October Maintenance

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Eli has a date with sedation and a dental speculum on Monday, and until then I’m not going to be riding him much, because I think his teeth are just on that edge of bothering him with a bit in his mouth. Not too bad, but he’s a communicative animal, and I’d be remiss to ignore it. And plus it rained so the footing is not rideable, at least it wasn’t last night. He will also have his now-regular massage, and I think it is about time for another chiropractic adjustment. We have one last show on the horizon this year, in November, although I am not totally committed to going to it just yet. My job is about to get spectacularly more annoying/more interesting/more demanding in November as well, so I’m in the vacuous limbo of “playing it by ear.”

Many of us who have performance horses see routine maintenance as part of the package, pretty much a given. While dental care is mandatory preventive veterinary care by my standards, I think the grey area for balancing comfort and performance is vast, especially because our animals can’t tell us in words whether they feel good, or bad, or whether they enjoy competing, or not. (I really hope you are having your horse’s teeth checked annually, though!)

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Considering Eli’s own situation, I already limit some things that he does in light of his maintenance requirements, coupled with the specifics of his job. (His mental abilities are also a significant factor.) As any performance horse ages, limitations may begin to proliferate, and retirement or semi-retirement is inevitable for most horses. There are notable exceptions–Flexible just keeps going! But my question today is, how do you know when it’s time to change or end your horse’s job because balancing comfort and performance is no longer realistic at his current level?

18 thoughts on “October Maintenance

  1. First and foremost I rely on my instincts and confirmation from my vet and farrier to tell me when something is wrong. My most recent experience with this was this past June. My 23 yo QH felt really funny in his hind end. His right hind was hitting the ground pretty hard and the left hind felt squishy (that is the technical term. Haha!). I had my vet look it over and lo and behold his left hind gaskin/stifle/hip connection is mechanically “broken”. Not literally broken, but it is pretty messed up and his riding days are for sure over. Up until now I’ve fox hunted on him and in his younger days he was a pretty competitive reiner. He was never lame until now (I’ve had him literally since he was an embryo). I think if I had retired him anytime before now he would have been angry about it, but he seems content with it at this point. My family has had horses for many generations and a lot of them have asked me recently how his eyes look. They say that you can see it in their eyes when they are done. Like really done. Well Jaguar’s eyes are plenty sparkly and as of this past weekend he was happy to put my 4yo horses in their place during pasture shenanigans.
    My horsey bestie had to retire her hunter from the 3’3″ A/Os last fall because he just can’t hang at that height of fences any longer. He has no problem at 2’9″ or 2’6″. He was starting to stop at fences more and more was the biggest indicator of his discomfort. If the spot wasn’t just perfect he said No!
    When you spend a lot of time with any one or multiple horses you start to “hear” them. They tell us when they hurt, when they are mad, uncomfortable etc. You listened to your horse and it sounds like he told you what he wanted/needed. It literally pays to pay attention. Catching something early is so much better than long after it has gone on causing damage.

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  2. Really interesting topic, I’m looking forward to what everyone has to say! Frankie’s vet is a strong proponent of preventative maintenance, i.e. his message is let’s not wait for the horse to be uncomfortable before taking steps. Frankie is only 10 and has very “young” legs- he was broke late and has been ridden and shown lightly up until the last year or so- but next spring we’ll be starting talks about maintenance. I’m hoping to get many happy years with my boy and we’re going to take steps to make that a reality while he’s still young and healthy.

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  3. Very interesting question. Maintenance for Houston and Annie will be very different. Due to Hues size he started getting annual injections when it became evident that he wasn’t comfortable doing his job and had discomfort. When maintenance was done as required he wasn’t limited in what he could do by anything besides his capability haha. As you know I decided that mentally Houston wasn’t happy jumping and physically he didn’t have a great affinity for it so he now has a new job. It’s all a balancing act. With Annie I am trying to be careful about the wear that I put on her so that she can have a long healthy life/ career šŸ™‚

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  4. I think this decision rests on your instincts (and knowing when something isn’t quite right), and honest opinions from your trusted people (mine would be my trainer, my vet and my farrier, who is also a close friend). I keep a very open, and painfully honest stream of communication with those people, and in the my experience a “gut feeling” is often the right one.

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  5. This is one of “those” subjects that people can get REALLY defensive about I’ve noticed. Personally, I try to leave my nose out of it and hope people make the right decisions for their horses. I think they key is listening to them for sure. Don’t push them too hard and fast or too long for your own sake and don’t keep injecting them full of things to keep showing them past what they’e comfortable doing. Not saying you do, those are generalized “yous”. For B, I’m spending long hours conditioning, jumping 1x week, sometimes 2x if right before a show, feed good quality food and have regular massage work done. He loves it! I want him looked at by a chiro here soon too. Yanks has gotten his hocks done once, 2.5 years ago and we are doing them again this fall, but I’m hoping thats the last fit for another long while. I think preventative is better than trying to patch something up thats already broken. Just like human athletes, they’re bound to get wear and tear, but its up to us to keep it at minimum!

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    • People do get defensive about maintenance, which personally baffles me. If you don’t feel good about it don’t do it, problem solved. There will always be people out there who disagree with what you’re doing, but they don’t have the whole story–I don’t find outsiders’ opinions particularly influential to me. Totally agree with you about how preventive options are better in the long run than trying to fix something that’s messed up.

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  6. I’m going through this right now. Riesling is 14 and will be showing 1st level dressage. If he comes back after the pentosan, and continues to progress forward I will be happy to keep him well maintained. However, if he doesn’t progress or regresses then he will probably be retired. It’ll be a long winter awaiting spring that is for sure. Things are looking very positive though

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    • Glad to hear things are going in the right direction! Eli’s 13–I think 13 and 14 are still prime ages for performance horses, but also ages where wear & tear start to show if they’ve been competitive and you can’t just ignore it.

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  7. I am grateful everyday the Cosmo wants to jump, and for now, that is all the days. He is getting up there in age, but he still shows enthusiasm (well, interest at least, he’s not really enthusiastic about anything but food) when jumping. We have been working more on building up the muscles and conditioning on his old man bod, which is looking pretty good right now, and this will help him last longer. His maintenance is still reasonable for me (chiro 4 times a year and feed through supplements) and I know as we jump up a bit, that he will likely need more. And I will do whatever I can for him until he no longer wants to jumps and then we’ll take a step back in his work load. He hasn’t said anything yet (and he’s pretty clear so far about NOT wanting to do other things) so we’ll keep on keeping on.

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  8. I’m all for keeping the horses comfortable and happy in their work and would have done more for Isabel if I could have secured her owner’s permission. Alas the owner was in the “you can’t prevent death” camp so somehow that equated to not believing in joint support too…

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  9. Pingback: When You Reach the End of the Road – shelbyrallen

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