Lately I've been thinking about health and training. Recently I was working with some horses and noticed one had an enormous bean at the entrance to the urethra. This is caused by smegma build up forming hard lumps or 'beans' in the folds of skin around the urethra entrance. It's normally fairly small and easy to remove during regular sheath cleaning, but this was something else. It was so big the skin had pulled tight over it and I just couldn’t remove it. The farrier commented on how he was touchy lifting his hind legs. I got a vet to remove the bean and we discovered there were 3 HUGE beans in there (see above picture). After removal he was fine to lift his hind legs. He must have been in so much discomfort when urinating that it got to the point where he didn’t want anyone handling his hinds. This could easily have been interpreted as poor behaviour. If I’d tried to retrain this horse to lift his hinds properly with the beans still there it wouldn’t have worked, and our relationship would have deteriorated.
Horses can suffer from many different illnesses and injuries. However because they don’t talk with words they can’t easily tell us. If a horse is feeling sick or in pain their behaviour may be different to what it normally is. A change in behaviour is a flag for possible health issues.
Horses can exhibit sporadic changes in behaviour as pain ebbs and flows. Common expressions of pain seen in a horse are such things as ears back, biting, kicking, resistance, bucking etc. The horse is saying leave me alone I don’t want to work I feel awful and I’m in pain. I have a mare who is a total sweetheart but she has a sporadic tendon injury and if she’s in pain she’s a b***h. It’s like two different horses in one. She can go from being a smooch to being dangerous overnight and all due to pain.
Many years ago I worked for a horse trainer who had scoliosis in his back. On days when he was in pain I hated working for him as he was rude and mean toward me. On days when he was pain free we had a lovely day working together. I’d check in with him in the morning to see if he was in pain so I’d know if I should avoid him for the day.
If your horse is experiencing a physical health issue, no amount of training will fix your behaviour problems. If there is any possibility that problems with your horse may be due to physical problems this must be addressed first. If you do not fix the physical problems and go ahead with training, two things will happen. 1. It won’t work and 2. Your horse will lose their trust in you because they're trying to tell you there’s a problem but you are not listening. The longer you continue to ignore what your horse is trying to tell you the more the horse will distance themself from you and the behaviours will worsen.
Get your horse checked by your vet or other equine health professionals. This is an investment in the physical and mental health of your horse. If it turns out there is no physical problem fantastic, you can go ahead and train knowing you have done the right thing and it is a training issue, not a health issue.
When you’re with your horse observe them closely. Check every mm of their body when you groom them. This is when many injuries, lumps, heat etc. are detected. Notice changes in eating, defecating, urinating, sleeping, movement, etc. It can be a good idea to take and record your horses resting temperature, heartrate and respiratory rate and keep them for reference. Changes are your major flag, but to know when there’s a change you need to know what’s normal. Horses will try and tell you when something is wrong, so listen to them and you won’t go wrong.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles