By Matt Randall, DVM—Photo by Gene Hyder

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Your veterinarian needs to know about any traumatic events, such as trips or falls, that a horse has suffered in competition.

We all want to save money these days. Solving your horse’s performance problems can be an expensive endeavor—money donated in entry fees, money for the trainer and money for the veterinarian.

Here are some tips to help you get more bang for your buck when solving performance problems.

What makes this tricky is the horse isn’t noticeably lame, so unsoundness manifests itself in dropped times, unwilling attitudes and overall unhappiness between horse and rider.

First, rule out yourself as the source of the problem.

I trained my own reining horses while attending veterinary school. When I hit a wall with my horse, or something was falling apart, I had professionals whom I could turn to for help. As my wife’s friend, Lyndee Stairs, is fond of saying, “When you ride alone, it’s easy to perfect your mistakes, so another set of eyes can often solve problems by simply offering another perspective.”

If it isn’t something that you’re doing that’s causing your horse’s problems, a veterinary visit might be in order.

I want to reiterate this advice is for horses that don’t appear lame. If your horse is visibly lame or has an obvious soreness, go straight to your vet. If the unsoundness isn’t readily apparent, here are some tips to maximize your veterinary appointment.

Don’t give your horse any type of medication before your appointment. Painkillers, especially, can stay in the body for extended periods and potentially mask subtle lameness.

Don’t get your horse’s shoes reset right before either. Some horses get sore right after you reset their shoes. If you just had your horse reset, wait a few days to see if that solves the problem.  

Don’t give the horse time off right before the exam. Subtle lameness and soreness can come and go with rest. If you want your vet to find it, work your horse as you normally do. Do not work your horse if something is obviously wrong.

Consider this common scenario. You send your horse to the trainer because he’s not working right. The trainer rides the horse a week and says you need a vet. The trainer knows your horse has a soundness issue because they’ve ridden enough horses to have a feel for it, and more important, they worked the horse hard enough and consistently enough for it to show up.

Finding soundness problems is often difficult in the horse that’s ridden for 30 minutes every other day, seems sound and then falls apart during a three-run weekend. If you rest that horse before your appointment, your vet sees a horse that’s had time to heal or become numb to the pain.

Don’t change your routine before the exam, but make note of everything that has changed since your horse went from a superstar to a knot head.

History is very important.

Your vet wants to know if your 1D horse is now in the 3D, or if your super honest 3D horse has started refusing the gate or hitting barrels. What may have happened to cause this?

Have you changed your exercise or warm-up routine?

Have you changed any tack? Saddles, pads and bridles are often common sources of discomfort, but the occasional horse objects to changes in leg gear.

Have you made any shoeing changes?

Have you been running in different conditions? For instance, if you’ve made the jump from jackpots with manicured footing to tricky rodeo ground, your horse may have lost confidence because of the ground or it may be sore from slipping and need shoes that offer more traction.

Has the horse fallen or slipped badly recently? Set back while tied? Cast himself in the stall?

Have you changed feed, hay or supplements?

Have his living conditions changed? For instance, our late-cut geldings went back into stallion mode when we introduced a mare to our all gelding herd.

Tell your vet what seems to be going wrong in your run. What is the horse doing? Refusing the gate? Hitting barrels? Over-running barrels? Not finishing the turns? Running out of steam coming home?

Bring a video of both good and bad runs, and be sure to bring the tack that you use in case your vet wants to see the horse under saddle.

All these things can help make it easier, and hopefully cheaper, for your vet to find unsoundness that maybe causing your performance problem.

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