Chapter 129Pleasure Riding Horse
Pleasure riding horses are a vital part of the equine industry, and many owners devote great amounts of time, money, and emotion to them. Although pleasure riding horses are of far less monetary value than competition horses, the overall importance to the owner should never be underestimated.
Pleasure riding horses often tend to be used seasonally and somewhat episodically. Uses include trail riding, hunting, gymkhana-type activities, showing, lesson horses (teaching horses), the pasture pet, and eating grass. Pleasure riding horses can be divided loosely into two categories: former professionals and others. The former professionals are horses that formerly were used for a specific athletic use, such as racing, but are no longer able to perform in the sport and have been demoted. The others include potential athletes that were unable to be used for the intended purpose because of lack of ability, poor conformation, or temperament, as well as horses and ponies that were bred casually as pets. The common causes of lameness in these two groups differ to some extent.
It is vital to be able to relate to the owners of pleasure riding horses, who often are inexperienced with horses, have little veterinary knowledge, but have tremendous emotional involvement with the horse and are often anxious. It is critical to first establish communication with the owner and try to relieve any anxieties. The veterinarian should explain the intended examination and treatment in straightforward, nontechnical language. Facilities for examination may be far from ideal and may complicate the examination. The veterinarian should not overinterpret a short striding gait shown by a horse trotting on an uneven paddock or a rocky driveway. The clinician should start from the basics and evaluate left-right symmetry, with the horse standing on a flat, level surface, if available, and then assess the horse moving in straight lines and circles. The veterinarian should be aware that the horse may have been living with a low-grade lameness, unrecognized by the owner, for a considerable time. If the owner is concerned about severe left forelimb lameness, the veterinarian would be prudent to avoid mentioning low-grade left hindlimb lameness observed concurrently because the lameness is probably not of material relevance and will only further worry the owner.
Interpretation of findings is in part dictated by the age and previous occupation of the horse. Many former professional horses have previous soft tissue injuries or show lameness after flexion of a variety of joints, and it is important to try to establish which is the current active disease process causing lameness. Many clinical observations reflect previous injuries and are unrelated to the current lameness.
Local analgesic techniques are useful in some situations, but the temperament of the horse, difficulties in adequate restraint, or examination facilities available may mitigate against them. Owners of pleasure riding horses may resist techniques that are invasive or potentially painful to the horse, whereas they may be fully prepared to pay large sums for advanced diagnostic techniques. The clinician should bear in mind that a twitch in the inexperienced hands of an owner may be dangerous and should consider using tranquilization (e.g., 20 mg of acepromazine) in the horse to facilitate local analgesic techniques.
In some situations an owner prefers a step-by-step diagnosis reached by assessing the response to treatment, even without a definitive diagnosis. This can provide the slow acquisition of useful information. For example, assessment of the response to nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug treatment can be helpful. Lameness associated with a subsolar abscess is likely to deteriorate, whereas lameness from navicular disease or osteoarthritis (OA) of the proximal interphalangeal joint is likely to improve.