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WWYD? Horse sore/lame, owner won't cope

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  • WWYD? Horse sore/lame, owner won't cope

    I'm riding a late-teen horse that has gone back into work after 7 months lay-off. He is feeling basically himself, just doesn't have the fitness yet to carry himself reliably over his back (always a weak spot for him anyway -- I think he was trained in his earlier days to just round his cute neck, and the trainer would be happy).

    That's the good side. In the now 3 years of riding him, horse has always been a so-so in his hocks and stifles, IMO. Lousy 4-beat canter to R; R hip at walk tilts downward hard compared to the L, etc. I think he should be injected, altho he has improved quite a bit in spite of this anyway. R lead canter got quite nice last summer, actually

    This year, though? After the lay-off, and I began his walk work in late July, I've surmised from his current way of going that his joints got worse and now they need an assist.

    I've sometimes, over the year or 2 I've worked with him, had to really lay down the law in terms of activating those hind legs -- as noted above, I think his previous training never made him connect over his back --, but it resulted in excellent work afterward. This technique has yielded nothing so far this year. I have given him time to gather some fitness and it has improved him somewhat; I feel like he just needs joint work.

    Also, he was working better at the initial weeks of work post-layoff -- which makes me think those sore joints are starting to get bothered by being in (moderate as it is) work again.

    The other reasons I say this is that when I observe him in the walk (handwalk to the ring, etc.), he twists each hind leg. This is new compared to previous years. He is also very fussy about the saddle going on (not so much the girth). This, too, is new. He is happy to be massaged, though, so touchy-ness is not central to this, I don't think. I am interpreting this saddle fussiness that he is upset about the impending work. He has reverted to a 4-beat R lead canter, and I even see him 4-beat in the field. I had made very nice progress with that lead last year, and the re-vert is so obvious, I'm putting that to his soreness, too. He tilts his head distinctly to the L when asked to be put together. This is new. He won't come up over his back as he was able to do last year -- I'm not expecting him to do this for a long period of time, but at least a small effort, a few minutes here and there throughout out a half-hour ride.

    For his older owner, he has a very light workload. 90 min./week of light walk, trot, and a tiny bit of canter. I am there to warm him up and have him do more 'demanding' work a few times a week than she would ask of him herself.

    I think he is sore behind and needs stronger treatment than his sole 1x/month Adequan. He is late teens, and has been a working horse much of his life. Ring was also re-done and I think footing is too deep. Owner has made mention that she is willing to have the footing depth reduced and has called the footing guy to get this done. I also should mention Lyme, as he's had a bout or 2 before.

    So, my problem: I find it terribly discouraging to ride him now. I just don't want to do it anymore until something is addressed so that he can go back to his quality of riding that I know is there. Trotting around on a horse with his back down and stiff and no connection is not for me. I think it is unfair to the horse and it doesn't allow me to have the productive relationship I have had with him.

    I guess I'm asking for 1) ways to manage my discontent and 2)find a way to manage the horse productively until I can get a definitive response from her on whether or not she will get him the vet attn. and follow through on reducing the footing. Each step could take a few weeks to accomplish, but the rides need to be done regardless during that time. I just find them miserable to do, but don't want to step away from this ride until it's for sure not going to improve.

    ANy suggestions? Do you think my expectations are too high on this horse's abilities after a long layoff at his age? Any exercises to do with him?

  • #2
    I'm sorry you're in this situation. I can relate. When it comes to older or serviceably sound horses that the owner doesn't use much, if you have a differing standard of care (or a different riding philosophy) than the owner, it doesn't normally end well.

    If you are acting as a trainer and riding the horse for profit, then I would say that you manage the horse the way the owner wants you to, while making suggestions that will ease the horse's pain and help him gain fitness quicker. If you are paying for the privilege to ride an unsound horse, well, it's your money, and I guess you could offer to pay for treatment if she won't. But it seems like there are probably other (sound) horses that you could be riding and not dealing with the potential heartbreak that seems to be coming up with this situation.


    • #3
      You didn't really provide much detail on how you brought him back after his lay-off - did you start with a month of ground work only or did you start under saddle? was he stalled during his lay-off or does he have 24/7 (or 12/7) large pasture turnout with a slope?

      Has he muscled up appropriately since July? is he able to carry himself properly on the lunge?

