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When things are not all they seem

Sometimes what might seem the logical and most fitting answer to a problem is not always right, and that’s why it’s so important to have a team of professionals that know your horse and can help you find the right answers such as therapists, vets, saddle fitters, farriers etc

This blog is about a horse we’ll call Bob (because I always wanted a horse called Bob 😂)!! 

Bob has a history of biting when the girth is done up, grinding his teeth when he’s ridden, not putting on weight easily & not always finishing his food.  He’s very reactive to having his tummy touched and his back. Does this sound familiar to you??  Those are all considered  key symptoms of an ulcer horse.

Now Bob is not a super stressy horse but he is an OTT so his owner is always careful to give him gastropell when situations might be stressful, keeps him off grain and on a low sugar diet, and makes sure he’s not ridden on a empty stomach. All ulcer preventing things.

Bob has had a big holiday on and off riding for the year and then come back into work. He’s moved house & had a change of circumstances.  He had his feet done, teeth done, spirts therapy & saddles fitted so was good to start the new year with a bang!

For the first few dozen rides he was fine, out on the trail, in the arena etc then he started getting snarky. Fine at walk then when asked to trot ears pinned back, tail swishing a million miles an hour and crabbing. Extra grumpy in trot and when leg was used. 

Is this beginning to sound familiar?? 

The owner had had him on a course of gastropell when he moved house but after talking to a few people including vets and vet nurses they said it sounded very much like ulcers & booked him in for a scope.

Now there were a few things bothering the owner about this and although she agreed it fit ulcers 100% she thought something else might be going on… I often find that an owners instincts are often always right!

Bob was fine on the trail, fine going out on the XC course & fine working on the flat out on a firm grass surface. It was only in the arena that these ridden symptoms presented. He also seemed perfectly happy in walk & canter it was just trot that he was snarky in (is that even actually a word??). He was also so sore in his back that he was very unhappy about massage & neuro kinetic therapy & would only let the therapist laser him. He even got upset when she put liniment on him. The therapist said he was not just sore in his muscles but between his spinous processes in certain parts of the back and so she booked him in for a lameness work up as well a few days after the scope so that if the scope showed bad ulcers the lameness work up could be cancelled.

Surprisingly (but positively). Although the scope showed scarring from old ulcers, it was clean! And his ph was normal. Wow, an OTT competition horse undergone stress and not have ulcers…. this just shows that if managed correctly you can protect your horse from ulcers. But this did leave the issue of his behaviour……

So Bob returned to the vet a few days later for his work up. Now as his issue was under the saddle the the therapist advised that the owner had the vet watch him under saddle first which is not always done but very important. The vet saw what she meant about his trot work under saddle & then put him on a lunge and was extremely happy with how he looked on the lunge. The therapist showed the vet the reaction to palpation on his girth and his back and he went straight in for back x-rays. 

What was discovered was that he had some very close spinous processes in his lumbar that weren’t quite kissing but may have been in the past (prior to getting his SI injected) but right after his wither at T10 was a very active kissing spine with sclerosis (hardening of tissue usually in response to inflammation) present and a possible lesion. The importance of the location of this vertebrae is its associated rib sits right under the stirrup bar, girth and leg. Hence the extra discomfort in trot where a large amount of the weight is in the stirrup vs walk & canter where it’s in the seat. Although the sclerosis indicates it’s been like that for a while, the spinous processes are not overriding and the inflammation means it’s still active. An x-ray was taken with Bob lifting his back and the processes opened (as can be seen in the second photo) which means that with some cortisone injected to relieve pain and a good rehabilitation program Bob should be on the road to recovery!

So keep a look out for the next blog on rehabilitation of kissing spines.


Jessica Blackwell

Managing Director – Equestricare
1300 378 768

Author Jessica Blackwell

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