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If a horse holds its tail to one side, moves it excessively or clamps it down, does it necessarily mean that something is amiss?
When should I investigate?
Holding the tail to one side, either to the left or to the right, can be a habit.
The time to consider further investigation is when a horse who previously held its tail straight, starts to carry it consistently to one side.
Finding the cause
However, if the problem recurs then there is probably an unidentified issue that has resulted in secondary muscle tension and soreness, such as a saddle no longer fitting.
If a rapid clinical improvement is not seen then a veterinary investigation is certainly warranted, sooner rather than later.
Evaluating horse and rider
While a vet needs to try to identify a lame limb or limbs, he must also look for more subtle alterations in gait: a change in balance, a loss of fluidity of movement or an intermittently slightly irregular rhythm.
It’s also important to evaluate the rider, because inevitably some problems are created by the jockey.
Sometimes it is necessary to treat the horse with high levels of pain-alleviating drugs, such as phenylbutazone (bute), over several weeks to determine whether there is a genuine pain-related issue.
If the horse responds to painkillers, then it is time to investigate where and why it hurts by using a logical process of elimination.
For the full article, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (9 April, ’09)
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