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Body lameness

Good lord, I have no idea where to place this nor whether I have placed this properly. Sorry! And sorry in advance for this huge rant. This may go off the rails royally… And I have my flame coat on.

After the Plaidcast pointed me towards Audrey DeClue’s podcast, I had a listen. A lot of what she had to say makes a whole lot of sense… compensation, body lameness, etc, But she seems a bit extreme and as I listen, I find there isn’t much data or specifics to support her conclusions. In other words, I think there is value, but she speaks in vagaries and absolutes,

According to her: Every one-sided horse has pain and injury. Every swappy horse has pain and injury. Most limb lameness draws back to body (or positional) lameness. And onwards… again, I want to believe this, but it seems too simple. Too many people don’t consider conformational challenges or other issues, true, but the problems cannot be that widespread so as to undermine an industry. This podcast is not a panacea.

More concerning is that I have been swapping my tack around and texting my vets and trainer like a psychopath since starting this podcast. Maybe she is right, but this is crazy-making! It seems as though all problems are solved by her and that the rest of us are fools.

My horse is undeniably tricky and I have pathologized all of her quirks at this point after starting this podcast. But I wonder…, she does not swap when counter cantering to a fence in either direction. So, how does that not negate or call into question the “pain” or “weakness” argument for swapping leads or cross cantering? She does it both directions if we do not counter canter. Would that not indicate she is anticipating? How is that pain? Sounds behavioral.

I agree that we don’t always look at the whole horse. I agree our horses aren’t always fit. I agree that we don’t always consider downstream effects of issues that don’t originate in the limbs… but her stance seems to be incredibly absolute while remaining vague and also overly broad and unyielding… So, as much as I would like it to solve my issues, it doesn’t. (And I have more than one very smart and very highly recommended FEI/USEF vet on my team!). Color me confused.

I have noticed that she thinks that almost all “behavioral” issues are pain-derived, I wish that were true, and I dread that it is… but I don’t believe it. She has only seen one horse that is NQR that she can’t track back to pain, if you listen. Can it truly be that all other vets are wrong? That all horsemen are wrong? I have also noticed that she has self-promoted here on the board and repeatedly referenced so-called peer-reviewed studies that have not been published. Ever. If the data is so compelling and scientifically sound, why has it not been published? Why are shivers and stringhalt bundled together? Many horsemen would love to hear how and why!

Ultimately, I am not trying to undermine her work. I think that we need more research on non-racing sport horses, and I commend her for doing that. Anyone who pays attentio to equine mefical research knows that almost all of it comes from racing, and that the sample size is almost always tiny. So, kudos for trying… but I feel that she has instilled in me a level of paranoia that is not backed by published data and makes me think everything dials down or injury. Am I alone?

I, like any other horse lover, care about my baby’s comfort and health and career longevity. And I care about limb lameness and whether it is caused by other factors. But I don’t want to be driven mad by someone who cannot back their claims with even minimal data. Show me the money.


I have not listened to this podcast, and in general don’t follow The Plaid Horse.

However in general when someone has a wide reaching totalizing account of a complex subject, they only have one small part figured out and are extrapolating.

I don’t know why your horse swaps leads at some points. Figuring out horse comfort and behavior IME requires a good body worker, trimmer or farrier, saddle fitter and vet, and an owner willing to self educate and observe the horse.

As far as where the problem starts and how it will manifest, that’s very hard to pinpoint in many cases. A relatively small hoof imbalance can cause issues in the hocks or back. Neck arthritis can present as lameness. Horses can and will change their way of going to compensate for rider imbalance. Etc.


Lol, rider imbalance is definitely at play with me and my horse! COVID had not been kind to me and my fitness. But according to a recent De Clue podcast, that’s the horse and not me.

But, I think I derailed the point by including my anecdote. It’s less about my horse’s quirkiness and more about the stance and tone the podcast takes - and the broad brush it paints things in. That there is no such thing as behavioral, that everything goes back to pain, and that we are too focused on the limb and not the body.

I agree it is all complex, and a horse not using its back can compromise its legs… or a horse not using its hind can compromise its forelimbs… and yes, that neck pain can manifest as lameness. It’s the totalizing, as you say, of the way that information is presented in “The Horse First” that has me twitchy… coupled with the years long promise of a peer reviewed study that has never come lumping two disorders together. I wondered whether anyone else has had a listen and feels similarly conflicted.

I’ve not listened nor follow it but I hear what you are saying. It does drive us mad. But, nothing exists in a vacuum. The body is a ‘whole’ that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Not everything is pain related. Think about humans - your own self. Is every way you move a result of pain? No. It’s the result of many years of movement patterns that started in the womb. Unless you call direct attention to it, those patterns don’t change. Why should a horse be any different?

