behind we would go back to the trot, recollect him, then canter again. He would get himself all worked up when he would switch. He's almost too eager to please and work...for a couple months, if he would even TOUCH a rail when jumping, he would buck and pitch a fit. So we had to remember to keep a "no big deal" attitude for a while. We did get after him a bit, mostly on the lines, as a way to see which method worked better for him (not pushing vs. pushing harder when he would switch) and we found out that on the lines he would fix himself when pushed, but not under saddle, so we adjusted accordingly.
LOTS of transitions from trot-canter-trot, under saddle and on the lines, helped a lot. We still insisted that he carry himself properly because we didn't want to add another bad habit to the crossfiring, but it did get frustrating when his lovely, beautiful canter would suddenly be a nightmare. It took a few months, but we've worked out of it, and he's back to learning. He's picking up the shoulder-in very quickly, and is giving us lovely, balanced simple changes.
Honestly if there is no veterinary cause I'd take him for long hacks at the walk and trot up and down hills, if possible. A little canter on long straight stretches. Build him up a bit, the go back to cantering in the ring. There's no use cantering around like a spaz if he's not physically able to hold himself where he ought to be. That will just make him crabby about working, not improve his canter.
I would worry that there's something underlying this, though. If he's been in work the whole time and suddenly deteriorates, I'd be pretty concerned there's something going on you just haven't located.
I wouldn't ignore the back issue. You say he had his teeth done and suddenly started using his back better --> well maybe after a month of that he's a bit sore. I like the hacking out idea and keep it simple until he's less sore. You can spend $$ on chiro/massage but it probably isn't necessary. Warm his back especially before and after the ride (back on track sheet, warm towels from the microwave, heating pad, etc.)
Hmm. I would definitely start with taking his temperature often, and check TPR before and after work.
Do you have a heart rate monitor? A hurting horse will show some indication of stress. If there is something going on just the basics of checking his vital signs might help you find if there is s systemic problem, sickness, disease, or lameness. They don't have to be limping to be hurt.
There are a lot of reasons for the condition you describe. I sure wouldn't go trotting hills before I found out WHY he can't canter on the lunge FIRST. I'd get some physical answers starting with vital signs if there isn't an apparent unsoundness.
Yup. It's that time!
My 3 coming 4 year old has had a few growth spurts. I pay close attention to them and am very understanding. About 2 months after I purchased him his canter went bad. lol. I just didn't ask him to canter for a week or two. One day he wanted to canter so on we went.
My 1st TB basically spent his entire 4 and 5 y/o year with growth issues.
As a 4 y/o there were several times during which he suddenly couldn't canter. JUST like you describe. I remember one of the instances was the week of the Novice Champs here in Area V. I was freaking out! I switched from a regular full cheek to a KK Conrad snaffle because it seemed like the full cheek was stopping him up or something. Who knows. For some reason the bit change actually did help some.
That same horse had a hell of a time during his 5th year. His molars did wonky stuff and I had to ride without a nose band for a while. Again, they started causing issues the week of our 1st T level horse trial. I put a wimpy french link in his mouth and didn't touch the reins the entire weekend.
The issues continued through the entire year.
Then in his 6th year he started to destroy himself. In his 7th year he did destroy himself.
I think in the 8 years I owned that horse I had 4 full seasons on him. Such a shame.
What you have mentioned sounds normal when compared to what I have experienced.
Also, people freak out about back soreness all the time too. After you work out...aren't you a little sore?
If it's really bad all the time that's one thing. But a bit of a sore back after a hard workout can happen. I'm just extra careful to give a day or two off if I know I've worked a horse in such a way that I expect soreness.
My just 6 year old has had periodic issues with his back/hind ened but one thing that has helped is putting him on an anti-inflamatory supplement. I bought it for my 20 year old TB and gave it to the younger one. I ran out for two weeks and heard about my horse being stiff at the right again. Since my current trainer has started lateral movement, I am not an eventer and he will go to his first show this summer of fall, the anti-inflamatory has been helpfull. He is butt high and has not quite stopped growing. But yes, problems at the canter were more prevelant during his 4th year, I also had a cold laser therapist work with him during that year. Wish I would have had him on the anti-inflamatories then.
In my experience a growth spurt can definitely make them wonky in one or more gaits. I agree with the recommendation to spend a couple of weeks hacking out. When he offers the canter great, as long as he is coming through his back. Let him stretch his frame out and get used to the changes in his body.
If you believe everything you read, better not read. -- Japanese Proverb
Thanks for all the replies. He does get an oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplement that the barn owner does for all the horses, but I'm generally skeptical of the efficacy of oral joint supps, so I don't really consider him to be "on a joint supplement." I may look into MSM for anti-inflammatory properties.
He does carrot stretches before and after riding and can practically put his nose to his tail in both directions with no hesitation or reluctance, and without "cheating". He also stretches up through his neck ("giraffe" stretch) and down between his legs with ease.
I'm currently riding him about 3 times a week, for 30-40 minutes at a time, and jumping every 10-14 days or so, with a schooling dressage show/event derby/hunter show about every 2 months.
I am keeping a close eye on how he feels when ridden and reacts to palpations, and everything to me indicates the kind of general muscle soreness that purplnurpl references in response to a vigorous workout. He hasn't had any kind of injury that I know about, and his reactions are always even bilaterally. I do keep stifles in the back of my mind, because his mom was slightly "stifley", but I'm not seeing in him the kind of indications that she displayed.
I like the idea of hacking, and our barn does have a large front pasture we can ride around in, but it's really rocky here, and I want to balance letting him chill with not killing his feet. I have actually thought about hand walking him out front instead of riding, which will give me a workout and let me be a little more attuned to what's under his feet.
Drop the pebble and trust in the ripples. -- John O'Leary