The Horse

FEB 2018

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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22 THE HORSE February 2018 But when stumbling becomes more common or dangerous, it's time for some scrutiny. "If it's happening over and over again, that's certainly not normal," Dyson says. "Stumbling two or three times with every ride, for example, merits veterinary investigation." Bad recoveries should also raise concern, Johnson says. "If the horse goes down to its knees or seems to lose its balance and have difficulty regaining it, then it's absolutely something that the rider should bring to the attention of the horse's veterinarian," she says. Hoof Problems: The Easy Explanation Long toes or other hoof issues should be the first line of attack when consider- ing possible stumbling causes, says Dyson. For horses to place their feet correctly, they need to activate sensory receptors in their heels by putting weight on them, she says. The activation gives them better proprioception—the ability to feel and know where they're putting their feet. When toes are long, those sensors might not get activated like they should. "During toe-first or flat-footed land- ings, activation of these sensory receptors may be less," Dyson says. When Stumbling Signals Pain A horse that modifies his foot place- ment to avoid foot or limb pain can also experience decreased receptor activation. "Some horses with foot pain in the front will tend to land toe-first in a way to minimize their pain, and that's probably why they start to stumble," Dyson says. Other orthopedic issues might include navicular pain, fetlock pain, ligament issues, tendinopathies, musculoskeletal issues higher up the leg, or even lower neck pain, which can impact the muscles that carry the front leg through the non- weight-bearing phase of the stride, caus- ing toe-dragging or -catching. Repeat stumbling can not only put you and your horse at risk of injury but also create a welfare issue because the horse is working in pain. What's more, the pain isn't likely to improve on its own, Dyson says. So the repeat stumbles could be warning signs that you need to get a problem fixed before it becomes overt lameness. With orthopedic-related stumbling, horses tend to trip over the same foot or same two feet every time, under similar conditions (same gait and/or footing), says Johnson. "If a horse has really severe navicular disease in the right forelimb, for example, that's the foot they're usually stumbling on," she says. When Stumbling Signals Neurologic Issues Horses can also stumble because of ataxia—a lack of coordination caused by neurologic dysfunction. Ataxic horses lose proprioception of foot placement, Dyson explains. An ataxic horse won't always be a stumbler, says Johnson. But those that do stumble frequently have more difficulty recovering than neurologically sound horses. "I've had multiple owners say things like, 'We were cantering around a corner on footing that was a little slick, and the horse's limb slid, but I wouldn't have expected my other horses to fall, and this horse fell all the way to the ground," she says. Ataxic horses' stumbling is also more likely to be unpredictable, she adds. It won't necessarily be associated with the same foot or the same kind of situation. And frequently these horses have other signs of ataxia, such as poor coordination even when not under saddle. The Diagnostic Work-Up If your horse is a repeat or risky of- fender, your veterinarian can perform a general evaluation on the farm to confirm that the degree of stumbling isn't normal, Dyson says. But he or she might refer you to a specialist to consider all the possible causes of the stumbling. In fact, an accurate diagnosis might require an entire clinic full of special- ists, because stumbling itself is not a diagnosis but a symptom of xa variety of possible problems, says Johnson. "When stumbling horses come into our clinic, it's not unusual to have multiple clinicians involved that evaluate them to try to find out what the most likely cause is," she says. Stumbles & Missteps When diagnosing the cause of a horse's clumsiness, the first step is determining whether it's spinal or orthopedic based on neurologic and lameness exams. Ataxic horses aren't fully aware of where they're putting their limbs. DUSTY PERIN PAULA DA SILVA

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