Sometimes, you have to do the best you can with what’s right in front of you. Even if you think something is NQR, you do your best to ‘balance’ it correctly and hope that is good enough.

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I’ve listened to a couple of her podcasts and can’t get past the “I’m the only vet who has figured this out” attitude. That along with the published studies that never show up make me pretty skeptical.


Yes, me too.

I do agree there is something to the general concept but didn’t get much value out of the podcast itself.

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That publication is not real journalism so take that and the individual expert with a pinch of salt.

I do think there are a lot of behavioral issues that have a reason behind them that is not the horse just being difficult. That reason is usually some sort of anxiety, and with a prey animal, anxiety can for sure be caused by pain. It could be caused by the rider, the tack, the horse’s natural asymmetries, or a pathological issue (arthritis, kissing spine, tooth problem, foot problem, muscle or other soft tissue problem). Like most athletes, repetitive injuries are a real thing, and if we don’t address imbalances, the risks for that kind of injury or chronic discomfort increases. Like a lot of athletes, horses can have a dominant and weak imbalance either from preference, biomechanics, or asymmetries that have not been addressed by proper conditioning. I think it’s part of our job to be physical therapist / athletic trainer and help condition the horse to deal with these things. The same as we do with the obvious natural imbalance of carrying too much weight on the forehand.

In the case of swapping leads, that can be physical. Could be you have a real dominant/weakness imbalance. Seen it go with neuro problems. SI and stifle problems. Saddle fit issues. Rider balance. But it can also be behavioral in that it’s an anxiety/anticipatory behavior. What causes the anxiety? Could be pain or nerve issue from any of the above. Could be anxiety related to going over the jump itself and that could be pain related like sore feet, hocks, back, any of the first list of things. Or anxiety about the rider. Could be lack of understanding. Could be that difficulty was increased before relaxation was achieved at the prior level. Some horses are more dramatic in their display of anxiety. Others might tend to get more shut down. Some get reactive and spooky. Others resist and fight. There’s probably some other behavior happening that would help connect the dots in any given case.

I don’t think horses are difficult for no reason. The reason may be serious. Or it may be that we are asking them to perform and tolerate some level of athletic discomfort. We have to adjust our training to accommodate their tolerances. And also consider there may be a pain issue if the horse is not tolerating what should be a reasonable ask for where they are.


She is really not well regarded in the vet med community and I know one body work who refuses to work with her clients if she is involved.

I have looked into her shivers treatment and it completely disagrees with the research done.


I am not going to check out anything on TPH because to date, everything I’ve seen has been silly. The other comments on here that know more context reinforce my sense I don’t need to subject myself to being harangued by another self appointed expert whose every word I need to sift.

@erinmeri one of the most important research skills out there is getting a sense for what you can safely ignore. There’s no mileage in getting invested in trying to mentally argue with people who have outlying opinions. For myself, I happily ignore anything I come across that mentions liver detox, magnet therapy, astrology, homeopathy, the four humours, and exorcism. And some other things. Just turn the page.

Your time is better spent getting together the best team of local practitioners IRL that you can find, and exploring things through each of their modalities.

Also all horses are asymmetrical. All horses naturally prefer one lead. All horses like to counter bend at the canter. Some are more stuck in their ways than others. You need a lot of lateral and bending work at walk and trot to help restructure their movement before you get good canter.

I agree that most behavior issues have a foundation in fear or pain or both. To me, a behavior issue is horse runs backward sits down and pops up in front when you try to pick up a hoof or put on a bridle. Horse bites you during saddling. Etc.

Swapping leads or not taking one lead is a training issue related to body asymmetry and not a behaviour issue. Persistent training issues point you towards something ung the horse finds difficult whether that is pain or just a range of motion issue. Imagine you were asked to use your nondominabt hand to write. Not painful just impossible.


I completely agree with you, @Scribbler - I am not trying to argue with anyone at all. And I am glad that you and others have weighed in. I was just curious whether anyone else had listened and thought it sounded out there because she mixes in some valid points about compensation, etc, then as you said extrapolates. So it started to make me wonder if any of it was grounded in truth. Because if anyone did listen to her they would start to think that every shift in the crossties or horse resting a leg or one-sidedness is a sign of impending disaster. I’ve never ridden a horse that wasn’t one sided in nearly 40 years… At the end of the day, seems like she isn’t credible so I can stop pathologizing everything in my head when my vets and trainer have given me no reason to. Thanks!

