What's wrong with my horse? Calling armchair vets

13yo Holsteiner gelding, show hunter. Bred domestically, lived on breeders farm until I acquired him two years ago. Horse has had two owners his entire life - all background and history is accessible as breeder is my trainer.

Horse was started as a 5yo. He was always a little hot and anxious, but manageable. He bucked trainer off one too many times and was just turned out after. He was turned out for about a year before he was brought back into the barn for various working students to try to get going and to be sold.

I started riding him as a 10yo. I clicked. And then acquired him.

Since he’s settled into his home with me. But he has not progressed in his jumping over the two years he’s been with me. One lesson he’s wonderful - the jumps can go up, he does the changes, no stops. Next lesson, a pole on the ground is a huge issue. He will slam on the brakes and be extremely hot.

I typically do not jump at home, only lessons at the trainers farm, or at horse shows. When I do jump at home, he rarely stops, and is an absolute blast to ride at home 85% of the time. (He can get a little fired up at times). I’m not convinced he wants to be a bad horse. This guy will follow me through fire if I ask him. I think there is something wrong. It’s just figuring out what.

Trying to push through these issues I’ve done the following:

  • Custom saddle to address any discomfort in his back
  • routine body work by a very reputable chiropractor
  • Tested for PSSM1 - n/n. It’s possible he’s a PSSM2 horse, so he’s maintained diet and fitness wise as if he had PSSM2. (History here - he’s hard to get fit and keep fit. He has some weird fat patches on the sides of his rump and he tends to be very tense and sore)
  • extensive lameness exams
  • Hocks injected recently
  • SI injected recently
  • Stifles injected recently
  • His hocks have been x-rayed, he has beautiful hock images.

Vet is coming on Wednesday. He will be scoped for ulcers.

I’m not sure where to go or what to do after this. Scoping for ulcers is a last ditch for me. Test for EPM? He passes all neuro exams. Re-address feed and fitness assuming he has PSSM2? Image his spine?

You can’t force a horse to be something they are not… If we find something that ends his career, or if we find nothing, he will just happily retire on my farm.

Would love any thoughts so I can address them with his vet on Wednesday.

Do his hind proximal suspensories ultrasound clean? Besides EPM, have you run blood for Lyme?

Have vet check him with hoof testers to check for foot soreness… I’ve seen head scratching cases where everything was tried and the horse was foot sore… for example… really nice appendix, great jumper/event type who seemed to love his job. Then started stopping, then started bucking. Went through all the diagnostics, expensive custom fit saddle, the works. Took him for a nuc scan and his feet, shins, hocks lit up like a christmas tree… video of the horse going shows toe first landing etc. Long toes and low underslug, crushed heels, thin soles.

I always start with feet and then work my way up from there.


Perhaps an eye exam as well. Good luck, how frustrating.

1 Like

Opps! Forgot to add…

-Lyme test - positive (low positive) for chronic lyme. treated with doxy for 30 days
-Eye exam - perfectly normal

The Lyme can do this. My friend has a horse that is Lyme positive, managed. Still though, you don’t know what horse you’re pulling out on any given day.

If you suspect P2 I wouldn’t doubt that it’s a major contributor. My old mare was P2 and managed on her diet for the most part. Even at her best she still had bad days… like trying to kill me. Otherwise, she’s carry me to the ends of the earth without hesitation, she was more trustworthy than any other horse I’ve encountered on her good days. Her bad days were days we went back to basics and did a lot of lateral work and slow stuff… boring, routine, but safe. I found if I always did the same thing and kept her fit for that, there really weren’t any bad days. The minute we tried to do something different, or if I gave her too many days off… my dragon was back. In the end, I retired her for any serious use, taught beginner walk/trot lessons off her for a couple years (she was a babysitter and MUCH safer for people who weren’t asking much of her). She showed me signs that she wasn’t happy with anymore and it was the beginning of it becoming unmanageable through diet. She declined steadily for 3 months and didn’t respond to any changes we made and I made the decision to let her go. I’m confident that disease killed her and it did it fast, she was only 17. Like yours, she was hard to get fit and keep her that way. She responded well to the diet and got significantly more comfortable for several years, but there was no fixing her. Only thing to be ‘fixed’ was how I managed her and what I expected of her. Physical limitations are real, listen to your horse when he tells you what his are.

