At a loss for what, if anything, is wrong (soundness) with my horse… help?

I cannot for the life of me figure out if there is something wrong with my horse. He is very sound in that there are never any limb abnormalities when he works. The problem is that he will NOT hold chiropractic adjustments. I know when he is due because his canter gets shuffle-y and downhill and it feels physically impossible for him to rock back and push from behind in the canter. In fact, it feels difficult just for him to maintain the canter. When he is what I would consider comfortable, his canter is absolutely lovely and he has little trouble collecting and pushing from behind. The trot is not affected. I lunge him before I ride and I know he’s REALLY due if the canter is shuffle-y on the lunge. When the chiropractor comes, he is consistently out in his pelvis (rotated) and neck (varies between C5, C6, and C7 and left or right). His most recent adjustment held for about a week and a half before I had problems again with his canter.

The chiropractor has mentioned that this really isn’t right and even though he is known to play rough, the adjustments ought to be holding better. I agree. I’ve had my lameness vet check him recently (last week, one week out from the adjustment, which may have been too soon) and from jogging and palpations, the only issue she can find is that he palps slightly positive in his right hock, but does not flex positive.

The discomfort in the canter goes away when he has higher doses of bute (3-4 g/day). I haven’t tried a lower 1 am/1 pm dose yet as I only resorted to bute on one day last week for our dressage lesson, tried taking him off it at the beginning of the week, and went back to it to try and figure out if it does indeed make him better (the answer seems to confidently be yes).

My question, then, is has anyone had experience with this? What could be wrong in a horse that will not hold chiropractic adjustments but is comfortable with bute, when uncomfortable has trouble primarily in the canter, and is consistently out in the pelvis and neck when adjusted?

I’d have the vet out again, but I think I either need to have an idea of what to ask her to check for now or be prepared to have a lot of imaging that could potentially tell me nothing, or even worse be prepared to go to a hospital and spend disgusting amounts of money trying to figure out if something truly is wrong.

Feel free to ask any questions regarding management or history if you think I’m leaving out pertinent information- I just tried to keep it brief-ish and to the point.

I think you would be best served by going to an equine hospital or a vet who specializes in this kind of thing. Otherwise you are probably going to waste smaller amounts of money and still end up there. The right vet will be able to come up with a good starting place (neck/ back/ etc)

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2 things I’d be looking at:

1 - massage work to see what ('cause I doubt it’s a matter of if) muscle knots and spasms he’s got going on which keep pulling things out of place, and

2 - make some critical evaluations into how you are riding, as well as saddle fit and hoof balance. You will constantly chase chiro issues if the ridden work is not up to par for what that horse needs at that time, as well as if the saddle and feet are not right.

I think neither of those things will be a waste, and they might get your answer before you spend possibly $1000s for some more serious vet work that might only show you symptoms without any underlying cause.

Note: this should not be taken to mean I don’t think you should go to a vet hospital. I’m just looking at this from a perspective of it more likely being something you can fix “yourself”, ie you working with an MT, saddle fitter, better trainer, etc, than something you need big equipment to help diagnose, NOT that it won’t end up being something you need the big $ for.

The neck may well be a symptom of the pelvis issue, if you assume the pelvis is the main problem. It could be the other way around, but IME I think there are more hind end issues as sources of problems, with other body parts joining in for extra symptoms.

We had a similar problem, turns out the saddle though approved by one fitter, is really wrong for this horse. The saddle puts pressure too far back.

His problem was hard to diagnose. He looked fine on the lunge but could not maintain a nice rhythm with a rider. He too had difficulty maintaining the canter. Could not get his hind end under him. We are now waiting for the new saddle and we are hoping for a miracle. He has also had some chiro adjustments.

An underlying problem … !!!

Yes … Agreed you should rather find the cause & treat it, than continue to deal w/symptoms. Myself I would put money towards a diagnosis not throw money for adjustment @ this point.

A mystery to unravel … !!!
A Stifle or Hock issue, Arthritis or something else in the neck, jaw/dental issues, weak pelvis muscles, poorly fit saddle, rider related, horse going incorrectly due to lower limb issues ?

Have you worked w/chiro or vet to create a program to specifically build up the hind-end ? I would start with that !

AFTER

A thorough veterinarian examination was done & a customized exercise program was in place. You very well may have to do the works w/ the vet (Xrays, MRI, etc).

