Monday, March 19, 2012

Rein lame or plain lame?

In the past I have talked about, and shared footage of,  Riley's "hoppy-trot." Ever since I started riding him he has occasionally shown this hoppy trot -- but never with my trainer. For example, both my trainer and I clinic'ed with a big name dressage trainer -- on day 1, with my trainer, he was totally fine. One day 2, with me, he hop-trotted around the arena for the better part of my $200 45-minute lesson.

The hoppy trot comes and goes.  At the moment, it is (kind of) in remission. If I had to guess, I would say that my riding is creating tension/resistance, and  possibly exacerbating something that might be percolating somewhere in Ri -- whether in his back or front or hind legs. He also hated his saddle, but hopefully we'll be removing that issue from the equation soon.

Anyhoo, this is not a post about Riley per se, but about the concept of rein-lame.
IMHANSAO (in my humble and not so authoritative opinion)
Despite having no veterinary credentials, I thoughts on rein-lameness. My definition of rein lameness is pretty narrow.  I'm sure that some horse/rider combos experience moments of unevenness due to miscommunication or tension. IMHO if it is prolonged or definitive it is not rein-lame, or at least not just rein lame. In reading about rein lameness, I noted a comment from one vet/author -- he said that most horses do not have just one thing wrong with them. And on that comforting note...

 Is there a definitive, authoritative definition of rein lameness?
Maybe rein lameness and real lameness are not two mutually exclusive categories -- there might be some overlap, don't you think?  Rein lameness may be a sub-clinical discomfort that the horse is feeling, and it becomes observable when the rider does not have the skills to keep the horse balanced/comfortable for more difficult work. One of my vets told me that he never lets professional riders show a horse during a PPE -- he wants to the the buyer in the irons, because it is too easy for a pro to mask a problem.

As owners I think we have to be careful about pronouncing a problem to be rein-lameness. It should not be just a comforting suggestion that we offer to our friends/fellow riders  when their horses take uneven steps. 


  1. I'm not sure I would say rein lame to someone. I'd rather say "Your horse looks uneven" or "Your horse looks uncomfortable/in pain". I think to say rein lame is just giving a label without addressing the problem. Getting to the bottom of the issue is most Important. Why is the horse uneven/uncomfortable? As you say it could be issues with both the rider and the horse. Just blaming the rider can be inaccurate and hurtful.

    Just my 2 cents. :)

  2. I am in full agreement with you here...

    In my opinion, there are situations though when natural crookedness in the horse is fairly pronounced and if a skilled rider doesn't straighten the horse by sensitive riding, he/she will show uneven steps due to incorrect use of the body.
    In time, this incorrect use of the body will of course present with "real" lameness.
    One vet told me that he have seen more lame horses due to uncorrected crookedness than from many injuries/acute causes brought together...

  3. On top of that, there are strength issues. We went through a while of my horse getting uneven and head-bobby, particularly to the left, at the trot. No resistance to moving forward or other indicators of lameness. Vet and massage therapist claimed him fit for work. But even with all the horse pros around me telling me to keep pushing and that it was uneven strength, not unsoundness, it was VERY hard for me to push through! It took one of those $200/ride clinics to help me really solve the problem. He instantly pinpointed it as my horse trying to avoid working so hard - he was weighting his left hind extra so he wouldn't have to use his right hind as much since it was his weaker leg. This also meant he wasn't using his right oblique muscles as much, and was basically letting his rib cage and right hind swing out, while coming straight under himself on the left. No soreness, just laziness. In one ride the clinician was able to help me get him straight enough the bobbing went away.

    Now that we got past that (and OMG did it make a massive difference once we did and I figured out how to ride him to not do that) I found that he was dropping his left shoulder to compensate, so now we're working on building proper muscling/strength there.

    I find it VERY hard whether to know if I should believe the people saying "he's fine, work through it" or should do what I have always needed to do in the past - take it easy, let him recover and keep investigating to figure out what it is that's wrong at the same time. What I've found, though, is if my horse is hurting in any way he gives a very distinct "no, Mom, we should NOT go faster than a walk" signal to me, and I just go by that. He's a horse who loves work, so I'm grateful he does that because otherwise I don't know how I'd figure it out!

    Good luck figuring out if the hoppy trot is rein lameness, lameness, weakness, crookedness, or whatever.

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  5. We can create the appearance of lameness by bad riding and that would be my definition of "rein lameness." Erratic contact on the rein might make the horse bop on and off the bit, so he might look lame. Letting the horse drop on a shoulder might make his stride uneven and of course, sitting crooked can also make a horse's stride erratic.

    All that being said, there is another world in which we can also correct an irregularity in our horse's stride by rebalancing him, driving a leg foward, holding a leg back, or, even posting on the wrong diagonal if one side or the other is weak.

