Ask the Vet: Poor Performance

Question: My horse has been recovering for the last three years from a partially torn suspensory, colic surgery and ulcers. He now looks the best he ever has in three years and it’s time to get him in shape again. His past career he was used as a reiner, but switched to Cowboy Dressage three years ago. I have started walking and a little trotting, but I can’t seem to get him to walk out other than a pokey little walk. He will also trot a little. I’ve had his hocks injected about one month ago and two months ago he had Osphos. I don’t know if he’s being lazy or something else could be wrong?

Answer: From what you describe, you should start with a comprehensive physical and lameness exam by your first opinion practitioner. His reluctance to walk energetically may be due to one of his prior medical conditions or an entirely new problem. Without a detailed examination it would be impossible to determine if the condition you describe is attributable to a medical problem or laziness.

As a very general observation, it would seem unlikely, though not impossible, that a three year old, resolved suspensory desmitis would affect his ability to walk. You don’t mention if the suspensory ligament disease was a in a forelimb or hindlimb, but unless he is still very active, any lameness would most likely be seen at the trot.

Prior colic surgery could possibly be implicated if there are significant adhesions in the abdomen. There would be a slight possibility that an adhesion could be causing pain when he moves. It would be helpful to know how he moves when not under tack.

Although pain or lameness from multiple locations could potentially cause signs as you describe, I would pay particular attention to the forefeet and back as these areas are often implicated in horses with similar complaints, especially if it only occurs when ridden.

You mention that his hocks were injected and he was treated with Osphos. If your primary practitioner diagnosed an arthritic condition warranting intra articular therapy of the hock and he did not respond to treatment in that location, it would be wise to confirm the diagnosis with intra articular local anesthesia. If the biphosphonate Osphos was administered to treat lesions in the navicular bone, digital nerve blocks should be attempted to confirm this as a source of lameness.

The bottom line, however, is that you must start with a complete examination by your veterinarian to determine if the problem is physical.

Brian MacNamara, DVM, MRCVS, New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania, College of Veterinary Medicine