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Locking Stifle & Dropping Down Banks

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  • Locking Stifle & Dropping Down Banks

    I have a lovely 4-year-old large pony (Welsh/TB cross) who is just everything I've ever wanted in a horse. I've had him since he was 4 months old.

    My approach to training has been very slow and steady. He has a drama queen personality but is very willing to try new things and not afraid of anything.

    I've had one perplexing problem with him since I started ground driving and then riding him and I'm wondering if I've finally made the connection as to cause or if I'm grasping at straws.

    First of all, I strongly believe that the best thing a young horse can do is spend a lot of time hacking out under saddle. This guy absolutely loves it but the one thing he's had major issues with in the past is negotiating any type of ditch, gully, or small bank. None of these terrain issues have required any bigger effort than stepping down, but he's had some major tantrums resulting from the fact that I've asked him to do so. During one tantrum (just when I started him), he lost his balance and fell over backwards on top of me...he's very, umm, athletic.

    He's the type that you cannot get frustrated with...you have to take a deep breath and wait him out a bit. We've now gotten to the point that there are very few terrain issues that he won't negotiate without argument. In fact, he's quite the fabulous trail pony and very brave.

    For those of you who worry he's doing too much work, don't worry...he usually get 2 to 3 months of light riding then the same amount of time off.

    However, while out riding this week, we came across a situation (small bank into water, and he has no issues with water) where he had an absolute meltdown when asked to negotiate it. This is not the first time he's had a meltdown about this bank but over the past year he's been fine about it. However, he always insists of taking it at a strong trot and leaping in. He happily walks up it with no problem.

    Obviously I'm upset about this stressed out response. He is such a happy, willing kind of guy that I don't feel it's a "I don't want to do it" attitude, more of a fear-based or pain-based response. I truly thought originally that he would grow out of this, but it's obviously still an issue.

    So, the solution is to break this issue down and figure out why his response to these "questions" as we would say in eventing speak result in this stressed out behavior.

    So the final piece of the puzzle is that, this summer, he was kicked by another horse and had to have surgery on his hind leg, resulting in two weeks of stall rest. As soon as he came off stall rest, he displayed upward fixation of the stifle (in the uninjured leg). I had the veterinarian out immediately and he felt that, as he started getting light turnout and eventually work, the stifle would strengthen again and it would not be an issue (as we'd never seen it before he'd been on stall rest).

    However, (for those of you who've stuck with my long story) I'm now wondering if this condition if causing the difficulties he's always experienced with negotiating "downwards" terrain, whether walking down into gulleys, crossing ditches (when he can't decide whether to walk across or pop over), and walking off small banks.

    Has anyone had experience with this? And if so, is there anything we can do to help him? I'll be calling my veterinarian on Monday to pick his brain.

    For some visuals, here's a picture of his first little cross country jump this week:

    And the little bank into water that he spent 20 minutes refusing to drop into--with the result being this small leap in (when he finally did go forward):

    I hope this all makes sense. I really want to stress that he has not been pushed too hard and that's exactly why I'm so worried about his response to these relatively simple tasks. It so out of character for him.

  • #2
    I would try lunging him down the bank without a rider and see if that makes a difference. It certainly could be pain related but not necessarily.

    ETA: I noticed you were jumping down a bank into water. I would definitely separate those two activities for now.
    McDowell Racing Stables

    Home Away From Home


    • Original Poster

      Hi Laurie,

      When his first displayed this behavior (and fell on top of me), we went back to long lining (see pics below) and spent a lot of time schooling him over these types of questions. He had the same response in the long lines but, due to being more confirmed at that time in ground work, we easily worked through it.

      Every few weeks, we would school those small questions again until he was easily negotiating them. Then we went back to it under saddle and he's been quite good since then.

      So, yes, going back to the drawing board would mean that we go back to the long lines as well. While I've always avoiding "drilling," I think we will need to do it in small doses regularly for a while to confirm "forward."

      And yes, the picture shows the bank and water. We'd warmed up over a plain bank to start, then the water, and finally combined both. Plus, he's negotiated this bank many times in the past two years, most of the time without issues. Tonight we went back and schooled plain banks and he had that same, almost frantic, response to negotiating them.

      That's why I'm desperately trying to figure this out.

      Here is a look at all the in-hand work we've down with regard to this particular question and also water in general:







      With all this, I'm perplexed as to why he's so resistant to negotiating these types of questions now. My first thought is always pain.


      • #4
        I have a 13 hh (young) pony who now goes under saddle and in harness.
        Last autumn I began taking him out on the lead from my other horses as part of his backing and training process. He would often object to going down hills. Stop and refuse to move. I could get him to walk along the hill and up it, but not straight down. Through the winter, I noticed that his stifle was locking - and badly. Backing him didn't seem to help. He appeared to get used to it and would hobble around on 3 legs, letting the bad one trail behind.

        I talked to the vet, discussed what I could do. He felt that with work, especially hill work and trotting poles it would get better. Most parts of New Zealand are deficient in selenium. I asked if it might help. Vet was adamant it wouldn't make any difference, but I thought I'd try. He wasn't getting any supplements with Se so I gave him some that night. He has had one more incident - but hadn't had any Se for 10 days. I now give it to him weekly and have had no more issues. This with a pony who's stifle was locking every 1 -2 days and would stay like that.

        Maybe try a Se / vitamin E mix (they work together). Find out what the Se levels are like in your area, but from my experience, its worth a try.


        • #5
          My guy has locking stifles, and going down hills is absolutely one thing that's hard for him when they're acting up. My vet recommended hand-walking/trotting up and down hills, trot poles, and cavaletti on the lunge/long line for awhile, then putting him under saddle for those tasks to build him up. He used to buck going down hills, just because it hurt for him. He's much better now (or is when he's sound).