Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weight and Balance

In some ways I hesitate to post what I'm about to post. Though I know that you, my loyal readers, will only have constructive comments and suggestions, but being the "Overanxious" person that I am, I dream up all sorts of horrible things in my head like someone telling me that I'm doing something so obviously cruel that I should be ashamed to call myself a horse owner or that I've ruined my horse beyond repair.

So please be kind and be assured that as we speak I'm already soliciting answers from professionals. I'm just sharing the case study with you. For those of you who have not followed this blog from the beginning I have some history re-caps:

First a little history re-cap about "Balance": In the beginning I used to call him "The Eight Legged Moose" or say that he had "four left feet." I also said he had ADD because several of the incidents included him looking off to the side quickly when he saw another horse. For a long while he was stumbling in the front end at the canter. Often. We actually dropped to his knees on at least two occasions. There was a time early on that I worried about cantering him at all, convinced we were going to go ass over tea kettle like I did once with Banee. These are the only two I have on film: the first in a lesson during our first few months (Nov. '08), and the second at the last show we were in (June '10).

THESE seemed to be front-end related, only at the canter, and the one in June was the last time he's done it... knock on wood. I had him checked by Chiro #1 shortly after that and his only response was that he was "stiffer in the neck than I expected" which doesn't make me feel like I got my money's worth. Then he was tight in the right shoulder and I started doing the Alpha-Stim and stretches, which I've not done much of since he shoulder got better. Possibly related or unrelated is this other issue: every so often and with increasing regularity in the last few weeks an issue seems to be expressing itself in his left hind. I know this has happened on and off for a long time. If I can describe what it feels like during the ride, it feels like he forgets the foot behind himself. It hesitates to come forward. This is mostly happening at the trot, more so the more I ask him to extend and hardy at all when we are jogging. He happily exhibited it to Monet who gave me some homework to do to help it, which I promptly forgot and therefore didn't really follow through with. When I had my jumping lesson on Nov. 21, she told me the bumps on his neck were evidence of vertebra out and she adjusted him. Fast forward to now: he's still got the bumps and that left hind is very frequently "catching". This is from today. You can see it if you stare at his left hind. I slowed it down a few clicks so that it's easier to see. It feels bigger than it looks:

History re-cap on Weight: Bought him in early September '08 and he was underweight. Not dangerously so, but thin. This is him that first month:

I'd say he was a 3-4 on the BCS scale. He proceeded to gain WAY too much weight and he yo-yo'd for a good while. In the fall of '09 my friend TJ used Junior as her project horse in her college Equine Nutrition class and in January of 2010 I changed his grain and started measuring and bagging his meals since I couldn't rely on the barn feeders to get it right. Further history in the Topics tab under "Equine Nutrition." When TJ did the project we palpated him at an 8.5 on the BCS scale and looked like this:
Now he looks like this and I think he's at a 4 (BTW you really have to FEEL a horse to estimate accurately, pictures are far less accurate):
If you compare the rear shots, he not only is more triangular, on the topline, the top of the hips is narrower than the bottom, which looks disproportional.
And ribs, even visible through the fuzz. :( Only positive thing is that his tail is much fuller and longer than it was even a year ago. But that's just cosmetic of course. :( Nobody cares about the paint job if the engine is broken.
You can look at his full profile in the Christmas pictures, but we'd been outside for a bit and his hair had fluffed up. He's just been unblanketed in the three that are here.
What was most upsetting to me today as I compared these images, is that even though his side view from 9/08 is similar to now, the rear profile is much flatter in todays images. This leads me to think that he's lost more than fat: he's lost muscle and that's not a good thing.

Is the muscle loss the cause or the effect? Or are we looking at two different things?

I wish I knew the answer. I know the possibilities: sore back? sore hip? hock? caused by what? bad tack? does he have a mild injury somewhere? Does he need more chiro? Certainly not from Chiro#1, but we're trying to get Chiro#2 scheduled. More massage? A supplement? More Alpha-Stim? Where do I do the Stim? Stim is difficult in the winter because the horse has to be wet. Though well insulated, the barn is not heated. Should I lunge him instead of ride him? But I can't get him to extend a trot on the lunge line so that won't work him very deeply.

I did some sensitivity tests, running my comb down his back from withers to spine but didn't get much reaction so maybe his back/loins are fine and the issue is in his hip? He was doing this before Chiro #1 saw him, but like I said, I didn't get much information out of that guy.

