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Equine Degenerative Disorders

Guest Author - Susan Hopf

Osteoarthritis, equine degenerative joint disease, musculoskeletal misalignments and a host of minor (and major) injuries both acute and chronic may all have one common denominator – allowing your horse to continue to work “crooked”. This is not to say that there may be other reasons for such disorders to occur but if you are not concentrating on creating a straight horse you may in fact be contributing to something quite preventable.

For the purpose of this article let’s define “crooked” as not utilizing all four feet and/or both sides of the horse’s body equally. When a horse works more strongly with one hind leg over the other, regardless of the cause, this creates multiple issues. The primary issue, and perhaps the most obvious, is the undue stress created on all of the joints associated with the stronger hind limb. Secondary issues are realized by way of an extraordinary compensatory challenge in all supporting aspects of the horse’s musculosketetal system. Continue down this crooked path and eventually the wear and tear on the horse’s body becomes evident with stiff joints, periodic or chronic lameness, unwillingness to work in different gaits, or work at all, behavior changes and even ulcers as the horse becomes stressed from having to deal with constant pain.

As a rider, be it for pleasure or for profession, you must obtain some level of competency on how best to work with your horse. Understanding whether your horse is crooked or not is a basic concept and there are many tell-tale signs. Leaning on one rein or shoulder over the other, always picking one canter lead over the other, refusing to canter or trot at all, falling in or out on a circle, thinking your horse is “off” but you cannot define a lameness, switching of the tail to one side, the horse carries her head tipped to one side, along with many other varied disturbances of balance and cooperation all can point to a crooked horse.

So once you establish that you think your horse is crooked what now? The easy answer is to seek professional help but this is often not so easy to accomplish. Because there is no regulating body to qualify instructors and trainers this can be a daunting task. My best advice is to seek someone certified in Centered Riding or who is Classically Trained and by this I do not mean a competitive dressage person. Classical Trained professionals understand the true reasons behind lateral positioning and how each can overcome and support weaknesses in individual horses. Some competitors also possess such knowledge but the fact that they have won in competition does not necessarily mean that they automatically do so.

With the correct professional assistance you can learn to school your horse straight and thusly keep his body healthier throughout his lifetime. Will this prevent all arthritis from forming – of course not but it will help delay and or serve to minimize the severity of any disability from such a disorder. And as an added bonus a straight horse is much easier to ride since they are much happier to carry themselves when all four feet are under them and equally bearing part of the load.

Anyone interested in the science of schooling horses please visit the web-site "Science of Motion" that is linked below:


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The Science of Motion
Working Shoulder-in In-hand
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Content copyright © 2014 by Susan Hopf. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Susan Hopf. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Wende for details.

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