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SyncThermology Blog

Diary of an Ex Race Horse - Part 1 by Lou Crow Sync Technician

Wednesday, April 15, 2020  ‹ Back To Latest News List

Since losing Rou, my horse of a lifetime, in 2016, I haven’t had the smoothest of rides with horses - I mean this quite literally. I bought a mare in 2017 who turned out to have huge behavioural issues and became too dangerous for anyone to ride. So, due mainly to my lack of budget, but also my love of TBs and experience with ex race horses, I decided that my best option would be to buy an ex race horse straight from the track. A blank canvass to work with. 

I found ‘Miss Geronimo’ at a local reputable dealers yard just down the road from me on the 1st September 2019. You can see from her photo that she was going to be a huge project. That was fine as the work that I would need to do with her over the first few months would fit in perfectly with my lifestyle. My dream for my new mare is to ultimately event, but Rou taught me so much - most poignantly to never forget to enjoy each day and step of your journey together and if things don’t go to plan, it’s really not worth stressing over. Some things are out of your control - they’re just meant to, or not meant to be.  

Hope For The Future

I soon decided on the stable name of ‘Hope’ for my new mare and my plan was, and still is, to see where our journey takes us. If she becomes an eventer, amazing! If she becomes a happy hacker, that’s great too. All I ‘hope’ for is that I can give her the best chance possible to enable her to reach her full potential in whatever discipline is right for her.   

Hope was seven when I bought her. She was raced as a flat racer, but not until she was four and then only three times. The reason for her sale was because her trainer had become unwell and was basically selling up. 

I went with a friend to view her. We watched her loose schooled over a couple of jumps - she was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. But I liked the way she moved, her sweet attitude and clever brain. I could see the potential of what she could become in a couple of years once muscle and top line had been built up. I rode her planning only to take her for a little walk and trot, but ended up having a sneaky canter too. I got off her with a big smile on my face. 

My concern was whether there were any underlying issues which could cause lameness problems in the long-run, so I quickly had her vetted. Thankfully there were no concerns over her capability of becoming an eventer. My vet’s last comment as he got in his car to leave was "I’d buy her", which meant more than the paperwork itself! 

Gathering Information 

Knowing the problems that race horses can have from being started at such a young age, I performed a SyncEquine scan focussing on the back and SI - the areas that I wanted to check the most, especially after having experience of kissing spine with Rou.

The SyncThermology vet report highlighted: 

  • On dorsal views of the hindquarters, there is focal hyperthermia of the sacral region observed at rest, this is less apparent post exercise.
  • Caudally there is mild bilateral linear hypothermia of the sciatic grooves, observed post exercise.
  • Thermal findings in the caudal left neck are suggestive of muscular tightness at the level of the CT junction. This may be linked to reluctance to bend to the right.
  • All remaining spinal views are within normal thermal limits.
  • An assessment of cervical and pelvic function by a veterinary osteopath or physiotherapist is advised.

Amongst the Sync team we have a fantastic array of knowledge and experience - both from the technicians and team of interpreting vets. One of our technicians Helen Mathie, an ACPAT physio with a likeminded love of TB’s, explained the following to me: 

“Ex racehorse’s often splint through their longissimus and fix through their thoracics overusing their brachiocepalic and omotransversus which pulls the point of shoulder forward and scapular back, thus they don’t push from behind. All of which is fixable!” Phew.  

It was pretty obvious that this was the case with Hope. When I started riding her I could feel that she had no push from behind and was weight-bearing through her left shoulder/fore. She was also very crooked from her dock to her poll. For at least the first three months it felt like I was riding a banana where her neck would only bend to the left. All very common with ex racehorses, especially when you consider that they usually only race on one rein (the left) and are trained for speed. They learn to run through their legs, not through any muscle in their body.  

Yogi Sharp, another Sync technician, is a remedial farrier who is undertaking lots of research. One of his project’s is looking at the relationship between negative planter angles in the hind limbs and SI disease/malfunction. Again this ties in with Hope and concurs with the findings in her SyncEquine veterinary report. You can see in the first picture of Hope her posture behind is far from great and she has typical TB feet (low heels), which my farrier is addressing and has already improved upon.

Rob Jackson, the Horseback Vet (also can’t recommend enough) assessed and treated Hope in early October 2019. His notes were as follows:
    • Restricted pelvic axial rotation and pelvic lateral excursion in led walk and trot. 
    • Awkward walk turns to left. 
    • Tight proximal fore limb action and restricted range of fore and hind limb crossing movement (particularly in left hind limb, despite good protraction in left hind limb) on tight circles on both reins.
    • Marked bilateral triceps, latissimus dorsi and pre-scapular spasms. 
    • Tight withers. 
    • Moderate bilateral longissimus lumborum and gluteal spasms.
He successfully manipulated and mobilised the lumbar region and shoulders, resulting in the:
    • Relaxation of previously tight/spasming musculature.
    • Enhanced pelvic axial rotation and pelvic lateral excursion in repeated led walk and trot. 
    • Enhanced left-rein walk turns. 
    • Freer proximal fore limb action, with lowered head and neck carriage.
    • Enhanced fore limb protraction.
    • Enhanced range of fore limb crossing movement – with good, symmetrical hind limb crossing action – on repeated tight circles.

Back to Basics

Helen advised that “months of walk is key to re-recruitment of postural muscle fibre types to support the appendicular skeleton. Low heel high syndrome in front puts more tension on FL flexors on that side so likely needs soft tissue work”

My plan was to treat Hope as a newly backed youngster. Light hacking once or twice a week along with lots and lots of in-hand pole work, including raised poles performed in walk. This would not only help with strength, but bonding and trust - key elements for me to have with any horse, let alone an eventer.  

Helen also suggested using variable height feeding stations to help recruit correct postural musculature, which Sharon May Davies advises. (If you haven’t heard of Sharon, please look her up and even better listen to her talk, she is just amazing).

6 Months On

After six months of mainly in hand pole work, light lunging and hacking, Hope is now looking and feeling so much stronger. She is starting to push from behind, but does feel, and sometimes looks, weak in her left fore and stiff through her left hind. Whilst hacking I’ve been working on lifting her off her shoulders to enable her to straighten up and push from behind rather than pull from in front. She’s now feeling a lot more supple and straight. She’s hanging less to the left, and accepting and seeking rein contact.  

Mentally she has also grown. You can tell she has led a very sheltered life. Much of her training now is to educate her about the world. She is a very sweet natured horse but her flight or fight mode is set to ‘plant’ when she’s unsure about something - another area we are positively working on. I’m sure that once her confidence grows this will continue to decrease.  

One of the things I’m most excited about is that she really is quite bold. After all the rain we’ve had this winter there’s often been no choice but to ride through floods and pop over the odd pole (in walk). She hasn’t really blinked an eye - a great start to our cross country training! 

Changing Plans

I’d now love to crack on with more schooling and hacking out alone, but the whole world has come to a standstill and I’ve decided not to ride. I’ll keep her ticking over with ground work, whilst letting her enjoy a bit of summer downtime.  

The plan is to use SyncEquine scans as a regular monitoring tool - particularly to keep an eye on Hope’s SI. Unfortunately due to the current circumstances I’ve been unable to perform her six month comparison scan. As soon as the restrictions are lifted this will be something I’ll do. I hope the findings will evidence the improvements I am now seeing and feeling.  

I’m so excited to get back in the saddle when everything has calmed down. Let’s see where the next six months take us.

Lou is a SyncEquine imaging technician based in Reading provide screening services throughout Berkshire, Oxfordshire & surrounding counties.