Polo Players Edition

NOV 2011

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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We often need to put the whole puzzle together to find the true cause of a problem. If a horse has recurrent back pain, you need to look at all the possible causes. from muscle back problem. Thus we need to determine the origin of the problem. An experienced veterinarian, with the aid of a good physical examination on the ground--palpation, flexing and jogging the horse, and possibly watching the horse work under tack--can often discover what hurts," he says. Primary back injuries can be anything strain to strain of the sacroiliac joint and ligaments, strain of the supraspinous ligament, facet or joint arthritis in the lumbar spine. Pain can also stem from injury to the hip joint or trauma to the pelvis. Back pain can also be a by- product of limb pain. There is a lot to sort out in diagnosing the root of the problem. At the beginning of a diagnostic examination it is important to stand a short distance away and look at the horse's overall symmetry--from front, rear and side views, and take a look down the spine from a higher vantage point to see if there's crookedness. "Is there symmetry to the musculature? Are there areas of atrophy or skeletal imbalance? Is the pelvis crooked, or affected by muscle atrophy that makes it look crooked? Does the horse have crooked legs, shoulder atrophy or concavity along either side of the dorsal spine in the saddle region or just behind it? Any of these things are abnormal and need to be taken into consideration," says Mitchell. He goes over the horse thoroughly, palpating specific areas that can give a clue regarding soreness. "If certain muscles are sore, it may be because the horse is carrying himself in a particular way. It's also important to check the neck mobility and range of motion before we proceed with a typical lameness examination," he says. "The veterinarian needs to listen to what the rider says about how the horse is working, and perceived difficulties such as head carriage, whether or not the horse can engage the hind end and work from underneath himself, etc. or if he's strung out with a hollow back," says Mitchell. The experienced observer will watch how the horse moves in response to rider weight—with the rider sitting, posting, or standing out of the saddle, or posting on the wrong diagonal, big circles, little circles, hard ground, soft ground, etc. All of this can give a clue about whether this horse might have a back problem or limb lameness. If lameness is detected after a flexion test, the veterinarian can do a nerve block or further diagnostics to determine if the lameness originates in the back or is a limb problem. "If with further examination it appears that more of the signs are coming directly from the back, the use of rider weight/and or application of a surcingle (and weight) may give clues to how the horse responds to pressure on the back," says Mitchell. Many back-related lamenesses go undiagnosed because the examining veterinarian doesn't put a rider on the horse. "Proper saddle fit rarely the cause of is necessary, but the problem. It I is important to have a properly fitting saddle, however. think some horses can have soreness related to an improperly fitting saddle, so saddle fit should always be evaluated," he says. "If symptoms and examinations lead us to the fact that the back itself is the source of discomfort—somewhere from the withers to the top of the croup–there are a number of things that can be done diagnostically for further evaluation--with and without a A veterinarian palpates the back to help diagnose the problem. POLO PLAYERS EDITION 25

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