Why Horses Get Sore or Go Lame
Larry Trocha here with another Horse Training Tips Insider.
In this issue, I’m going to address lameness and why horses go sore or lame.
This issue is pretty long, pretty intense and pretty opinionated.
I hope you take the time to read it and digest what is said here.
I also would like you to reply back to me with your thoughts about what is discussed.
Please make it short and to the point.
With that said, let’s get on with it.
In a previous newsletter, I talked about starting a colt as a 2-year old.
Basically, I said if the colt will be a recreational horse, start him as a late 2-year old or even older.
However, if you want the colt to be ready for the futurities (which take place in the Fall of his 3-year old year)… it’s best to start him in the spring of his 2-year old year (if he’s strong enough). Starting early means you don’t need to rush his training.
Some folks believe that starting a colt at 2, automatically means the colt will go crippled later in life.
After starting thousands of horses, I can honestly tell you, that is NOT the case.
And of course “a few” of them actually WILL go lame.
However, they probably would have gone lame no matter at what age they were started.
I’ve started plenty of horses between the ages of 4 and 9.
I even started one (a Morgan stallion in 1977) when he was 15 years old. He was unbelievably smart and made a good show horse.
His very first show was the Morgan Horse Cutting Futurity (there was no age limit). He won it with only six months of training. Pretty unreal!
Most of those older horses I started stayed sound… however some of them still got sore or lame… even before they were asked do any work.
And these days, I’m seeing more and more horses getting sore or lame due to just normal recreational riding.
And if you have a "performance horse", the horse’s odds of lameness or soreness are much greater… Even when the horse is well taken care of.
So here's the obvious question…
WHY DO SO MANY HORSES GET SORE OR GO LAME?
Here’s my best guess…
WE ARE SIMPLY “BREEDING" HORSES WHICH ARE PRE-DISPOSED TO LAMENESS.
Yes… I believe it’s our own fault!
I’ve seen plenty of crippled stallions being bred to crippled mares.
Plus, we are INBREEDING our horses to such an extent it’s ruining the physical dexterity of the breed (I’m talking about Quarter Horses).
We are producing horses which EASILY get sore HOCKS, sore STIFLES, sore SI JOINTS plus have fragile SUSPENSORY LIGAMENTS.
Prior to the 1990’s we seldom had these problems. As a matter of fact, I never even heard of cortisone hock injections until 1994.
If you own a performance horse today, there's a good chance during his career, he’ll suffer from one or all of the above ailments… No matter if he was started as a 2 year old or started as a 5 year old.
There are more than a few “recreational" riders reading this and saying to themselves, “Well, maybe "those" horses go lame but mine never do”.
Here’s what I’ve discovered over the past three decades of my horse training career… Most recreational riders really don’t know how sound their horse really is or isn't.
Because they never ask their horse to actually do anything that requires much physical effort!
They don’t ask them to stop hard or turn on their hocks like a reining horse.
They don’t ask them to work or hold a cow like a cutting horse.
They don’t ask them to jump a 4 foot fence like a hunter/jumper.
They don’t ask them to rope and stop a steer like a rope horse.
They don’t ask them to do anything that would put enough stress on their horse’s body to know.
It’s so common for an owner to put a horse in training with a professional trainer and within a few weeks, have the trainer tell them their horse has sore hocks or sore suspensories.
The owner believes the horse was fine before he was taken to the trainer. And it’s the trainer’s fault the horse is now sore. The reality… the horse wasn’t fine. The owner just wasn’t aware of it.
I’ve also heard some owners say, “I don’t believe in hock injections so I’m not going to have it done to my horse”.
All the trainer can do is say, “Well, just because you don’t BELIEVE in hock injections, doesn’t mean his hocks aren’t sore”!
“You’ll need to take your horse home then because I won’t work a horse who’s in pain”.
What do you think this type of owner does… take the horse home?
Nope. He usually just takes the horse to a different trainer and repeats this process all over again. It usually takes three or four different trainers to tell the owner the same thing, before the owner starts to believe they may be right.
On the other side of that coin, are professional horse trainers who can’t recognize a sore or lame horse… or they simply don’t care.
More than once, I’ve gone to a trainer’s place to look at a horse he had for sale… only to discover the horse was limping when asked to trot. When I pointed it out to the trainer, his reply was, “he’s not lame. That’s just the way he travels”.
My reply, “Oh. Well I really don’t want to buy a horse which travels like that. I then get in my truck and leave.
I think you’ll find this interesting…
Texas A & M university did an extensive study years ago.
They studied 75 Quarter Horses ranging in age from yearlings to late 2-year olds.
Some of the 2-year olds had been started and some had not.
And the horses were located on different ranches in different parts of the state.
The university took x-rays of all 75 horses.
Here’s what the x-rays revealed:
70% of the horses had joints which showed DEGENERATIVE CHANGES (especially the hock joints).
Yes, even the YEARLINGS and the UN-RIDDEN 2-year olds!