      Do you do massage & stretching exercises with him before/after each ride? (have an equine therapist out to show you where/how to work on him).

      Has he been on Recovery Eq (or a comparable product) for a couple of months to see if this will improve his stiffness (some horses respond very well, others not so much but I'd definitely give it a try - sounds like you have an emotional investment in this horse so I'd set a budget & try a few things & then get the owner onboard with the stuff that works).

      Would the owner consent to Xrays? chiropracter? acupunture etc?
      How was saddle fit addressed after his lay-off?

      Do you have any video of his movement now vs a couple years ago? this may help the owner visualize.

      OR maybe the owner believes that what's happening with her horse is inevitable with older horses & she would prefer to retire him early (assuming he's pasture-sound)...
      If she only requires very light work out of him, then maybe he should only be ridden lightly during the week to maintain fitness.


      • #4
        You should offer to pay for the vet care and everything since you are doing the demanding work and not happy with how he is. The owner seems just fine with accepting the horse is older and needs lighter work.


        • #5
          Honestly, I would stop riding him until he has been seen by a vet. If the owner does not want to do that, then I think it's only fair to find a new horse to ride that can be kept comfortable in the work. If you really love riding him, then perhaps you can offer to pay for the evaluation and see what the vet recommends. Perhaps it is time for injections, would you be willing to pay for those?


          • #6
            Sounds like he just needs an easier job. Maybe with injections/supplements/etc. If the owner is happy just riding him around, then your goal when you ride him should be to keep him safe for her. Older horses don't come back from time off like younger horses - he most likely will not come back to where you had him. But does it matter to the owner?


            • Original Poster

              I'm a freelance professional rider/trainer.
              I'm paid to ride this horse. This is the 2nd horse I've worked for this client. It's the owner's request to have me ride him. I don't pay for vet work on someone else's horse I'm contracted to ride.

              Owner claims she doesn't see/feel what I see/feel, but I think, from knowing her, that she does. She doesn't want to spend any more $. Can't blame her, really.

              As you'll see in OP, horse has a pretty nice little job. He works moderately and gets nice attn. from the owner, with good, sophisticated care.

              Horse came back into work on vet-authored rehab plan. Lots of hand-walk, u/saddle walk, then trot (where the icky stuff became apparent); cantering lightly for past 10 days.

              Nice turnout with buddies almost for all of this layoff time.

              Yes, my job is to make this horse ride-able, but that comes from riding him up in front of the leg and over the back as best as he's able to do that particular day. He has a spook in him, which the owner knows about -- he spun her off last summer. When I do the 'pre-ride,' I work to get him there, because it calms a horse to have given over its body and to be attentive to rider. (I'm making him sound worse than he is, but with cool weather coming on, he'll be bouncier.) Then he's forgotten about any silliness when the owner climbs aboard. That is a LARGE part of the impetus behind getting a good solution to this issue.

              Altho owner isn't able to ride in front of leg, I want her to have the chance to ride 'better' -- she's a lifelong rider, hasn't many years left to ride due to age, she has definitely noted his improvement last summer, and it would be nice to have a quality experience instead of an insidiously downhill experience of pounding around on a horse who is totally on f'hand (as he'll do if left undisturbed) and her wondering why it feels like such a strain.


              • #8
                You tell her the truth, that he is not comfortable doing anything but light work, and that you recommend a vet check, and that in the meantime you will either not ride him or only do what he is comfortable doing. If she can't accept that, you choose between riding a lame horse or losing the ride.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Highflyer View Post
                  You tell her the truth, that he is not comfortable doing anything but light work, and that you recommend a vet check, and that in the meantime you will either not ride him or only do what he is comfortable doing. If she can't accept that, you choose between riding a lame horse or losing the ride.
                  echo this - this horse has had problems since day one of getting back into work and now they are getting worse
                  as a proffessional as you claim to have notice this right from the start why did you continue to ride the horse when the hrose wasnt sound enough to work

                  tell her the truth and get a vet check done as this horse is older and might need retireing now due to the prolonged injury that hasnt repaired enough to warrant the work given he need time off as it could be his injury has other issues and fruther damaged hence why this new thing as you twist as you call it

                  if ones a proffesional as one claims then one shouldnt have even worked the horse till sound enough to do so