Horse Suddenly Refusing to Go Round

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!

With the bit adjustments you made does he need a different size bit?

Just a few random ideas, since you’ve done so much diagnostics already…
Neck X-ray?
Possible kissing spines
Time for Nuclear scan?
Cracked tooth (head X-ray)

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Is he able to do belly lifts? Has he slipped or fallen in the field? Since the trot is a diagonal gait and it seems to be the biggest problem, it should be a clue…but I’m not sure what it would point to unless it’s center back.

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All of this. My first thought was, with his still young age and his growth spurts, it could be Wobbler’s that didn’t already show up as a foal :frowning: BTDT have the heartbreak.

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Oh dear, I forgot about Wobblers. That could be it.
Especially because this is a large TB gelding. More prevalent neck issues.

knowing nothing, and only just a wild guess… i would lean toward palate/tooth mouth something or other. I would test my theory by giving a large hunk of an alfalfa cube and see how he moves it in his mouth and if he willingly bites down on it.

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I have found for horses who want to bear down on the bit that the sprenger single joint dynamic makes a difference for some. We’ve all been trained to think he more joints are kinder but in fact a top rely shaped single joint is better for some mouth conformations.

What does the dentist say about his teeth?

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Yes, he will do belly lifts willingly, although he is a little squirrely when I do the butt presses to get him to lift his back… he does it but I have to really press on him. He hasn’t slipped or fallen that I know of, he hasn’t been lame or off at all throughout this. I didn’t think about the diagonal gait clue though! I will definitely bring that up with my vet.

We did a general neuro exam during his first evaluation and all was good there, and I haven’t had him tripping or anything (aside from occasionally slipping a stifle). Also, he goes in side reins on the lunge line willingly so it’s not that can’t physically come round… but the idea of Wobbler’s is terrifying. What were the symptoms of your horse when he/she was diagnosed?

I asked about both the vet and the chiropractor about kissing spine but they both thought he would be much more painful to back palpitation and felt the chance of it was low.

It sounds like my best next step might just be to take him to the clinic to have the vets there see him go, and decide if we should x-ray head/neck/something else.

Honestly my gut feeling is something with his mouth/teeth/head but no one can seem to pinpoint anything specific. I’ve never encountered palate issues so I’m not really sure how to potentially address that. I can definitely do your test, would I be looking for him to be dropping pieces of it and such?

Thank you for the tip, soloudinhere! I will look into that bit - I agree, since he went a bit better in the Nathe I wonder if he wants less joints overall.

My vet does our teeth floating so I don’t have a separate dentist. Maybe I need a full on dentist to take a look at him too for a second opinion.

On a related note, is there a such thing as professional bit fitters? I feel like I could throw so much money at different bits and still end up nowhere if they aren’t aligned with this mouth conformation. I’m in southeastern PA if anyone knows of someone in my area that could potentially help me on that front.

Bit Banks! Dressage extensions has a pretty comprehensive one.
If he passed the Neuro exams, you are probably in the clear for wobblers. May want to make sure they do the neuro tests again if you take him to the clinic.

Yes, a former trainer of mine just had her horse fitted and really liked her. The website of the fitter is trymybits.com

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I don’t know what to tell you to look for except something unusual. And if you need to find out what usual is for an awkward cube, give one to a couple of different horses and see what they do. See if what he does is something that indicates discomfort. I’ve never done this ‘test’ …just kinda made it up for you.

This is why it is crucial not to “make things up” when people are asking for advice.

I don’t see your advice (in this case) as harmful per se, but there are many details of your theory that are absent, because you haven’t thought it through before telling the OP to do it.
Real damage can be done when you are “making things up”.

People come to these forums because they expect a certain amount of experience and expertise.
As you can see, even though you qualified your post as a “wild guess” the OP took you seriously.

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When the vet looked at his teeth did he use a light and speculum? Or just stick his hand in there? He could have sharp points or a fractured tooth bothering him.

Also my fussy mare did NOT like the double jointed bits. She prefers a simple loose ring snaffle adjusted high enough so she can’t get her tongue over the bit.

Almost no symptoms. I was able to feel something but not pinpoint it. Nobody could see any gait abnormalities. I sent a series of videos (individual tests done as instructed) to a very good lameness vet friend who said to take him to a neurologist asap. He didn’t even need a myelogram. Radiography was enough to show a disaster of untreatable compression and arthritis between C5 and C7. I think I’m recalling bone numbers correctly.

He had passed a $$ pre-purchase including basic neuro tests about 4 months prior.

Editing to add - my main concern is that the horse was happy to go round and then he wasn’t. I’m really hoping for a mouth issue that’s easily solved, but to me, it doesn’t make sense unless there is damage or disease like a cracked tooth or such. IME horses don’t suddenly change their minds about going round unless there is a physical reason.

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No, something is not right. Can you have diagnostics done to see if he has issues with teeth/jaw?

Another possibility is an injury to the hyoid apparatus. I think that could be detected by radiograph.

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