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Sunday 17 December 2017

Growing pains - the effect of undiagnosed ailments on horses

Horses classed as difficult or temperamental may actually be reacting to undiagnosed physical ailments

Jackson says some problems in horses may not show up on a typical X-ray
Jackson says some problems in horses may not show up on a typical X-ray

Siobhán English

How often have you encountered a horse that rears or bucks for apparently no reason? Or perhaps nips or attempts to bite you when tacking up?

While some owners will often put this down to bad temperament in an animal, more often there is an underlying condition and that horse may be using these tactics as a defence mechanism when in pain.

Boasting 20 years' experience in this area of equine medicine, British veterinary surgeon Rob Jackson will be on hand to shed some light on these issues and many other problems often seen in horses when he conducts a series of clinics in Ireland next month.

"There are a multitude of reasons why a horse will do these things, but most of the time we can put it down to either a physical issue or sometimes, in the case of irritability when tacking up, a problem with their digestion," he said.

Over the years, Rob says he has also come across a wide range of issues in horses that sometimes can go undetected by the owners' local vets. This, he says, is not the fault of the vet, but rather the incapability of a regular X-ray to correctly diagnose the problem.

"It is not always straightforward and while part of a horse's skeleton may not be moving as it should, sometimes an X-ray will not detect this."

Jackson's work has taken him across the globe, treating all types of equines - from polo ponies to thoroughbreds and top-class event horses. Each horse is individual, he says, but more often he is coming across the same few problems which affect a horse's performance.

"One of the most common is a horse's inability to push forward properly with the hindquarters. I see this in horses in all disciplines.

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"The first thing we have to do is assess the horse. This includes observing the horse standing, then moving in-hand in both walk and trot, and on a tight circle.

"The way horses move gives an enormous amount of information as to areas of discomfort and parts of the body that are not functioning as they should. Asymmetrical appearances to the musculoskeletal system when standing and (crucially) during movement can prove of great significance in building a picture of what is going on.

"This is followed by a specialised palpation of the major muscle groups to identify spasms, tension and postural abnormalities. Combining this information with the earlier movement analysis provides a comprehensive view of the state of the horse's functional musculoskeletal system and informs the plan for performing manipulations.

"Manipulations are employed to address areas where the body is not moving appropriately. Affected horses may have a single site of abnormal posture/movement or may have multiple areas of concern.

"The great majority of manipulations, even when there are multiple issues, are performed without sedation - most horses will stand quite happily during the process.

"Following manipulation, the horse is generally seen moving again in order to establish the results of any work performed, and the post-manipulation aftercare is discussed with the horse's owner. More often than not, a single session will be sufficient - with the right aftercare - to allow the horse to return to normal levels of work."

In many of the cases, the horses are referred on by the owners' own veterinary surgeons. "It is important that we also get the consent of their regular vet if it is not a referral. That way we can then inform of our findings and pass on advice on follow-up care, if needed," added Jackson.

Other common problems encountered by Jackson include fractured pelvic injuries and kissing spines, although both are more complex and require long-term treatment.

"I come across a lot of young thoroughbreds suffering from fractures to the pelvis. A lot of these are treatable as long as they are not catastrophic inside. With kissing spines, some can be fixed with surgery, but there are also many that don't recover."

Issues with retired thoroughbreds, sport horses running into problems after being downgraded from top-class competition and horses being ridden in unsuitable saddles are also other areas covered by Jackson.

He will be seeing pre-booked horses across Leinster and Munster on March 25 and 26. The cost is €130 per horse and places can be booked by calling 0872989110.

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