Editorial - Watching Horses Move

© Diana Mead Jordan

published in ANVIL Magazine, May 1997

The mare had been off for months. Two vets, a farrier, two trainers and, of course, the horse owner (me) had watched her and tried to pinpoint the location of the vague lameness. After shoeing she'd come up dead lame. The next day she was much better, even rideable. It's the left hind. It's arthritis in her shoulder. She won't put that hind leg down. It's high up. It's low. Where is it? One day Kerry Ridgway, DVM, watched her as I longed her in the trot which showed that vague shortness in her stride. Within 30 seconds, he said, "I think it's her right front." We stopped her. He did a flexion test on her right front fetlock, and she trotted out dead lame. We had radiographs made of the fetlock right away. There it was, glaring at us. She had swelling in her joint. Finally, we knew.

Some have it. Some don't. What? you ask. The gift of sight, the gift of being able to identify the location of lameness. I, for one, certainly appreciate that gift and hold those who have it in high regard.

In my 45 years of horsing around, I've watched hundreds of horses move. I've studied them. For years, I scribed for dressage judges - some of the best - including Alois Podhajsky and Hans Handler, both directors of the Spanish Riding School of Austria in their day. I've learned to recognize when the horse is right, when the horse is in balance, when the horse is carrying itself in perfect rhythm - drilled and drilled and drilled into my head all those years. And I can see when it's wrong, too. If the gait is faulty, improving the horse's balance will usually take care of the problem. However, locating lameness is another story.

Recently, a long-time subscriber from California canceled his subscription, giving the reason that we are out of step. He cited the article printed in our January, 1997, issue, entitled "Identification of Hind Leg Lameness." He questioned our choosing this study because it was "too old" - originally published in 1987. Some things are timeless. Certainly the information published in this article is. There are some excellent scientific observations about the movement of the hip, the position of the croup and the head nod, to name a few. I definitely picked up some good tips. I wonder how versed that former subscriber is in identifying lameness. Had he previously read this article, which came out of the University of Liverpool in Great Britain?

A few years ago at the American Farriers Association Convention I found my self engaged in a conversation with a farrier. He asked me if I could explain why so many people go to their horses day after day and put them on the longe line for 20 minutes, without riding them. If this guy doesn't get it, far be it for me to try to explain it to him. I have approached a large number of horse professionals, many of them farriers, about writing on what I consider to be one of the most important topics - "watching horses move." In the past eight years that I have been managing editor, only two have taken me up on this offer: Susan Davidge, who wrote an excellent piece, "Watch Those Reflexes!" (April, 1992), and Elfta Hilzman, who covered a clinic on evaluating horses' movement, "Association of Professional Trainers & Instructors with Dr. Mikael Holmstrom" (August, 1996). The door is open.

(By the way, my mare is responding well to treatment. I am happy to report that I'm riding her again.)

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