5 Considerations for Your Horse’s Well-Being

Artwork by Christina Fowler an entry in the 2013 USDF Arts Contest

Don’t get a longer spur to fix a problem that came out of nowhere.

Often vets run into riders whose horses have been doing everything perfectly for years, but suddenly they refuse to cooperate, or begin having difficulty completing movements. Many riders chalk it up to their horse just being difficult, when in actuality, he may be sore somewhere, which is causing the difficulties or behavioral issues. If a problem like this comes out of nowhere, have your horse checked over by your veterinarian – he could have tweaked something in the paddock, or just stepped wrong and you didn’t see it!

Overweight horses.

Maybe there are underlying metabolic issues, but it’s becoming a trend to have overweight horses in the dressage arena. Extremely overweight horses cannot perform as well, just as overweight athletes cannot perform to the best of their ability. Even with similar breeding, it is often the dressage horse over the showjumper that is overweight.

Topline issues.

Lameness of the limbs often comes from issues in the topline. Weaknesses in the toplines lead to lamenesses in the lower back, sacroiliac, stifle, and even down into the hock and origin of the suspensory. Horses with weaknesses in the topline often quickly letdown during layoffs, resulting in a large “hay belly” (see above for why this can be an issue).

Breeding and foal movement.

A side by side comparison shows the difference in movement of two young foals. One is a Quarter Horse foal, who will likely race. His movement is very stilted and not “bouncy”, with a short stride. The other is a warmblood foal, bred for dressage, whose trot is floaty and “bouncy”, and it’s easy to envision this being an enjoyable trot to ride in three or four years. While many Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses compete successfully in dressage, warmbloods are a dominating force around the world – because they are bred to move the way they do. When breeding for a specific discipline, movement can be a very important factor to consider to afford the potential offspring the greatest chance at success.

Pinhooking young warmbloods.

This becomes a problem when riders rush these horses. Young warmbloods develop and mature differently than other breeds, and pushing these young horses too fast can be extremely detrimental to their physical development. Dressage is one of the only equestrian sports that a horse can still be competitive into their 20’s. No other discipline allows for this longevity in a career, but a promising dressage career can quickly be cut short by a rider rushing a horse that isn’t ready. Careful planning and going slow will increase the likelihood of your horse being able to still be competitive late into their life.

This list was compiled from a session at the 2007 USDF National Symposium. To listen to the excerpt, please visit the USDF Education Library, or to watch the entire session and more, you can purchase Riding with the Vet from the USDF Online Store.

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