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Criminals and Wictims

As horse owners, we want our equine companions to be healthy and happy. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, they develop health issues that leave us puzzled. It's important to remember that the location where a problem shows up in your horse's body may not be the root cause. 

Ten years ago I was lucky enough to study equine bio-mechanics from a brilliant equine health academic from Central Europe. We worked with a bunch of horses with unexplained/'incurable' lameness. All of us in the course were able to identify where the lameness manifested. This horse has a sore hoof, this horse has a sore hock, this horse has a sore shoulder etc.

This academic said to us, "Yes, is wictim. Where is criminal?"

It was our job over the course to figure it out and fix it.

Birth Trauma

Let's look at a specific example. About 1 in 5 foals suffer a rib fracture during the birthing process. This is because they are coming through the pelvis of the mare - a defined space. The widest part of the foal is from wither to girth which compresses during birth. They hit the ground, and then suckle, but one side is going to be sore, because there is a fracture - usually on the off-side, so from day one they are going to put their near-side hoof forward to suckle, and be short-strided on the off-side, which leads to a club foot on the off-side fore.

It doesn't matter how you "correctively" trim the hoof in the future, because the hoof is the wictim. The rib is the criminal.


Another example. I have two mares in their mid-30s that live together.  (Pictured below) The chestnut mare started losing weight, and she had this little sore in the middle of her forehead that wasn't healing. I treated these as two separate problems. I wormed her, changed her diet, dressed this little wound twice a day, and upped her zinc. No change. Then one day, I was raking up manures and I saw this darn little bird! Every time my mare put her head down to graze this little bird would peck her right in the middle of the forehead! So she would lift her head up and stop grazing. The bird was the criminal! Solution? A fly veil. The little wound healed up. She was able to graze again, and she started to put on weight.

If I hadn't been quietly watching from a distance - seeing the whole picture, rather than up-close, focusing only on the symptoms - I would never have worked it out.

Understanding the Whole Horse

Most horse owners are able to see where problems manifest and find solutions to treat that. The trick is to isolate the criminal. It can be something external like that pesky bird, or in the case of birth-trauma - something that happened long ago.

Horses are complex animals with intricate systems. By looking beyond the surface, and not just addressing the symptoms, we can uncover the true underlying causes and find lasting solutions.


Weird symptoms? Unexplained abrasions on the face, fetlocks, knees and hocks? Hypervigilance? Bowing, stumbling, or partial collapse? 'Laziness', loss of appetite, general grumpiness? Click here to read another example of finding the criminal.

Beware - You can draw too long a bow looking for a criminal. If your diagnosis is possibly a hoof abscess, fractured pedal bone, neurological disease, tetanus, spinal injury, or maybe Hendra, that's not  deductive reasoning to connect dots. That's pinning tails on donkeys.

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