1 Like

Kissing spine?

What led to all the things being injected? Can you elaborate if there was any other lameness previously that led to injections?

I have heard that kissing spine can cause similar issues when jumping, and that other lameness can occur due to back pain etc. If there was a need for all those joints injected, I would think there is something underlying causing the issues.

Have you looked at neck and back?

I knew one that was like this and it turned out to be stifle pain. Finally went lame enough. Treated. Back to normal (following some reconditioning).

But given the difficulty in starting this horse and the bucking history and all that, I’d go with neck or KS if you haven’t imaged there yet.

Edited to ask - what led the vets to inject all that in the hind end?

Maybe he simply isn’t happy being a jumper? Bored with arena work?

Why do you think his behavior is pain related? Is he happier jumping logs on the trail?

1 Like

How often do you get him away from home to jump? It sounds like he didn’t get out much before you got him. He might really just need more exposure. Even taking him places to just hang out and look around, with no pressure. Do you ride him consistently between lessons?

RE: the hind end injections - Due to poor performance and performance issues, I had my vet do a thorough lameness exam. While he’s not an unsound horse, he moves very “hocky”. The chiropractor picked up issues on his left hind with each exam. My farrier noticed him being slightly painful on his left hind. The horse flexes very poorly behind. We radiographed hocks because he is the most reactive on hock flexions. He was also sore behind on palpation, which my vet took as probable SI pain based on his flexions. She did not feel he was a kissing spine horse on examination, simply based on the fact that his actual spine was not sore or reactive on palpation. But she said this might be something to investigate if there is no improvement.

His flexions and soreness along his hind end improved dramatically with injections, so we never pursued any further diagnostics on his back.

RE: boredom/happiness under saddle. It’s entirely possible he just does not want to jump. I’m a believer that you cannot force a horse to perform a job it doesn’t want to perform. At home, I do not have a ring. He’s ridden in my “riding area”, or out in the field. We do a lot of trot work. He’s mostly wonderful to ride at home.

1 Like

If he were mine, I would ultrasound hind suspensories, and X-ray front feet and neck. Neck issues can cause a lot of compensatory soreness in the hind end, and can occur with a healthy-appearing back. Did you do another Lyme titer after treating?

I’d probably start with doing a double check on his diet. Sounds like a PSSM2 flareup to me.

Otherwise check his feet. Foot pain causes all kind of odd symptoms.

agree with @BoyleHeightsKid. My OTTB was the same as yours- jumped great one day, the next a pole set him off. He did have low, underslung heels and thin soles and vet/farrier kept saying he was just foot sore. He was also a bolter that could sometimes include bucking- not fun. Finally got rads done. He had pedal osteitis. Retired after that.

Thank you all for the input.

I’ll have the vet put hoof testers on him tomorrow and take a look at his feet. It may also be time to recheck his lyme titer. I’ll have to see when he was tested last.

I rode a boy similar to that and we had a fun day at our barn one day and had an animal communicator out. She said his front feet were sore and I kinda thought, yeah, ok “eye roll”. He was not my horse but his owner did get xrays of his feet and he had ringbone in both fronts. He would be so good one day, and the next be a spooky mess, run you over and not want to move forward or jump. The next day he was super quiet, would willingly go forward and would jump the moon.
He was very odd and we thought it was more in the breeding (cob x warmblood) but it was a pain issue with him. Poor boy.
But he is managed well now and is doing great with his owner!

Borderline saddle fit. Saddle may fit well enough on a relaxed back, but then becomes painful on a tense back.

What’s his living situation? I know you mentioned PSSM2 being a possibility and that you’re feeding him accordingly but what’s his living situation like?

Update: Stage 2 ulcers. Started on gastrogard and sucralfate. Vet wants him off the complete feed he was on and back on a ration balancer. Try to increase his grass hay intake.

She put hoof testers on him to start - no reaction. She looked over his back. She does not think he’s a kissing spine horse. He’s too evenly and too well muscled. She thinks back pain IS saddle related. Saddle fitter is back out today.

Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.