Soundness Issues or Behavioral Problem?

It was at a Barrel Race at Cowtown Coliseum when I first realized my horse was off. Bokaroid, a 7 year old, appendix, gelding, had been just short of perfect when it came to entering the alleyway, up until that day.

I unloaded Bok, tacked and warmed up as usual. He felt great. As I visualized how our run was going to look, we passed by the gate that led to the alleyway. Immediately, Bok got hyped up and I could feel his heart beat exceptionally hard. I wrote it off as nerves. As our time was approaching to make a run, I eased closer to the gate. Bok was still nervous and more hyper than usual. When they called my name, I pushed forward and asked him to enter the alleyway. At first, he walked up then immediately spun around to head in the opposite direction. After what seemed like forever, a rider on a calm horse walked passed us and guided us in. Once Bok was in the alley, he was off! Our run was pretty and our time was consistent for him. I wrote the alleyway issue off due to Cowtown being a gated and longer alley than usual.

The next day, we were up at another jackpot. The same story happened, however; this time the alleyway was not gated and shorter. When we finally entered the arena, Bok failed to turn the first, I pulled him up and finished the rest of the pattern at a lope. The following day, I took him to the clinic where I performed a lameness evaluation. After a lengthy examination consisting of flexions and trotting on various surfaces I found he was off in the left front. After finishing the lameness exam with diagnostic nerve blocks and radiographs I confirmed he had the subtle beginnings of a painful abscess in his foot.
As veterinarians, we are trained to zero in on lameness problems when they present to my partner Dr. Dorris or myself at our clinic in Stephenville, and we spare no effort to trace them to their root.  As a barrel racer, however; lameness issues don’t always make themselves so obvious. I’m often stuck wondering if problems are due to rider, arena, environment or my horse. The moral of this story is how many times do we write off small idiosyncrasies? The rule of thumb for me is- once may be a fluke but twice necessitates an evaluation. Too often, our horses provide us only with subtle warning signs such as when Bok was failing to enter the alleyway, but no matter what, pay attention to those little clues to help you stay on top of your game.

A horse who knows its job RARELY stops performing for behavioral reasons. Usually the loss of performance is due to something hurting somewhere.

For more information about Soundness vs. Behavior Issues, contact SEQSM @254-968-7376.  Jessica Huntington, DVM Stephenville Equine Sports Medicine