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Ask Dr. Dave

Trinity from Texas, writes:

Dear Dr. Dave,

I have a seven year-old mare I am training to run barrels. She has constant swelling in her rear fetlocks, hops around the barrel, and blows it on the back side, but only to the right, second barrel. She cross-fires a lot, cannot switch leads from the left to right, feels stiff to the right, and has trouble turning small right circles. She is right sided, better to the right.

I have been trying to fix her for nine months now, and the vets don't seem to know what's wrong. It has become an expensive and frustrating problem. Please help me if possible!

I have changed her diet to just grass hay, no alfalfa, thinking maybe the alfalfa was stocking her up. She also blows up and will not go in the arena. I haven't even pushed much speed on her. She does not like to be touched in her rib area, and I have had a saddle specially made for her.

I have pretty much done it all. Do you have any insight which could possibly help?

Dear Trinity,

Thanks for your questions on your mare. I’ll try to share with you some of my thoughts as I read through your letter.

Where do you keep your mare? Is she turned out most of the time, or is she in a small dry lot or stall when she is not being ridden? Often times hind fetlocks will swell, “stock-up” when they do not have sufficient exercise between trainings. You didn’t say if exercise gets the swelling to decrease. If they do not diminish with exercise then I might consider some joint pathology going on.

I would seriously consider having a qualified chiropractic veterinarian examine and treat your mare. Many of her problems could stem from a sore back and neck. I see this frequently, and typically the problems are very fixable. Problems in her lumbar area could certainly cause the bunny hopping, blowing out on the backside, cross-firing, and not wanting to enter the arena. She probably knows she is going to hurt when she performs.

Not liking to be touched in the rib/flank area could certainly be from being over sensitive due to the back pain. She also may have become over-all “cranky” because she hurts.

I am a fan of alfalfa and I find it rare that it causes consistent stocking up at the
fetlock.

Last but not least, I think it is helpful to keep in mind that barrel racing is a very difficult and technical exercise. It takes a unique athlete to perform well. Although difficult for us, we always must recognize that not all horses are suited for barrel racing. I merely introduce this concept because I have caught myself more than once, putting one on my own horses into situations they are not suited. I am not saying this specifically about your horse, but horses in general.

Please feel welcome to ask any further questions. I hope I have been some help. I wouldn’t give up on your mare at this time.

Thanks again. Give your mare a big hug for me, if you would.

Dr. Dave