Dealing With Lameness

Horses hurt themselves. This is a fact of life in the equestrian world. They act like fools out in the pasture and turn up lame. Or, they develop chronic soreness over time for unknown reasons. They can also injure themselves doing their jobs, such as landing off of jump wrong. They can develop arthritis early on in life; or have serious problems like ring-bone. They can contract EPM, and never be the same again. The fact of the matter is that horses get hurt. I believe that an important part of owning and working with horses is being able to deal with unsoundness issues, and injuries.

We, as horse people, must always be sure that our horses are receiving proper vet care and preventative treatment (such as joint injections, supplements, medications). We must know when to call the vet for an injury – as some can be resolved with a few days off and bute, while others are more serious. However, to me all of this is a given. Anyone who has any knowledge whatsoever of sporthorses is going to be on top of these things. What is often overlooked though is how we as horse-owners, trainers, and riders mentally and emotionally deal with our horses’ lameness. When our cherished horses, competitive partners, and oftentimes huge financial investments are down and out it can be extremely stressful for us. I have had horses with multiple lameness issues. It often seemed as if it was just one thing after another. It still feels that way with Chance. My first horse developed terrible arthritis at age seven, and could no longer jump or do lead changes. That was devastating for me. We put our hopes and dreams, and lots of money, into our horses, so when they get injured – or their bodies do not work properly – it can be so emotional for us.

However, it is also part of it. Part of having a life with horses means dealing with their injuries. If we want horses, we must accept this as part of the game.

When we are feeling down about it, we can ask ourselves a question. Is the injury career ending? If the answer is “no,” then we simply must wait and do all we can to help them heal! If the injury is career ending, we must consider our options. There are so many places that retired horses can be boarded. They can live out their days in a pasture. If I had a horse that sustained a career ending injury, I would likely just turn him or her out to pasture as long as he or she was not going to be in constant pain. Also, oftentimes a horse that can no longer jump could go be a trail horse (that is what my first horse ended up as). There are always good options for retired horses, and there are always other horses that can do what we want them to do.

However, horses can come back from so many injuries with time. They need time to heal, and time to build their fitness back up. I have read articles about horses that sustained injuries, and ended up at the Olympics when they recovered. If there is a chance of a full recovery, hope is never lost. We must simply have patience.

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