Often, when a horse reacts when you are training on them in the form of bucking, rearing, refusing to go forward, etc., our first reaction is to think the horse has a lousy attitude. But what if the response is associated with pain that has gone undetected?
It is understandable not to associate lousy behaviour with pain, especially if they don’t behave poorly all the time. One ride, the horse might ride okay, and the next, they might buck you off. So, in most cases, people caulk it up to bad behaviour. But we must remember horses are prey animals and have high pain tolerance, and when a horse is in the wild, it can be detrimental to it to show signs of pain or weakness. So, when you get those who ride inconsistently, it could mean that on the better days, it’s showing its true character and is trying to mask its discomfort, and on the bad days, it could be too much, and it builds up.
Finding the area of pain can be difficult if the horse shows no signs of lameness or swelling. If that is the case, an excellent place to start is the horses back. A simple way to check is by running your thumb and index finger along the back on either side of the spine. If the horse flinches, or the area twitches or in the worst cases, the horse reacts and tries to bite or kick at you, this would be a good sign that the horse has back pain. The pain could be caused by an old or new injury or even an ill-fitting saddle.
Once the pain is recognized, all training should stop, and the issues should be taken care of first. There are many ways to get help for your horse, your Veterinarian, Massage Therapist, Osteopath or Chiropractor. Another aspect to look at is the association between feed and ulcers. If you are not supporting their hindgut and may develop ulcers which could also cause the horse severe discomfort.
Keep in mind once the issue has been located and the pain subsides, the problem can still be ongoing because some horses who have been in pain for a long time may still anticipate that the pain is coming and react. So, in some cases, you may have to “re-start” your horse from the ground up so that they have time to forget and become more comfortable with work again. Positive reinforcement is a great way to speed up this process and reward the horse for not reacting in hopes that it will enjoy work again. What you should never do is mask the pain with medication and continue working, it will only make the problem worse.
So, whether you are training your own horse or for a client, your number one priority is that horse and ensuring that it is pain-free before starting any training. If that means sending it back to the owner to get treatment or giving it time off, then that is what should be done so the horse can make a full recovery and a fair chance to becoming something great.
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