I know I NEED to get that muscle back, but I need to ask for some professional opinions on how that should be accomplished. I want a better diagnosis that what I have so far and I don't want to do any more damage. He seems perfectly willing to work, just not as willing to extend as he should be because clearly that's difficult/painful. He's not fighting me, I just need to keep pushing him and if I let up at all he drops right down to a slower jog.

All of the preceding questions were rhetorical, of course. I'm afraid no one can really answer those from watching a video or looking at pictures. If that were the case Vet's wouldn't need to make farm calls. So we've got some work to do.... just not sure what it is just yet.

As always, I'll keep you posted.


  1. Very hard to tell with these things - the neck issue could affect how he's moving behind - if he can't fully relax his top line he won't be able to fully engage his core and lift himself. Could also be stifle or even sacral, but the trotting video doesn't look that bad (to me at least). If he's not fully engaging his hindquarters, it would be impossible for him to extend the trot and that would also explain the muscle loss - he's not using those muscles as much. But very hard to tell from here - hope you can get it figured out - but it really doesn't look terrible from here.

  2. It definitely looks like a sticky stifle in the video, which could explain the loss of muscle.

  3. I would have his hips checked, and like Kate said pain in one place could really bother him if he cant lift and engage. However I would have an really good conversation with your farrier. Looking at your photos back from christmas, his angels look to be too steep. Normaly I wouldnt mention it, but if your investaging issues it might be a place to look at.

    Does your dressage trainer that comes to your place do lungling lesssons (as in teach you how to lunge?). You can do ALOT on a lungeline and it might help, lots of long trotting, transitions and the like can get him working.

    Untill he gains some weight you are going to have an uphill battle to put more muscle onto him. My own horse Lucas had that problem when I got him, and it took a year to get him to a decent weight (although now hes a bit too plump), and his muscle tone still needs some improment.

    Ive been following your blog for a bit, and I love reading your stories about Jr.! And its great that your open to ideas about what to improve and how to do it. I cant wait to read about your shows this summer! :)

  4. I wish I had some suggestions for you... I don't think his condition looks bad, and I think he looked ok in his trotting video. It looks like he doesn't put much effort into using his hindquarters because it appears he drags his feet a little behind, but I'm pretty sure I know exactly what you mean when you say it feels like his leg is "being left behind". Lilly has something similar going on, but just at the walk.

    Since it's winter, have you been able to work him on a regular basis?

    I think starting with a chiro would be a good idea, though. If something is off he might be compensating and causing himself some issues.

    Good luck and keep us posted!

  5. @Justaplainsam: I don't know about lunging lessons. He lunges fine now, though he didn't always. If I ask him to move out more he'll canter instead. He does the same thing at the trot because it's easier. I'm sure with some time I could get him to understand to stay at the trot but extend. About his feet: he's had this issue for much longer than we've been with this farrier. It has been there when he had a short heel, too, so I'm not sure about that... I'll look into that, though.

    @in2paints: Regular? I doubt it. I was out of town for the last 3 weeks in December and I'm not sure how much he was ridden. I know Max's mom rode him once, but the lesson schedule was weird over the holidays and his lessons are SOOOO not exercise for him anyway, so really he had 3 weeks off. Since I've been back I've only ridden him about half a dozen times, I did a 20 minute lunge session one day and I think I just did showmanship one other day in the past two weeks. I feel like it's been increasing. Friday and today I really pushed him to trot out so I could see if I could get him to track, and to start building his muscle back up.

  6. I wouldn't worry about his actual weight if I were you - every horse has its own, unique comfortable weight that they're perfectly happy at. I have a 9 yr old horse that's not riding sound but is fatter than ever. It doesn't effect her health; I also have the 23 yr old barrel racer who looks thinner than heck but, again, doesn't effect her health. Get your pony checked out by a vet if you're too worried about weight - but don't fret too much, it'll only make it harder to think about.

  7. @ Gabrielle Elise: You are right that all horses are going to be a little different, just like humans, but since his weight has fluctuated so much in the past three years we've not yet found his normal, healthy weight. It is NOT healthy to yo-yo like this and just like overweight humans, overweight horses are prone to a slew of health complications including things like laminitis, respiratory problems, joint strain, cardiovascular strain, and compromised immune system.

    A horse that's lost weight might signal other issues and that is what I'm trying to sort out. I've already ruled out parasites (we did fecal counts in the fall), and ulcers (he eats fine and is not showing other signs of stress), but there are other possible reasons. Significant weight loss that can be observed visually without additional palpation (touching) should never be ignored.