From the Chiro’s comments & your descriptions of pony’s gaits - I don’t understand why one would question that a problem exists ? Shuffling is not normal. If it were my pony I wouldn’t ride (him/her) or increase medication to mask the pain for riding (until I found out what the problem was) !!!

IMO …Not fair to continue to ride the pony in a manner than contributes to (his/her) discomfort.

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A lot of problems that are hard to find at home will show up easily at a vet hospital. Unless your barn has flat pavement for your jog, lunging, and flexions as well as an even, soft surface for lunging, it is hard for your vet to see a subtle lameness. A vet school hospital workup would be the next step if the horse were mine.

I think it’s important to mention that this is just a 7 year old lower-level horse I’m dealing with. He events at novice, schools training show jumps, is confirmed 1st level dressage, and is just starting to school the meat of 2nd level. He actually hasn’t jumped, though, other than popping over cavaletti and one day over some BN fences, since mid-November. I want things to get right, but I am already super frustrated at the amount of time and money I have wasted when other people at my barn never do anything for their horses, which stay perfectly sound.

The maintenance and care for this horse is, in my opinion, embarrassing to admit to. When I bought him as a 5 year old he had a bone chip in his left front fetlock that I had surgically removed even though it wasn’t bugging him. His hocks were slightly positive and thus injected in May. He gets monthly Adequan and monthly chiropractic appointments. I don’t even know if joint supplements do anything, but he’s on them anyways- GLC Actistatin and MSM. He gets a fish/flax oil combination and live probiotics in the 10 freaking pounds of crazy-expensive senior feed that he eats. I just started him back up on 2 g omeprazole powder mixed with flax oil to dose just in case ulcers are an issue. I’ve had blood pulled several times because he’s a hard keeper who is only now shiny and healthy looking. He would sometimes have a slightly higher WBC count, but never in the abnormally high range. In the summer he would randomly have high respiration, so he’s been scoped immediately after working to see if there was anything wrong with his breathing. He sees the natural balance dentist once a year (July) and I usually have my vet check in the winter for any sharp points and file those down. He gets regular fecals and is wormed accordingly. He has a semi-custom Black Country dressage saddle that was flocked to him in April. He does 95% of his under saddle work in that. The Schleese jumping saddle was also fit to him, but that was a year and a half ago and I hate how that saddle fits anything anyways, so we only ride in it when jumping. His 4 shoes (that he gets on a 5-week schedule) cost over $200 because his farrier is awesome, and good farriers in Lexington can ask that much. We have weekly lessons with an FEI-level dressage trainer. The horse has been evaluated by my really awesome lameness vet three separate times since October and despite trying her best, she just can’t find anything conclusive. I feel like I am doing EVERYTHING above and beyond and getting NOWHERE.

I just want SOMETHING to ask my vet to look for. I mentioned neck x-rays last time and she was reluctant to do them because on that day, my horse didn’t give her any reason to go that route. I could ask her to really look at SI, but I don’t know if the symptoms I’ve mentioned are indicative of SI, particularly because they go away with chiropractic work. I think it will help if I can get him to canter crappy for her, but as of now I haven’t been able to get it timed right for him to reliably be uncomfortable in the canter on a day I can get an appointment, which normally needs to be scheduled about a week ahead.

I’m really sorry this is a bit vent-y, but hopefully you guys can understand the feeling of trying your best and getting nowhere. The vet hospital is an option, but we only have private hospitals in my area, and I can all but guarantee that my bill with Hagyard will be in the $1000s after a good work-up is over with. So yes it’s an option, but I’d rather not go with it, especially when I have a great private practice lameness vet with a machine/plate that can at least do necks and board at a facility with all the surfaces mentioned to help diagnose something (flat pavement, flat gravel, deeper sand, shallow/hard sand, flat grass, hilly grass).

The Schleese jumping saddle was also fit to him, but that was a year and a half ago and I hate how that saddle fits anything anyways, so we only ride in it when jumping.

Maybe this is the root of the problem?

I wish- but he’s been ridden in the awful Schleese just once in the past month, I don’t know if that could’ve caused it, particularly because it was briefly present/masked with bute before the Schleese ride?

