August 14, 2013

Dealing with a horse who trips

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One of Isis’ scariest symptoms was her near-constant tripping. I tried various methods to help her: chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, massage, riding techniques, and other things. Before she was diagnosed with EPM, I spent years trying to figure out what was causing the tripping. Where there consistent factors in where or how we rode that contributed? Was the tripping more prevalent on one side or the other? Was there a connection with time of day, weather, heat cycle, foot length, etc.?

It’s a lot to try and keep track of. (Part of the reason why I started this blog was to help deal with the emotional impact of having a horse with so many challenges.)

If you have a horse with a tripping problem, the best thing is to always involve your vet in any treatment approach. Your vet may also suggest a chiropractor, acupuncturist, or massage therapist.The ideas here can be a way to help you cope until the cause for the tripping is identified.

Many of the suggestions revolve around keeping records and documenting as much as you can.

Idea 1. Saddle Fit

Have you had your horse and tack evaluated by a saddle fitter? Is it possible that the saddle is interfering with movement?

When I took Kasane for a saddle fitting, imagine my surprise to find out that my Courbette saddle was too long for her back. It was pressing on her lumbar and on her shoulders. The saddler pressed on her shoulder and back and she nearly collapsed. Kasane needed a saddle with shorter panels (Courbette had 22 inch panels; the Prestige Venus K has 19 inch ones).

Idea 2. Pinpoint Circumstances when Tripping Occurs

Try to pinpoint (if you can) any circumstances where she seems to trip more often and then define exercises to improve those muscles or skills. Does she trip more on one side or the other? Front or back feet more often? Or does it seem to move back and forth between legs? Keep a log of these experiences. This will also help in diagnosing what is going on (and how effective any solutions you try are).

Idea 3. Create a Video Log

Have you considered taking periodic videos of your horse moving, turning on the forehand, turning on the haunches, and backing while in-hand or lunging plus possibly lunging? This can create a record to refer to later. It will also provide evidence of whether or not the approaches you are using are having an effect.

Idea 4. Target Strengthening Exercises

If you notice that your horse seems to have specific trouble, can you create a set of strengthening exercises to help? For example, Isis dragged her back toes so I worked her over ground poles at the walk and the trot. Because we had fallen while cantering, I did not canter her.

These exercises can include activities to help build coordination. Ask your vet or a trainer about the type of activities to do and for how long to do them before reevaluation (say 30 days or so).

Idea 5. Define a Length of Time

Whatever exercise plan you choose, define a length of time for these exercises. Start small and build up. Target the exercises based upon to help compensate for where you find patterns in tripping (i.e., problems going up hill, maybe the horse needs strengthening over the croup or stifle). Should you expect to see improvement in a month or two? If you don’t see improvement, then maybe this tripping isn’t muscular or skeletal. Maybe it is something else.

Idea 6. Test for Neurological Issues

Tripping and other subtle symptoms can be symptoms of EPM. My experience with tripping horses is based solely around Isis. For her, it turned out to be EPM. This doesn’t mean that the same will be true for your horse.

If you choose to test for EPM, there is a newer test available that can be done stall side, Multiplex Sn Antibody Detection Pack from Prota USA. The test takes about 20 minutes to do. While it doesn’t provide titer results like the standard Western BLOT test, it can provide a positive result for exposure which is useful for diagnosis.

Closing remarks

Tripping (and especially falling) can indicate that something is going on. Always consult your horse’s vet to make sure there isn’t something going on. Listen to that gut instinct when it tells you not to ride that day because your horse seems a little off.

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