Hi all! I am a long-time reader of this Forum but it is my first time posting as I have an issue that has me stumped and I’m hoping this community might be able to help! Here is the story:
I have an (about to turn 6) OTTB gelding that I bought when he was 3. I’ve been bringing him along slowly and carefully since then in dressage. He is a big-boned, big guy that has done a lot of growing - he was 16.2hh when I bought him and is now over 17hh - but has always had a beautiful cadence and very soft way of going. I’m short but he doesn’t ride big to me since he has always been so light in the bridle… until recently. His natural frame is to go round - even if I lunge him without side reins he instinctively wants to make a nice shape. This summer he was winning almost all his Training Level classes, and was High Score at our Championship show in September. I was thrilled with how he was going and we were prepping to move up to First Level this fall. Obviously that asks a bit more from him in terms of lengthening, collecting, and moving sideways but none of it seemed hard for him, he wasn’t showing any signs of feeling overfaced - plus we had been playing with some First Level moves over the summer already so I was slowly working on building him up to put it all together.
Then, in late October, just as we were about to do our first First Level outing, he started becoming resistant in the hand. Within 3 rides it had gotten to the point where he was head in the air. It was sooo unlike him, so I immediately called the vet out. Here’s what we’ve done since then:
First exam: Full body lameness exam (he was very sound and even), teeth check (all looked great), brief chiro exam (looked for TMJ, back pain, etc. and he had no significant reactions). He does have a tendency to slip his stifles so we x-rayed those just in case and they both were normal. We looked at the bit in his mouth and agreed he could come up a 1/4" in width but he didn’t have any rubs or cuts on his lips. Vet thought he generally just might need more strengthening so to add hill work and pole work into his routine, which I did. Meanwhile I also brought him over to my trainer and she also couldn’t get him round - she did throw draw reins on him to see if she could get him over his back but he was still resistant in those. She felt there was still some more significant physical issue going on.
Second exam: had the vet back out to watch me ride him. He was being a little better at this point - not head in the air but had this feeling of being “dead” in my hand; just braced and like he could not or would not break over his poll. The interesting part is that I did lunge him first in side reins and he went quite nicely. She felt under saddle it looked like he was protecting his back a bit, so we went down the paths of ulcers and saddle fit. We scoped him and he did have mild squamous ulcers and pyloric ulcers which she felt can be quite painful. He was on GastroGuard for 45 days, along with sucralfate. We rescoped him and the squamous were cleared but the pyloric were still there (although looking better) so we now we have him on another med (sorry I’m blanking on the name) that should more specifically treat those ulcers. He is about 15 days into the 30 day treatment.
Chiropractor: in December I had my chiropractor out to do a more thorough chiro exam and full adjustment. She didn’t have any significant findings, he was pretty loose all over. The two mild areas of tightness were withers and back, so I called the saddle fitter next!
Saddle fit: she came out in January and watched me ride in my saddle and agreed my panels were a bit short so not distributing pressure great. I rode in a few of her wider demos and he did feel like he was more willing to open up his stride and come forward, although I still had the “dead” feeling in my hand. I’m using one of her demos currently that had the best fit.
Bits/Bridles: throughout this time I have played with several bits, with no real change. He had been going just beautifully in a Neue Shule Team Up since he was 3, which was the bit that had gotten a little tight with his growth, so I got a wider one - no change. Tried a fatter loose ring, no change. Then tried a Myler Level 2 egg butt thinking he might need tongue relief - no change. Tried a Nathe thinking he might want something really soft - he was probably best in this but still not “good”. I then went with a Dr. Cook’s bitless bridle and that is the thing he has been going best in. In this I can get him forward and over his back the best; I actually can get him feeling like his soft self for at least a portion of the time in this at the walk and canter, but the trot is really really heavy and diving. I’ve been riding him in that the most lately, though I did just try him in a Baucher as I thought it might mimic some of the pole action of the bitless, and he hated it. Sigh.
As you can see, I’m trying my best to do right by him and figure out if there is a physical issue causing his resistance. He is usually such a trier and wants to be a good boy. It could certainly just be a training issue that we need to work through, but it just seems out of character for him. My trainer is a bit stumped as well, and we both feel we don’t want to push him if he is trying to tell us he’s hurting somewhere.
At this point, with everything we’ve done, I would expect to see at least some level of change in him but he’s largely acting the same way. It’s just so strange to me that my horse who has always been so easy to put together just feels so dead, heavy, and braced in my hand now. I’ve been bringing up youngsters for a while and have never run into something like this.
If you made it through this long-winded backstory, thank you! I’m just looking for any advice or similar experiences you may have had, and if you have any other paths you think I should try. One thing my trainer recommended was a head x-ray, but my vet was hesitant as she didn’t think he was showing any clinical signs that would correlate to something you would see on a head x-ray. Has anyone had experience with head x-rays revealing something that might be affecting my guy?
Thank you in advance for any advice!