I recently received a message from an old friend – I used to ride her horse for her many years ago – who asked me to share her situation so that people might consider how pain may be affecting their horse.
In summary she is saying, just because they look OK, doesn’t mean they are. We need to remember that as prey animals horses are very good at hiding pain because any weakness that is visible will draw attention to a predator who will see them as easy pickings. Even in a domestic environment this is something that is hard wired into their survival system. This means by the time we can actually visibly see something they are already considerably uncomfortable and they will be compensating in some way and any demands we place on them will soon be causing problems elsewhere. It is very easy to convince ourselves that they are OK if it means we can carry on as we are and we don’t want to stop doing what we’re doing.
If your horse is showing any uncooperative behaviour or reluctance to do what you ask, consider that they might be in pain, or maybe you know they are in pain but are not really acknowledging it and ask yourself if what you are asking of them is helping them to heal or is causing them to compensate and will create further problems down the line.
This is what she wrote:
“I just wanted to ask you to pass something on to your other Facebook and Messenger friends really. I am now 68 and to look at, make up, nails, nice frock, hairdo, going to dances, beaming smile, etc etc you would not think that there was anything wrong with me. I am extremely happy with my life and have lots of fun. However, I have major problems with my spine, arthritis, scoliosis, osteoporosis, herniated discs and the worst of all, 4 nerves trapped inside one vertebrae where the bone has diminished the aperture by about 60%. Surgery (very risky surgery) is planned for Spring to free the four nerves which helpfully drive my bladder, legs, bowel etc. You may remember a similar problem with my neck in 2008 when you kindly rode Daisy a couple of times per week for me. I constantly have to consider how to move, literally cannot stand for more than a few minutes and if no chair, staddle stone, picnic bench, or doorstep is available to rest on, my only option is to crouch to stop the pain! People must think I am quite mad! Walking is ever more difficult and slow and each and every time I reach for a painkiller I think about older horses. I dread to think that Daisy ultimately felt like this and could do nothing about it and would hate to think that any horse, let alone lots of them find as I do that the pain killer is only so good and every now and then you move a certain way and unbearable intense pain is instant. I know you often post about handling horses so please could you circulate for me to remind people that not all pain and discomfort is obvious.”
Picture of Daisy 2008