Here’s a brief history:

He was adjusted by the chiropractor 11/24. Ride 11/25, 11/26, 11/30 in Black Country dressage saddle, no symptoms. Seen/approved by the vet 12/1. Vet does comment that he palps positive to right hock but does not flex positive, recommends re-starting butecort/diclofenac on the area every other day. Says possible thoracic vertebrae that palped as a kissing spine candidate in October no longer palps and seems to be quiet. SI palps quiet. Not the best sliding mobility in his right scapula, but there is some mobility there. Neck seems ok and advises against x-rays at this time. Comments that his top line and muscling has really developed.

Ride 12/1 and 12/3 in Black Country dressage with no symptoms. Symptoms reappear 12/4 while riding in Black Country dressage saddle. I was a bad person and didn’t lunge him before my ride so I don’t know how he would’ve looked on the lunge. Give 2 g bute.

12/5 give 2 g bute AM and trailer to dressage lesson. Lunges sound, but on forehand in canter. Rides VERY sound, works well in collected canter and starts to work on counter-canter on the shallow serpentine and then on a deeper serpentine, with 10 m canter circles and canter-walk-canter on the circle. Work on shoulder-in and haunches-in in the trot as well as trot lengthening.

12/6 No bute since 12/5 AM. Lunges sound, relatively balanced in canter. Rides very sound again, worked on same counter-canter exercise from lesson in comfortable collected canter. Also worked on shoulder-in to lengthened trot and leg-yielding, particularly the change in direction in the new 1st 3 test. Gets monthly Adequan shot.

12/7 45-minute hack on hills.

12/8 QUICK jump school over 2’-2’6" jumps (remember this horse shows 3’, schools 3’3") while chasing daylight. Good in flat warm-up, but he doesn’t get pushed to go round or collect, just to move into contact in the bridle, was moving off leg, but had difficulty making distances between placing poles and jumps. Not abnormal to have trouble with distances, though, since despite his large stride, he likes to back off at fences. After it was too dark to jump we worked on the flat for a little longer, he was pretty good in the trot and not awful in the canter. He’s hard to get round after he jumps anyways and there was certainly no way he was going to give me collected canter, especially in the dark. Also I was wearing my Dublin Dubarry-knock offs and no spurs, so not awful in the canter is neither here nor there, not indicative of off, but also not indicative of sound.

12/9 day off.

12/10 He has trouble cantering on lunge line. Doesn’t want to hold canter and a little lazy in trot. Under saddle can hold canter, but can’t do collected canter. Try a few walk-canter-walk transitions to try to shift weight back and aid in collection, but still can’t do it. However, he had decent jump to his canter lengthening and was FANTASTIC in the trot. Gave 2 g bute PM to start bute course to see once and for all if it definitively helps.

12/11 Gave 2 g bute powder in AM, but he was pretty sure his food was poisoned, so he ate nothing. Lunged balanced and sound in the canter. Rode well in canter, a bit resistant in trot, particularly in shoulder-in. Checked on him around lunch, still on hunger strike. Gave 1 g bute paste in case he actually did ingest some bute-breakfast, but was fairly confident he didn’t eat anything. Told the barn to give him 2 g bute paste in PM, but due to trouble with the bute tube, he maybe got 1 g max.

12/12 Gave 2 g bute paste AM with new tube of bute, so he actually got 2 g. Trailer out to dressage lesson. Lunged comfortably and was balanced in the canter on the lunge. Fantastic lesson- in the trot we worked on leg-yielding, 10 m circle to shoulder-in to 10 m circle to haunches-in, and overall gait quality to get what 2nd level calls a collected trot. In the canter we did change of lead through the walk to the counter lead and big-boy counter canter serpentines in the collected canter. Also did some medium canter to collected, immediately followed by 10 m circle. Finished with some stretchy trot and walk-halt-rein back-walk. Was supposed to get 1 g bute PM.

Haven’t ridden him today but I am continuing with a course of 3 g bute total a day (he is about 1250 lbs) to finish out a week and make sure there aren’t any off days and that the bute is definitely what’s making him better so I can tell my vet that.

Have you pulled blood? He could have something systemic going on, like Lyme. And I know you dont have that many ticks but Lyme is not unheard of there and/or he could have been exposed elsewhere, possibly quite some time back. Weird lamness and pain from unknown sources can be an indication of it. Or other conditions, EPM for one.

