Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

PERFORMANCE EVAULATIONS…Are They Necessary?

Ah…the winter is almost gone in some parts of the country, while in others we are still encountering snow.  However, the time is quickly approaching when we will be taking our horses out of their stalls and will start riding once again.  Many horses will pick up where they left off, but for others, they may be a bit off.

At any time your horse is not performing up to your standards, you should consider a physical reason before assuming it is a result of poor behaviour.  A performance evaluation at the start of a season can deal with pre-existing and hew problems before they become a bigger issue.

Performance evaluations are more inclusive than the typical pre-purchase or pre-season soundness exam.  In this evaluation, your vet will first consider how things have gone in the past and if anything has changed:  for example, prior lameness, energy limitations, certain activities where you horse resists like going down hills or certain transitions, weight and haircoat issues, different issues away from the home environment, etc.  Then, your vet will take into account what you want to do this current year:  higher level of dressage, higher jumps, more shows, longer trail rides, new rider, etc.  In a performance evaluation, there are typically five (5) components to this exam.

  1. Resting physical and chiropractic exam:  Palpation and motioning of all joints plus palpation of all muscles and tendons are performed revealing stiff/sore spots, decrease or increase in joint mobility and subtle swellings.  When chiropractic issues are noticed, it is often best to correct them immediately before proceeding to complete the soundness exam as this would eliminate the compensatory issues and make it easier to determine if there are any underlying problems that are needed to deal with.
  2. Soundness exam:  An evaluation of all gaits on hard ground, soft ground, and under saddle is done as some issues only show up under certain circumstances.  Soft tissues often worsen in soft footing whereas arthritis worsens on hard ground or only when ridden, back/pelvic issues show up as lack of impulsion when ridden.  Flexion tests of all joints and hoof testing evaluation of all feet are also important to look for .
  3. Respiratory and cardiovascular evaluation:  Heart and lungs should be evaluated at rest and after a fairly intense exercise to look for issues that will limit exercise tolerance.
  4. Abdominal evaluation:  Teeth are an important aspect of the abdominal system and very sensitive to rein pressure regardless of bit or head set.  The number one reason for stomach ulcers is the stress of training and showing.  We need to keep ulcers in the large colon, parasite damage, intestinal malabsorption due to aging, disease or nutritional compromise, liver/spleen/kidney changes and fecal examination.
  5. Vision evaluation:  Examination of the eyes should be performed with pupil dilation to allow a thorough look at the retina and optic nerve.  Check for cataracts, uveitis, damaged retina, optic nerve damage or shrinking, corneal scarring can lead to spooking or low level pain that would affect any willingness to work.

Performance evaluations are customized to each owner and your horse’s needs with the goal to determine what is pre-existing, what can be corrected or improved and what can be prevented.  This exam will be very different for different equestrian disciplines such as a rope horse, barrel horse, trail horse or dressage horse.  Speak to your veterinarian about performance evaluations before starting the show season.

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