What Is My Horse So Grumpy About?

This month’s Pivot Point Equine Rehab blog addresses some signs of underlying issues that we need to address for our horses to feel their best. We know a horse, or human, cannot compete at their best if they don’t feel their best.  

I decided to do things a little different this month with a Q & A with a trusted vet from this region. 

Dr. John Lawton, DVM of Overton Veterinary Services, was kind enough to answer my questions in regards to my “Grumpy Gelding.” Dr. Lawton grew up in Grand Island, NE, and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincon in 1994 with a bachelor of science in veterinary science. He earned his DVM from Kansas State University in 1998. Dr. Lawton is certified in both Veterinary Medical Acupuncture and Animal Chiropractic. 

Q: What different things (differential diagnosis) run through your mind when an owner brings in a horse and they say, “He is just so grumpy when I saddle him”?

A: Dr. Lawton: “When a horse is acting out when he is being saddled, he is likely telling you there is something wrong. Horses may exhibit discomfort due to trauma, tack issues, rider issues, soft tissue and myofascial overuse and injury, joint issues, digestive issues, or possibly arthritic changes in the back and legs. The key is to figure out exactly where and why they are hurting, then develop a treatment plan to address the issues. Proper saddle and pad fit is obviously vitally important, as is saddle placement. Examining the entire horse to determine why he is uncomfortable can be a challenge. Pain may originate from essentially anywhere in the body and can present as neck, wither, or back pain. Back pain is often secondary to problems originating elsewhere. Horses run by engaging their hind ends. Back pain makes this difficult to do effectively.”

Q: What kinds of things would you like people to do before they bring a horse for you to examine for such a complaint? 

A: Dr. Lawton: “I often have owners send me videos of horses at speed or performing so we have a better idea of what issues they need addressed. Some issues only show at speed. I like to have the owners bring their saddles, pads, and bridles with them to the exam.”

Pay attention to what the horse is telling you. Astute observation skills by owners and riders help make a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan possible.”

Q: This particular gelding I am thinking of has two completely different shaped front feet. If you suspect foot issues, would you prefer that they come in shod or unshod? Why? 

A: Dr. Lawton: “In general, diagnosing foot issues is easier to do without shoes. Shoes cover up part of the sole, white line, quarters, heels, etc., making a thorough exam of the bottom of the foot difficult. We often use hoof testers to aid in a diagnosis. Shoes make this more difficult to do. Taking radiographs of the foot can be difficult when trying to examine certain structures of the foot. We will often remove shoes to take radiographs.”

Q: What are some simple things you wish people would do more often for their horse’s health?    

A: Dr. Lawton: “It is important to listen to the subtle clues your horse gives you. Address these changes as soon as they start. Many people tend to wait extended periods of time hoping the issues resolve on their own. Get help in looking at the entire horse to determine the underlying cause of the problem.”

Proper dental care is important, whether you are riding young horses or old. A dental exam twice a year is recommended for most horses.”

Q: Do you have any other tips or suggestions for readers?

A: Dr. Lawton: “Oftentimes people put off coming to the vet until things are way out of control, often expecting a quick fix three days before a big event. We can usually help these horses, but I don’t think we are getting those horses to their full potential. Horses that perform with pain need time to readjust to running without discomfort for them to run at their maximum potential. It is easier and usually cheaper to fix a problem when it is a small issue, instead of waiting for it to be a chronic, lingering issue.”

The money spent at the vet to fix things when they are minor issues dwarfs in comparison to the money you have invested in your horse, entry fees, and time and money spent traveling, etc. If you are wanting to cut back your expenses, it probably isn’t a good idea to skimp on their care.”  

If you would like to know more about this month’s topic, feel free to reach out to Dr. John Lawton at Overton Veterinary Services at (308) 325-3829 or myself, Becky Pearson, at (308) 870-2526 or on Facebook, Instagram at Pivot Point Equine Rehab, “Where Caring for You and Your Horse Is Our Passion!”