I don’t know about you… but I find those results disturbing.
One theory is horses are still going through the “evolutionary” process… and that’s what’s causing the problems.
Not long ago, I read that several foals have been born with NO lower hock joint. (It’s usually the lower hock joint that causes the soreness problems).
If that’s actually true, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of horses we’ll be riding a hundred years from now.
That study also shoots a hole in the “start them at 5 years old” proponents.
If the horse’s joints are already starting to degenerate at 2, he’ll have just as much degeneration (or more) when he’s 5.
And like I said earlier, I’ve started older horses that still went sore or lame.
That said, I still believe our bad breeding practices are the main culprit. If a mare or stallion goes chronically lame during their show career, DON’T BREED THEM.
ONLY BREED THE ONES WHO STAY SOUND.
Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about.
I know of a rancher who has successfully been raising beef cattle for many years.
His cattle are known far and wide as livestock which are easy to raise and almost never have any problems.
How has this rancher achieved such great success?
HE GETS RID OF ANY ANIMAL ON HIS RANCH WHICH HAS A PROBLEM… HE DOESN’T REPRODUCE THEM!
Okay, now it’s time to say a few words about lameness which is caused by the way a horse is ridden or trained.
Here’s the blatant bald-faced truth…
Ride any horse past the point of “MUSCLE FATIGUE", and you will cripple him up.
Let me define “muscle fatigue”.
When fresh, a horse’s muscles, tendons and ligaments contain enough “oxygen” to do normal work.
However, if the horse is worked to the point his muscles, tendons and ligaments are depleted of oxygen, they are at great risk of being injured.
I’ve seen more than a few horse trainers do this.
The scenario goes like this:
The horse’s training has been going along fine but one day he comes out and simply refuses to work correctly. The trainer, trying to do a good job for his client, un-intentionally works the horse past the point of muscle fatigue.
Next day, the horse is sore or lame.
At this point, the horse needs a few days (or weeks) off to heal before he can be expected to do any more work. Often times, the horse is not given enough time to heal and then the injury becomes chronically acute.
As an owner, it’s a good idea to mention to your trainer, “you don’t want to go there”.
However, be aware… sore hocks, stifles and suspenories can happen even if the trainer is super careful.
And inflammation of the hock joint, seldom goes away with rest alone. Cortisone injections in the joint are almost always needed to get rid of the inflammation.
And yes, there are equine supplements on the market which CLAIM to help the hock joints. I have not tried them all but the ones I did try simply did not work.
If one of them really did work, news would spread like wildfire and every performance horse trainer in the world would be using it.
Actually, there is ONE which I believe does help. I tried it on a couple horses and I THINK it produced an improvement.
The cost of that supplement… ONLY $400 for a one month supply.
Do I think it works well enough to justify the outrageous price? NO WAY!
Same goes for the pharmaceutical monthly injections which are supposed to help. There are three of four different drugs being heavily marketed (Legend is one of them).
I tried all of them over a 5-year period. Seldom did I see any positive results.
The one exception was Adequan. I saw good results on horses with problems located in the “forequarters" of the horse. However, it NEVER helped at all on horses with sore hocks or stifles.
After five years of spending a small fortune on those drugs, I simply quit using them. I felt the minimal benefits didn’t justify the high cost.
I’d like to express my thoughts about equine veterinarians who are asked to treat these lameness problems.
I have yet to meet a vet which I have total confidence in.
Why? Because vets are only human and humans make mistakes.
It’s a tough job being a vet… and I’ve seen some vets make almost as many mis-diagnoses as accurate ones.
Is it their fault? Are they not qualified?
No… the reality is horses can’t talk.
They can’t tell the vet what hurts. This makes diagnosing the horse's problem very difficult.
Oftentimes, its a case of simply trial and error before discovering the root cause of the problem.
However, I will say this… some vets are way better than others.
If a vet routinely mis-diagnoses my horse’s problems, I take that horse to a different vet.
Some years ago, I took one of my horses to a very respected equine lameness specialist.
That vet diagnosed my horse’s lameness three different times over a two-month period.
Each visit, he made a DIFFERENT diagnosis… all of them wrong!
One of this vet's diagnosis was so bizarre, I thought he was joking. He was not.
Which wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t charged $1000 for each visit and mis-diagnosis.
I had to take the horse to THREE more vets before the third vet accurately diagnosed the problem.
It took that vet only 5 minutes and one x-ray to find the root cause of the lameness.
Plus he charged me only a fraction of what the other vets charged for their mis-diagnosis.
I truly appreciated his integrity.
Now, do I hold a grudge against the vets that previously mis-diagnosed the horse and cost me thousands of dollars?
No, I don’t. Like I said earlier, vets are only human and humans make mistakes.
However, those kinds of veterinary mistakes have taught me to always be wary of any vet’s advice.
Okay, it’s time to wrap this up.
There were a few more things I wanted to cover here (pre-purchase exams, shoeing, chiropractic, etc) but I’m out of gas so they’ll have to wait.