  8. If he were my horse, I would schedule a full lameness work up with a really good vet. He doesn't look lame but if you feel there's something wrong (the most subtle lamenesses are often only felt and not seen) then I'd want to get to the bottom of it.

  9. Honestly... an Appendix gelding I used to ride A LOT had problems with "forgetting" to bring his hind legs forward... it was usually the left hind. We found out he had neurological issues. :/ Junior's does not look as bad, but I'm hoping that his doesn't progress to the level Waco's was. I hope the chiro helps! Junior is a nice horse with a super kind/soft way of going!

  10. So I am by no means a pro but we have had horses for a long time and to my eye from the pics he looks a bit on the thin side, both weight and muscle. To my eye his back also looks a bit dropped, but these could just be bad pics. Again I am not there so I could not really say for sure but he did go from a much more strenuous riding schedule to an easier work out over the last few months, correct? My horses tend to lose muscling in the winter when they are not being ridden regularly, and it takes a bit of work to get them back into shape in the spring. Until they get back into better muscled shape they are not always the most inclined to stretch out and really work.

    The chiro is a good idea make sure you check out your chiro person as just with masseuses; a good one is amazing, an average one is okay, and a bad one is pretty much ineffective. It would be a good idea to look at some exercises you can do with him both in the saddle and out of it that get him to really round and use his back and get him underneath himself. This is a bit of a plug for my friend but she does the Masterson Method of equine bodywork (a type of deep muscle massage) I have always believed in massage and this method is so much better than the regular stuff. Anyways Stefani helped me with some exercises I could do lunging and under saddle to get the back more engaged. She suggested lunging over ground poles, series of ground poles, lunge jumping over low jumps, and doing caveletties and ground poles under saddle because this makes them lift the back. My trainer also suggests lunging up a hill as it forces them to get their back end under them, I am sure there are a few more I have forgotten about.

  11. Overall to me Junior does not really look bad just a bit out of shape. That and he sounds a bit like my gelding Valen he is not going to exert any more effort than he absolutely has too. Valen has often tripped and faked trying to run into things to get out of working, he is also a smart horse and has a bit of the ADD thing going on, it was so bad when he was a baby my mom actually thought he was mentally challenged, he’s not just lazy. However Valen almost never trips on the trails when we are riding but will act like he is going to kill us both in the flat arena, with Valen it has helped truly making sure I get and hold his attention while changing things up to help keep him from getting bored, we do a lot of serpentines, circles, patterns, ect to keep him moving forward. I also have to push harder than I feel I should most of the time because I am always too easy on him. You have mentioned it is hard to get JR to move out into a faster trot or slower and faster lope, start at the walk. Valen has an easy walk and an extended walk, he over-strides in his extended about 10-12inches(we have been working on this for years), and steps into his foot falls at his relaxed pace, Valen is a TB/QH cross that looks more QH and he is only 15.2hands tall, so JR can probably do this easier than Valen does, although I had him started with a dressage trainer which has helped. Once we got him to extend at the walk we were able to extend at the trot, and then the canter, eventually we will work on a truly slow collection at canter and trot but that is for the future. We started by doing it on the lunge line and at the walk I would urge him to walk on at a faster pace but not break into a jog. He really has to work hard at these extended gaits and I have also found doing a lot of up and down transitions both on the lunge and under saddle help build muscle. Transitions are harder than maintaining a gait so doing a lot of them works them out harder. Besides that going from short WP strides to long stretchy dressage or HUS ones can be hard for a horse that was mostly WP, it takes work. I am betting that the slight offness in his hind is related to being out of shape.

    Anyways I am going to suggest looking into a Masterson Method masseuse as I think they are the best I adding links to the bottom so you can read up on it yourself. All of the ones I know are very honest with what they can really help you with and have no problem showing you how to do some of these things yourself. Not sure if any of this will help. And even though I know you will worry try to remember that he is a big animal most of them are not spun glass and you do a good job being an observant owner, to my mind being observant is the most important part. Talk to the chiro and massage person and your dressage trainer and get some good solid things you can do to get him engaging his back and rear end, and to build back the conditioning and muscle he has lost, this will probably help the fact that he is not stepping under himself as far as you think he should. Hopefully I helped without making it worse and if you have any question feel free to ask I am not perfect and have way too much to learn when I compare myself to my amazing trainer but I think common sense goes a long way in the horse world.