Pain Evaluation and Treatment

One of the most difficult conditions for a horse owner to determine is in how much pain a horse actually is.

Some horses tolerate pain much better than others, and it is not easy to make an adequate estimate of the level of pain a horse is experiencing.

At the EASMC we are focused on musculoskeletal pain, pain originating from bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles.

In most cases a horse will show musculoskeletal pain by showing more or less obvious lameness. However, in many cases there is not even clear lameness present, but just changes in behavior are noticed.

Not being forward anymore during riding, or, even worse, bucking, rearing, kicking and running backwards can all be clear symptoms of having pain. Also less obvious behavioral changes as being more quiet, not paying attention to what is going on in the barn and sourness can be signs of pain.

Of course most people know about the possibilities to treat pain with medication. Phenylbutazone (‘bute”) is the most common drug for treatment of pain, but also Banamine and Equioxx are often used to treat (musculoskeletal) pain.

These drugs do have many side effects however, and long-term use of these drugs can result in more problems for your horse than the initial pain caused.

With musculoskeletal pain patient management and care is an important factor for dealing with pain.

For instance, when a horse is feeling comfortable and safe, its threshold for pain will be higher than when it is stressed and in fear.

Simple changes in daily management in the barn and during training can make a lot of difference! When 2 horses are stabled next to each other and they are fighting a lot (maybe only during feeding time), changing their stall neighbor can be a major improvement!

Giving horses routine in their daily life is a great tool to improve comfort and a feel of safety. Especially a feeding routine with set times for grain, hay and additional treats can make life much more easy for horses. A feeding routine with multiple smaller meals during the day will give less stress because the horses feel not “starved”, also such a program will be more friendly for the stomach and guts.

Routine in training is a major factor in dealing with pain!

Certain joint diseases need a longer warm-up and cool-down time during training. Certain injuries to tendons and ligaments would benefit from a change in training program with more walk and trot on a harder surface and specific exercises to active muscles that will support the tendon or ligament.

When a horse knows it’s routine in training and understand the exercises it is supposed to do, less stress will be present and the horse will feel better and perform better, even when a painful disease is limiting full athletic capacity.

You can imagine that each specific case of pain needs its specific management.

In most cases a veterinarian can assist in localizing the (musculoskeletal) pain, but advise how to organize the management around it is difficult to get.

At the EASMC we are experienced in evaluating the entire condition of your horse and evaluate the amount of pain a horse is experiencing.

Based on the outcome of a complete physical exam (and potential imaging techniques to have a full understanding of the extent of damage to bone, joint, tendon, ligament, muscle or nerve) we will design of full program for you and your horse to optimize the condition of your horse.

We will make a choice for potential medication, based on the location of the pain.

Pain originating form arthritis of a large motion joint (like stifle, hock or fetlock) may need a different medication than injury of a smaller joint (like pastern or coffin joint), a ligament injury or muscle pain.

We have specific experience with nerve pain, pain caused by compression or damage to a nerve, which may need a complete different medication and management than arthritis.

We can assist you in the search for alternative treatment as acupuncture, chiropraxy and massage therapy and give you our opinion about the benefits of these therapies for your horse.

Dr van Wessum’s background as rider, trainer and instructor can be used to assist you in giving directions how to train and ride your horse. Lessons with Dr van Wessum to improve the effectiveness of the training and riding are available at the center (see the services section of this website under lessons).