He was born in Kentucky, sold as a weanling at Keeneland through a KY sales consignor, and raced at Laurel, Mountaineer, Turfway, and Tampa Bay, so I know for a fact he’s been all over, even if racehorses kind of live in a bubble. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to request that and the EPM blood test from my vet next time, as iffy as that new blood test can be. He’s very big for a TB, including being very big boned, and I’ve had trouble with him being klutzy the entire time I’ve owned him. He most recently did an in-hand neurologic series of tests in October and was not positive, but my other horse came back positive on the EPM blood test and responded positively to Oroquin-10 treatment despite not being positive for any in-hand tests.

I want to say I’ve pulled blood two or three times this year but just looking for general stuff. Most recently was in the summer in conjunction with the breathing issues. He usually has elevated, but not abnormally high WBC counts. We’ve considered doing immune boosting herbal or something else, can’t remember what, with him. But since he actually looks decent now and it’s the off season, I haven’t actually done anything for that. He always gets very hivey in the summer and struggles with anything from mild to moderate to severe rain rot all year except in the winter when clipped/blanketed. I imagine immune-related things like these are probably in line with Lyme or EPM if he does have either. Or he’s just got sensitive skin.

[QUOTE=findeight;7906613]
Have you pulled blood? He could have something systemic going on, like Lyme. And I know you dont have that many ticks but Lyme is not unheard of there and/or he could have been exposed elsewhere, possibly quite some time back. Weird lamness and pain from unknown sources can be an indication of it. Or other conditions, EPM for one.[/QUOTE]

That’s a good idea and something I hadn’t seriously considering asking the vet for. He’s had multiple series of in-hand neurologic tests since I bought him in the summer of 2012 and most recently in October as a just-in-case. Having tested negative with those series, I’ve just attributed his clumsiness to his size, but it might be worth examining more closely, as my other horse tested positive for EPM with the newer blood test and responded to EPM meds despite never having serious physical neurologic symptoms.

I know the new EPM blood test is non-invasive and affordable; I’m sure I can ask my vet, but is testing for Lyme also relatively affordable?

Other things going on with this horse are that he’s a pretty hard keeper, at his best his BCS is a 5 minus while getting 1/2 bale of grass hay (which is as much as he’ll eat, he’s a snob) while there’s no grass, 10 lbs of EQ8 Senior, 2-4 quarts of soaked alfalfa cubes on days I see him, which is 6-7 days a week, and all his supplements. When not clipped/blanketed he occasionally gets hives from the mud and will get varying degrees of rain rot, ranging from mild to severe, over his body. Simple blood analyses, most recently done in late summer, show consistently high, but not abnormal, levels of WBCs.

My current game plan is to continue out a week-long course of bute so that I have that info for my vet. I will continue riding so that I can evaluate him, and to be quite honest, take advantage of the 1 last week that my dressage trainer is teaching before going south for the winter. I will schedule an appointment for shortly after Christmas, assuming my vet is in town, and will cross my fingers that I can get him shuffling in the canter both on the lunge and under saddle consistently by then. Not that I want him lame, but I want him to show the vet something. I imagine we will examine his spine and SI again, and I will ask for bloodwork for EPM and Lyme. After that, assuming there’s nothing major in the spine or SI or that she doesn’t find anything else, I’ll look into some massage to loosen him up and then tackle the chiropractic adjustment.

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions, it’s making me feel less crazy for thinking something’s been wrong with my horse. There’s been a lot of going back and forth between is he a jerk or does he hurt, but now I definitely think he hurts, and the jerkiness is likely related. It’s just so hard when there’s nothing obvious to look at- not that I ever wish for a swollen leg or noticeable limp, but at least that gives you an idea where to start!

If it were my horse and I had the money, I’d have a full-body nuclear scan done. It should help pinpoint where the real issue is (neck? back? SI? hocks? something else?) and then you can use the results to guide any further diagnostics. The scan is expensive, but it should tell you where the problem is…as you have noted, the cost of several other diagnostic workups will eventually add up to the same amount and you may be no closer to the answer. The scan will answer the “where” part of the riddle.

[QUOTE=JB;7905694]
2 things I’d be looking at:

1 - massage work to see what ('cause I doubt it’s a matter of if) muscle knots and spasms he’s got going on which keep pulling things out of place, and

2 - make some critical evaluations into how you are riding, as well as saddle fit and hoof balance. You will constantly chase chiro issues if the ridden work is not up to par for what that horse needs at that time, as well as if the saddle and feet are not right.

I think neither of those things will be a waste, and they might get your answer before you spend possibly $1000s for some more serious vet work that might only show you symptoms without any underlying cause.

Note: this should not be taken to mean I don’t think you should go to a vet hospital. I’m just looking at this from a perspective of it more likely being something you can fix “yourself”, ie you working with an MT, saddle fitter, better trainer, etc, than something you need big equipment to help diagnose, NOT that it won’t end up being something you need the big $ for.

The neck may well be a symptom of the pelvis issue, if you assume the pelvis is the main problem. It could be the other way around, but IME I think there are more hind end issues as sources of problems, with other body parts joining in for extra symptoms.[/QUOTE]

I agree with starting here. The chiro vet at my clinic told his wife he wouldn’t adjust her horse again until she got herself adjusted. :slight_smile: We are all one-sided in pretty much everything we do…you may be riding crooked without realizing it.

Does the chiro watch your horse move? Can you ask if he/she can watch you ride also? I think that would be a great place to start to see if you are riding in a way that is causing issues. It’s one thing to simply adjust your horse, but since you are a team, you are half the package. It might be something that is very obvious to someone who is looking for it - but not necessarily to a trainer (who is looking at the whole package, not just you.)

I would stop the bute immediately. If you think for a moment he is ulcer prone, I’d give bute a very wide berth. I would also second a MRI/nuclear scan if possible – my first guess would be somewhere near the pelvis if that is his problem area. FWIW, most horses don’t ‘hold’ chiro adjustments for longer than 3-4 weeks IME.

FWIW, we had a horse scoped who was a confirmed 2nd level schoolmaster, who lately was just kind of lackluster. Good coat, okay condition, but US very “eh”. We scoped him and found pitted ulcers, and this was after doing the “3 day bute test” to see if anything improved.

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Lyme will do this.

For sure.

Saddle fit?

Your riding style? (Have you tried him with only other riders than you for a while?)

Your weight? Are you too heavy for him?

Thyroid? You mentioned that he is prone to rain rot. Low thyroid shows symptoms such as slow-to-heal injuries and tendencies toward skin cruds. I think I’ve read that low thyroid is not common in horses, but what the heck. Something to think about. Thyroid regulates the metabolism. High thyroid causes muscle loss and weakness and if it goes untreated for a while it can cause damage to the heart muscle.

EPSM? This can cause muscle fatigue, especially in the large muscles in the hindquarters. It also affects the horse’s ability to hold weight. A diet of alfalfa or grass hay and oil is the usual treatment.

Pelvic fracture? They are not uncommon and there are many types of fractures, that is, places on the pelvis where the fracture can occur, and ranges of severity of fractures. I think (ask a professional don’t trust me) that rest and limited activity is the usual treatment.

I agree with an above poster. Stop giving bute and see what he’s really reactive to and how he feels without pain meds. Bute is masking the problem but not addressing it. I wonder if he’s strong enough to hold the canter correctly due to your riding program (are you working him enough?). It’s hard to tell. It’s my understanding that horses don’t hold adjustments for very long if they aren’t developing the muscles to keep the spine in line. Is your horse very one-sided and are you facilitating that when you ride?

I’m not sure where you are but I’d also rule out insidious creep like Lymes or EPSM.

"Here’s a brief history:

He was adjusted by the chiropractor 11/24. Ride 11/25, 11/26, 11/30 in Black Country dressage saddle, no symptoms. Seen/approved by the vet 12/1. Vet does comment that he palps positive to right hock but does not flex positive, recommends re-starting butecort/diclofenac on the area every other day. Says possible thoracic vertebrae that palped as a kissing spine candidate in October no longer palps and seems to be quiet. SI palps quiet. Not the best sliding mobility in his right scapula, but there is some mobility there. Neck seems ok and advises against x-rays at this time. Comments that his top line and muscling has really developed. "

Give at least a day or two of hand walking after the adjustments. My chiro never says it’s ok to ride them after a pretty decent adjustment. Always at least a day or two of hand walking and keeping them quiet (ie if they run and play hard in turn out this is not ok either) so their body adjusts.

Having him tested for lyme disease is pretty affordable. The test itself is something like $125 plus the vet call for taking the blood sample. Absolutely lyme disease can cause these type of chronic symptoms that never seem to quite advance to full-blown “this horse is really sick” mode, until, that is, the disease is very entrenched in the horse’s system.

You should have your other saddle (not the jumping saddle that you already know your horse doesn’t like) checked for fit as well. It may be that the jumping saddle just exerts extra pressure on areas that are already sore from the other saddle.

Good luck.

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