Here at The Horse, we receive numerous emails each week from readers with horse health questions. And when the question is regarding a specific health issue a certain horse might have, we often recommend the owner contact their veterinarian to have their possibly ailing animal checked out and treated. Well, as it turns out, I probably should've listened to the advice I give on a regular basis a bit sooner than I actually did.

Dorado has never been the easiest horse to train or ride, but his recent performance problems were unusual...even for him.

Photo: Adam Spradling

Seventeen-year-old Dorado has never been the easiest horse to train or ride. He's got a special spark that makes him a pretty flashy and successful competitor, he's incredibly smart, brave, scopey over fences, almost always gives 110%, and saves my butt on a regular basis should I not set him up as well as I could for a jump or cross-country question. But he's spooky, and he's quick to "shut down" if he gets flustered, nervous, or confused (or a combination of the three). Fortunately, with my trainer's help, we've got his quirks figured out pretty well and now know how to bring him back when his brain turns off.

After about two months of really nice work and improvement, Dorado began disagreeing with what I asked of him under saddle about two weeks ago. He didn't really want to bend—or even track—to the left, and started throwing some really awkward jumps into the mix when we worked over fences. My first thought was that I was doing something to mess him up. So I had my husband take video of the problems we were having and sent it to my trainer in Massachusetts. But, even after making some adjustments in my position and how I used my aids, our troubles continued to worsen.

At this point, I thought back to Dorado's past training issues. As I said, he's never been an easy horse, so I began to wonder if this was just how it was going to be from now on. Maybe he'd just reached the point where he didn't think his brain could learn anymore. Or maybe he'd just decided he was boycotting flat work (he still jumped quite happily, albeit awkwardly every now and then). I even wondered if this was Dorado's way of telling me he was done working, and ready to spend his days lounging in a pasture.

After a couple horrible rides on my own, I rode with my friend Kristen, asked her to watch us closely, and to tell me if I was doing anything that might make Dorado upset. What she said surprised me: "He looks a little short in his left hind."

At that point, my heart dropped, but I started putting things together in my head. It had been almost 3 years since he got his first hock injections at age 15. After just under a year off to recover from his fetlock injury last year, he's been in really consistent work for the past several months. But most of all, I felt like I'd let Dorado down by pushing him to keep working (even for two weeks) if something was bothering him. The next day I contacted my veterinarian.

When Dorado was sedated for his hock injections, he snored the whole time!

Photo: Erica Larson

The following day, our veterinarian arrived and carried out a full lameness exam and determined that Dorado was pretty sore in his back end. As it were, he thinks that because Dorado is finally working properly from behind (i.e., pushing with his hind end and not being lazy), his muscles were barking. Go figure. We elected to inject his lower hock joints and provided some support for his sore gluteal muscles as well. If his butt is still sore in a week or so, my veterinarian said we'd try some acupuncture. But the good news? Our vet is thrilled with how Dorado's front end looks, soundness-wise, and his overall body condition.

Has your senior horse ever had performance problems? What was the outcome? Share your experiences below!