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Yes, it can be hard when you run across an alarmist or skewed interpretation of issues you are already struggling with. It’s good getting a reality check. It’s hard to get strong but flawed assertions out of your head when you are looking for answers on that topic.

If you follow COTH there are many threads about diagnosing outright lameness or NQR or imbalances. And it’s really interesting when people chase it down with expensive diagnostics. The root cause can be anywhere on a horse, hoof or leg or back or neck. Muscle or tendon or joint or trauma or neuro condition or infectious neuro disease.

My mare can step funky if her hooves are unbalanced. Yes, the unbalanced wear patterns are due to conformation. But she isn’t sore up top. If we keep her hooves balanced all is good.


I’ve not listened to the podcast as I find listing to too much woo woo makes you second guess everything.

But I recently did listen to a Chiropractor who specializes in people going through physical therapy talk about pain and what he said I thought was really interesting. Pain is not a bad thing. We are taught to think pain=injury, but sometimes pain is our body overreacting.
A good example is going jogging. If I go jogging my lungs start to hurt and sometimes my butt does too. But I’m not in any danger of injuring my butt. It’s easier for me to stop jogging, but it’s better for my long term health to keep jogging.

I think we need to remember this with horses too. Some horses can be really stiff one direction. They probably are feeling a little discomfort, or even pain, when we tell them to stretch that out. But it’s not bad for them. They aren’t going to get injured from doing half pass left. They would just prefer not to have to do that, because it’s hard. So, pain isn’t always a bad thing.*

  • unless of course your horse is injured. Then that’s a different story.

To be fair to the horse (in general), there are a lot of real physical issues that can occur in the axial skeleton area and create behavior issues, performance problems, and training issues that are not often called “lameness” because there is no distal limb problem and may or may not be a graded gait deficiency. Lots of vets know this. Neck arthritis and kissing spine are two of the more obvious examples. Internal medicine specialists only look for causes that may be linked to airway abnormalities, GI problems, etc. The next question becomes whether you need actual medical intervention or whether you need different management, better riding, more appropriate tack. Horses talk to us with their behavior.

So at a high level, its mostly correct. But you can’t look at one behavior in isolation unless it is obvious (like 3/5 distal limb lameness). The more subtle things may not mean impending disaster, but perhaps show you areas where you maybe ought to provide the horse some more support with training or management. It’s not impossible to write with your non-dominant hand. You at some point had to learn to write with your dominant hand. It would be a lot harder to learn to write well with your non-dominant hand but not impossible. Your horse may show some subtle signs and perhaps taken together they indicate that because of A, doing B is difficult. Maybe it gets to the level of it hurts. Hurt being relative for an athlete and whether it’s doing more harm than good. In any event, issues are not limited to the distal limb.

Don’t go around being paranoid. But be observant. That’s part of being a horseman.


Thank you all and yes @Scribbler - when you’re already flagging something, the rabbit hole is easy to find! Thank you! @IPEsq - absolutely, the bigger picture matters and I trust my vets and trainer! We have a good plan. Thank you!

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I didn’t listen to her on the Plaidhorse podcast, but I have listened to her podcasts. While I’m not a true believer and I do get tired of the vaingloriousness, I do think that you can get some decent ideas and information from them.

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Perfection. And yes I think you harken back to things that sounded like maybe had threads of credibility but also sounded suspect.

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Years spent in academia make you acutely aware of certain words.


https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/lead-change-problems-in-sport-horses/id1435735981?i=1000598724348 I came across this episode. And oh my, idk how anyone can take this vet seriously. She just ranted from min 12 -18 about how she is refusing to tell others her magical “treatments”. What a scam

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I’ve been surprised I haven’t seen more posts on here discussing the podcast. I think there’s likely a ton of “body lameness” issues that go undiagnosed and it’s great that there’s research going into that.

It’s been a little while since I listened to a lot of these, so I hope I don’t recall incorrectly… I don’t know if it’s entirely accurate to say she doesn’t share with anyone - I think she’s partnered with a couple other vets. She states that her methods take a lot of skill and she doesn’t believe every vet would be capable of practicing them. Whether that’s true? It certainly can come across as hubris… I can’t say I understand her methods well enough from the podcasts to hazard a guess. I’m also not a vet.

It does make my eye twitch a little to some of the comments RE: your horse is lame and I know why, but you’re kind of out of luck because most vets have no idea. Even if you assume that’s true, it’s not terribly helpful. In some of her podcasts she mentioned she’d maybe be able to take calls from your vet and advise them (EP 43/52). I probably land somewhere near Peggy on the podcast.

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