Giddy Up Go…Getting The Most Out Of Your Running Horse

Every week I get several emails asking, "why doesn't my horse run as fast as he used to?" or "Why doesn't he run as fast as the horse next door?" Well, there can be a number of reasons why old Trigger doesn't move as fast as he used to.Every week I get several emails asking, "why doesn't my horse run as fast as he used to?" or "Why doesn't he run as fast as the horse next door?" Well, there can be a number of reasons why old Trigger doesn't move as fast as he used to.

Story originally posted by: Michael Lowder, DVM, MS

Every week I get several emails asking, "why doesn’t my horse run as fast as he used to?" or "Why doesn’t he run as fast as the horse next door?" Well, there can be a number of reasons why old Trigger doesn’t move as fast as he used to.

The first thing I like to look at is the rider. Yes, the rider! Is the horse and rider matched up well? Experience level and compatibility of both horse and rider should be evenly balanced in order to reach their potential. In some situations, the horse may be more horse than the rider is used too, and changing riders makes all the difference.

Training can be a problem. Without fail, I will see a young horse being asked to perform at a level expected of middle-aged and older horses.

An old trainer once told me that a good barrel racer doesn’t start until about 5-7 years of age: one year to acclimate to the sounds of the events, two to three years necessary to correct bad habits, and at least another year to let them mature into their potential. And that’s if they hold up.

You need to give young horses a chance to be horses, expect problems in both performance and health (physical and mental) and have the insight to allow the horse to mature slowly into the event you are riding them in.

Another overlooked factor may be the tack. Is the bridle correctly fitted and does the bit fit the horse? Is the bit wide enough for the mouth of the horse? There should be about a half an inch of bit on each side of the commissures of the horse’s mouth. Does the rider stay out of the horse’s mouth when they are running barrels? We should not use the horse’s mouth to help us keep our balance.

What type of bit port is being used? Remember that each horse is an individual, and a bit that works well for one horse may not be appropriate for another. Lower bit ports can be more severe on the mouth than some medium to higher bit ports.

In addition, a number of biting dilemmas are due to dental problems. A complete dental examination with a full mouth speculum can identify these problems.

I float a few hundred horse’s teeth every year, and I am constantly amazed at how many dental problems horses have. I frequently see horses with lacerations of the tongue and oral cavity due to sharp enamel points. Just think of how much pain and aggravation a simple cold sore causes you. Owners habitually report back a change in their horse’s attitude, not to mention their performance and body condition, after floating.

Other tack problems can hinder your running horse. One saddle does not fit all horses. Often, riders use too few or soiled saddle pads that cause discomfort to their horse. Spurs can distract a horse and cause them to flinch thus slowing them down.

Eyes are another part of our companion’s body that we don’t often think about when our running time is down. Some horses will have minor irritation from the dust of some arenas or worse yet have sustained an injury to the eye that leaves a small scar to the cornea; thus, they see a shadow.

There is even a small structure in the eye called the corpus nigri that can be knocked loose as a result of a head trauma. This structure can float around in the anterior chamber of the eye causing the horse to headshake.

Sore backs equal sore hocks. Time and again, I have horses presented for sore back problems but in fact it is their hocks that are aching. This is very common among cutting and barrel racers.

The foundation of any horse is his hooves. You must find a good farrier that is willing to work with a performance horse and keep those hooves in good shape. The stock horse with the small hoof/ big body complex and the thoroughbred with low heel/ long toe are always going to be a challenge.

There are lots of diseases (COPD, EIPH, bone chips, common colds, etc) that can change the potential of a horse. Most can be managed and/or corrected if the horseman is willing to put the effort into the horse.

Spectators can be a problem for some horses, and I often find that some horses do better with blinders on (the kind that you see on racehorses). There is also the horse that tosses its head thus causing the rider to pull on the reins slowing him down. These horses can often benefit from a running martingale.

There are two things I want to leave you with. First, is the horse really in the condition for the event and level of competition that the rider is asking the horse to perform at? Is the horse overworked?

Lastly, you cannot out-supplement or out-train genetics! Does the horse, in truth, have the right stuff?

My old horse was a wonderful cutting horse in his and my mind. However, we never graced the front page of the Quarter Horse News.