    Most horses I've encountered are naturally either right or left "hoofed" and can easily become more so if not schooled to strengthen the "weaker" side. One of the issues is to get the horse equally straight on both sides which might mean, at first, riding one side differently than the other. I remember once sitting next to my chiropractic vet at a horse show watching one competitor after another ride tests as he commented on various gait irregularities in nearly every horse that came in the arena. Nothing was actually what you might call "lame" by any means, but there were all kinds of things his trained eye could pick out. It was a truly interesting afternoon.

  6. I've always heard it referred to as bridle lame.

    Intermittent problems are the hardest to diagnose, and what the vet said about there rarely being just one reason for a problem sounds logical.

    I used to ride a friends horse for some of my lessons. When I first rode him, he bobbed at the trot significantly. Lots of $$$ had been dropped on radiographs, lameness exams and saddle replacement.

    My trainer got me to circle the arena at an energetic trot, on the buckle, for about fifteen minutes non-stop. As the horse relaxed and without contact, his gait returned to normal. He had been ridden for years by a pull the head down and jiggle the reins to get into a frame type of rider, and developed a defensive method to avoid the heavy hands.

  7. Sounds like a vertebral blocking. Do you have a video?

  8. Stacey, I would be very cautious around your friends if using the term "rein-lame." Most people hear that as "I suck and you are basically telling me I am causing my horse's issues." It makes people feel very badly about themselves, in other words.

    So, let's think a little about this concept. Okay. If you are 300 lbs on an 800 lb pony, I'm sure you'll see symptoms of lameness or struggle. So, the concept can be very pertinent at times ... and you don't have to be 300 lbs.

    Let us call it struggle for balance. Or maybe a bad night. Or maybe the rider has a lot of potential to learn with a good trainer. But, I am sure we have ALL caused a balance issue in our horse at times. I know if I lean too far forward on my gelding's shoulders, he does not open himself to using his back right. Perceived as such, you might call it "rein lame." But, if you said that to me, I would go home crying for hours.

    So, make doubly sure you know everything there is to know before using that label. It sounds like Riley, though of good breeding, may have some normal young horse problems. Whether they are exascerbated by your riding or not is moot because you are doing your best to improve gradually. ALSO, Stacey, Riley is not 12 and mature ... yet. These can be typical growing pains too. Remember when you were in your teens? ;)

  9. My horse moves very much like Riley and he started hopping about 7 months ago while doing 3rd level with me.
    It took around 5 competitions, numerous judges and instructors, for finally one judge to get out of her car and tell me my horse was bridle lame.
    Everyone else was just saying he wasnt supple, or any other excuse they could think of. I didnt even know what bridle lameness was.

    Anyway, it is and isnt my riding, he just doesnt bend, and inside leg to outside rein doesnt work on him, you need to actually pull his neck around, THEN put leg on. 6 months later, its nearly gone, but it does pop up ocasioanlly, espcially when doing 10m circles on one rein.
    I have to ride very hard to get from the centre line to M or H without him hopping, and i am nearly always unsucsessful.

    My horse cant even do a stretch circle properly because he is so tense and not supple enough, and he will litreally shuffle the whole thing.
    Same as going at a foward pace around a corner. He will break into a canter nearly every time because he cant do it.
    And it all stems back to the bridle lameness issue, because when he is in full work and in top condition and im on top of the lameness issue, i do not get one hop in a whole test and he gets quite foward.

    I have been reading about your saddle issues, i had a saddle on him that i tought fitted him great because he improved after he had been wearing a dodgy custom made saddle.
    But this year i bought a new saddle and he has a lot less hopping and he feels happier.

    Im not sure if this will help, but i do see the similarities between our horses movement, and i know the way my horse has bridle lame, is different from full on bridle lameness.
    I also remember watch the videos you posted of when Riley had a bood hoof, and he had that little hop that mine gets.

  10. I just went back and re-read this post and then all the comments. My mare starting 'hip-hop' trotting at the end of our lesson on Tuesday - we were primarily working on getting her on the bit, on a 20 meter circle. I assumed she was tired, overwhelmed by the end.

    Took her out yesterday and she would slow at every corner, in trot, on the left rein. When I put her on a 20 meter circle to the left, she quickly went to 'hip hopping' trot. I hopped off - put her on the lunge line to the left - normal trot. I got back on and had someone lunge me - if I let the left rein go, normal trot. Picked up contact on the left rein, hip hopping trot.

    She worked out of it when I let her canter on the left rein - went large on the circle. I then let her go on the buckle in trot to the left with no issues.

    I don't know if anyone would classify that as 'rein lame'?

  11. Have you found any answers to the hoppy trot? After 2 years of failed treatments, $$$, multiple custom saddle fittings, farriers, research, changes in training/workload, etc. I am at the end of my rope to answer why my horse erratically displays a hoppy trot & would rather canter.
    Please share your discoveries.


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