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The Performance Horse.
The Hunter Jumper Athlete
Most people will agree that the horse bears fifty percent of the responsibility of a successful ride. The other fifty percent, give or take, relies completely on the rider, in combination with the trainer, the assistant trainer, the groomers, whoever pays the bills, the farrier, the veterinarian, and so on. If the horse shoulders fifty percent of the burden, then shouldn’t we, as riders, do our best to match that amount of dedication?
If our horse isn’t in full health, they will still try to give their all. It’s in a horse’s nature to give until they drop. Now, imagine if a horse is at peak physical condition. A horse will always give everything it can, but it’s those who are well cared for and well trained that become winners in the ring. It is our responsibility, as equestrian professionals, to strive to make our horse feel as sound as possible.
The only way horses can tell us that something is wrong is with abrupt changes in behavior. If your horse starts refusing, bucking, or becomes unwilling to pick up a lead, then they are trying to tell you something. The most important part of caring for your horse is being sensitive to their movements and personality. A change in performance is one of the first signs of possible discomfort. In the event that your horse begins acting out of character, talk to your trainer, your veterinarian, or your farrier. The trainer should be your first choice in determining whether there is a problem. If a trainer acknowledges a change in the manner of your horse, but is unable to properly diagnose the problem, your next step should be consult a veterinarian and/or farrier, to help pinpoint the specific problem. All of these people are trained to help diagnose problems before they have a chance to become severe.
One of the most effective ways to avoid problems in the ring is the use of preventive medicine. This starts from the use of recommended vaccines and wormers, nutrition, shoeing, methodic training, dentistry, and treating and preventing conditions as they develop like joint injections, hoof and leg care, hydro and ice therapy, and adequate rest. The use of medications has an important role for the equine athlete. The use of NSAID’s (Banamine, Bute, Arquel, Ketofen) is almost necessary to aid in pain management. Muscle relaxers are needed in horses suffering from back, neck, sacral or gluteal pain, as well as any large muscle areas.
The use of chondro-protectant is probably one of the most effective ways to prevent problems related to joints. Products like Legend (HA) or Adequan (PMSG) are very effective not only to treat a condition, but they are very effective in preventing the development of several serious conditions. Some conditions that these methods prevent are things like hocks spavin, arthritis of several joints, including neck, back, sacroiliac, hip, and navicular disease. The use of oral supplements are okay, but don’t rely exclusively on them; use them as their name indicate, supplements.
Once a problem develops, diagnosis is necessary. With proper diagnosis, successful treatment may still be possible. Diagnosis starts with a collection of necessary information. This information should come from the rider, the groom, the trainer and anyone else involved with the care of the horse. Then, an examination, emphasizing the area in question and, when necessary, the use of special procedures like nerve or joint blocks and later the use of advanced diagnostic equipment like ultrasound, radiology, endoscopy, fluoroscopy, MRI’s, nuclear scintigraphy, and so on.
Non-traditional medicine also has a place in the hunter/jumper world. Acupuncture is use to diagnose as well as to treat several conditions. Chiropractic manipulation is well known to help humans and non-humans patients and has been used to treat some musculoesqueletal conditions in horses. The combination of both traditional and non-traditional medicine is more useful than using just non-traditional medicine. To avoid the abuse of non-traditional medicine, be sure to consult a competent professional.
There are many treatment modalities available. Most depend on the horse, type of use, personal preference, level of confidence, experience of the veterinarian, and multiple other factors. There are traditional treatments used by veterinarians and horse owners for many years (such as: joint injections, bandages, hydro and icetherapy, etc) that have proved to be useful. Other treatments like massage, laser therapy, magnetic therapy are still in the early stages and no significant studies have been done to prove or disprove their effectiveness. There are new treatment modalities, some of which have proven to be very effective, and others still in early stages. Some of these treatments include shock wave therapy, stem cell therapy, IRAP, and mesotherapy.
Many factors influence which therapy is best suited for your horse, all factors should to be taken in consideration very carefully. One of the most important factors is to have an adequate diagnosis. Other important factors are the type of use of your horse, the type of competition, the frequency of competition, the age, and so on. If you’re still not sure, let the veterinarian help you making an educated decision.
This article gives a brief and general discussion of the most common health maintenance issues of the equine athlete in the hunter/jumper world. In future issues I will be covering more specific health issues. If you are interested in a particular issue, please contact me.