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    Ask Dr. Reuben: Turning Issues

    “My horse goes great to the right, but not to the left. Why is that?” Jennifer C., Burbank, CA

    A: Thank you for this question Jennifer, as this is a very common problem with horses and one that frequently makes its way into my consultation notes. First, let us assume that your horse has been checked for this problem by your veterinarian and nothing significant was found in the way of recent injury or foot/leg problems. Many times this is a problem stemming from pain, that is, it hurts your horse to turn to the left. It is highly unlikely that this is purely a behavioral issue. Most of us have had times when we have a “kink” in our neck and it hurts to turn our head to one side. Generally, if it is only muscle involvement, such as a cold draft causing the muscle to spasm, it is more painful to turn away from the problem as the opposing muscle is in a state of contraction. However, if it is a problem with the spinal joint such as a subluxation or “pinched nerve” (an oversimplification of the actual pathological process), it is more painful to turn towards the problem where the inflammation is actually occurring. The joint problem scenario is far more common, especially in a horse. The lower cervical (neck) joints take a tremendous beating with a rider mounted, especially in events such as jumping or barrel racing. It is a simple matter to check your horse for this problem. The problem could be anywhere in his back, but the problem is most commonly found in the lower neck. Simply take a small blunt object such as the tip of a spoon handle, and run it down the middle of the bulging muscle on the side of the neck, pressing just hard enough to leave a “racing stripe”. What you are looking for is an involuntary “flinch” reflex, which is an exaggerated and pathological response of the sensory nerves when stimulated in this manner. It could be a small shudder or a jerking spasm that pulls the neck and shoulder together, depending upon the severity. Where along the neck it occurs will give you a good idea of where the pain is, and that in fact, the problem is indeed coming from some part of the spine. Finally, my instruments will not only pinpoint the location but solve the problem, so I hope you give me a call.