When people post about issues they’re having with their horse, any mention of it being a physical problem is often met with “he’s definitely not in pain, he’s had everything checked”. More often than not they mean they’ve had his teeth looked at, his saddle looked at and some kind of bodyworker have a look at his back. Unfortunately there are more parts to a horse than the back and the teeth.
Sometimes people have gone further than this and have dutifully taken their horse to the vet for a work-up and nothing of note can be found. The absence of significant lameness does not mean a horse is pain-free. Sometimes you need to look deeper and find the right vet to help you do that.
If you pursue something as a purely behavioural issue when there is underlying pain, at best you end up with a miserable, shut down horse performing the task regardless and at worst you end up with an even bigger problem in the long run. You’ll also end up with a horse that has learned humans will ignore his attempts to communicate so he either needs to shout louder, or put up and shut up.
A factor that is even more difficult to navigate is that all professionals aren’t one and the same, so you can end up thinking you have had things checked properly by a relevant professional, and they’ve actually missed something. For example, it is not unusual for me to go out to a client who has tried their best by getting a made to measure saddle fitted and yet it is clearly causing the horse discomfort and doesn’t actually fit at all. I will always listen to the horse’s opinion above anyone else’s on saddle fit.
Having said all that, there are many postural/training issues which can cause soreness throughout the body which can be rectified with appropriate, gentle work teaching the horse a new way to move and carry themselves. So we don’t necessarily need to immediately rack up a 10k vet bill when we find nothing obvious.
A quick note about ulcers, it is extremely common for horses to have ulcers, however they are rarely stand alone. It can be easy to find ulcers and think you’ve found the whole problem, only to be disappointed later when the behaviour doesn’t change or the ulcers return once treatment stops. Ulcers are often secondary to pain/soreness/stress/management and we need to address all of it to successfully heal the horse, not just decide because we’ve treated the ulcers that any further issues are definitely behavioural.
Another one to note is the rise in awareness and research into various muscle myopathies. I think there are a lot more horses affected than we realise and when I look back at some horses I’ve known over the years I realise now that is probably what was going on with them, we just didn’t know about it and couldn’t diagnose it at the time.
You are ultimately the only one who truly has the power to advocate for your horse. If you feel something is wrong, even if you’ve had “all the checks”, seek out professionals who don’t dismiss your concerns and are willing to help you look a little deeper. 🐴