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Melissa from Alberta, Canada, writes:

Dear Dr. Dave,

I have a gelding who is only 11 years-old. The last run of the season he felt good, but not snappy. His warm-up was OK, except he seemed to be having a belly issue. I know it's common for nervous horses (which he isn't) to poop before a run. He pooped 12 small amounts in his one hour warm-up which seemed odd. I thought traveling had made him uncomfortable. After I brought him home, within two days, he became lame in his left front limb. I did not detect heat or swelling, but I did notice a very obvious elevated head bob. We had a not horse-friendly ferrier rectify a problem in our horse's feet, 2-1/2 years ago, by injecting his coffin joints and fetlocks. This year, he had his fetlock and knee done. Is it possible that he might have a shoulder injury? He was a stallion for a year and has a hole in the muscle on that shoulder, with an obvious sweat spot. Last year, he ran like a demon. This year, he runs both hot and cold. The same leg seems to keep coming back as an issue. Am I missing the root of the problem? I love this horse. I would not ride him unconditioned, or ride him lame. I would like to keep running him if possible, but most importantly, I would just like to see him remain sound. Please help.

Dear Melissa,

Thank you for your question. You gave a lot of good information about your horse. I am assuming he is a barrel horse?

His last run of the season is where we’ll start. His “belly issue” could be a bona fide signal of an intestinal complication, being caused by any multitude of issues. Like you stated, traveling or a bad day are examples. However, it could also have been caused by the anxiety of knowing that he was going to have to perform when maybe something was hurting.

I now have to flash back in his history. What were the problems in his feet 2-½ years ago? How was the problem rectified? Why were his coffin joints and fetlocks injected? What were they injected with? What were the conditions of these joints that necessitated injection? What was going on with his knee this year, that he needed an injection?

Yes, it is possible he has a shoulder problem, however they are extremely rare, so I would put it way down on my list of potential problems. Last year he ran well, but this year was hot and cold. Any explanation you can think of?

My first suggestion would be to look at his knee. It is possible to have a small bone chip, frequently referred to as a “joint mouse,” that floats around in the knee joint, sometimes causing some pain; sometimes floating out of the joint without causing pain. Have you had a radiographic exam performed on his knee?

What is his conformation of his front legs like? He could also have a problem in his ankles. His “need” for frequent joint injections worries me, as injections are typically not healthy for long-term use. This is a personal opinion and one that is not shared by everyone.

So in summary, without additional information I would suggest a thorough physical exam by your competent veterinarian, a thorough lameness exam, and some probable radiographic studies. We have four hard working joints that cry for evaluation before we can come to any conclusions.

I commend you for not wanting to ride a lame horse. I hope I have been of some help, even if I have only asked more questions rather than providing answers. Please feel welcome to return with more answers to the questions, and I will attempt to guide you through determining the source of his lameness.

Good horses are hard to find and sometimes even harder to maintain. My best,

Dr. Dave