Horse Math

By Terry Golson

Yesterday Scooter went to the veterinarian.


He has gnarly big teeth in a little mouth. I confess to not brushing them enough. Scooter needed dental work. He was sedated, the plaque scraped off, and one loose incisor was removed.

The bill was $380. My first reaction? That’s not much!

Why did I think that? Horse math. When it comes to finances, horse owners lose all sense of perspective. I have, in the past, paid more for my monthly board bill than I paid for rent. Winter shoes for Tonka cost $225. Every six weeks. I bought my own riding boots used, on sale, for $150. Using horse math, they were clearly a bargain. Less than Tonka’s shoes! It’s also telling that I conveyed this exciting find to my friends and they responded in kind. Wow! You saved so much!

Tonka has not recovered from his sacroiliac inflammation as expected. He’s been balky. He’s been telling me that something is still wrong. The veterinarian came out on Friday. She did flexion tests.

First you bend and hold the joints,


and then watch the horse move and see what you can see.


Tonka was a little ouchy in his left hock, which was as expected, as I know he has a bit of arthritis there. But I wanted more concrete information so I asked for imaging. This would cost, but I used horse math. If we could find something to fix before it broke more, it would be a bargain!

We did ultrasound and x-rays of the hind legs.


The good news is that the arthritis is no worse than it was two years ago when we first imaged it. The ultrasound was done to check the suspensory ligaments that run down the back of the horse’s hind legs. If they tear, the horse has to go on stall rest – meaning stuck in a closed-in space for months, which is not easy on the horse or its caregivers. The ultrasound showed some thickening of the right suspensory. It had probably become overworked, compensating for that gimpy left hock. If I had pushed Tonka to work through the pain, it would have shredded.

To address these findings, the vet injected the joints with a medicinal cocktail that helps to keep them lubricated and that staves off further deterioration. I’m to slowly bring Tonka back to work. We’ll start under-saddle walks today.

The $1,500 vet bill was a bargain. That’s horse math.

Oh, and Tonka’s back was sore, again. Although he has a very expensive, custom-fit saddle, I think that a saddle that puts my weight in a slightly different place might help. So I’m going saddle shopping. That should be a bargain, too.

Horse math. Are you doing the calculations? Tell me about it!

12 thoughts on “Horse Math

  • Michelle

    I couldn’t afford horse math without an equine vet as my husband! That said, the BEST treatment for soft tissue injuries (and our combined experience is huge) is focused extracorporeal shockwave therapy. No long months on stall rest; better alignment of the fibers; far less incidence of re-injury.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Good to know that your husband believes in the E Shockwave. My vet also uses it. We were going to use it on Tonka’s SI joint, but will wait to see if the hock injection fixes things. One thing at a time so we know what is working. I’ve seen my vet use the shockwave for leg soft tissue issues, but the horses were also on stall rest. Perhaps for less time?

  • Tracy

    Oh, Terry, I’m so sorry Tonka is still ouchy. And that you are not able to enjoy your rides with him because of it. It just stinks. Not to mention the Benjamins involved. 🙁 All I can say is hang in there and keep at it. I hope you’re able to take some comfort that overall, Tonka’s health is solid, his nutrition I’m sure is excellent, and his overall muscle tone has been carefully and slowly developed by you which will help see him through these layup periods –as you know, there is nothing tougher than trying to heal a weak or poorly developed horse from these types of problems, and your good care of him for such a long time gives him a real edge on regaining his good health. Fingers crossed from here.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Thanks! The worst of it is that he’s usually so willing and happy. It is upsetting to me to know he’s not enjoying our outings. We are going to only walk until he tells me otherwise!

  • Eileen

    Oh yes! I recognize Dr. Shen in your pictures. Did she tell you that she’d visited Rudy earlier that Friday or that Dr. Fred had visited two other times? She was back again today for a follow up. Rudy scratched his only cornea and it’s taking its time healing. Total so far? About $800.00. On the way home this morning Charlie said, “That’s OK. What else do we spend our money on?” What a great husband.

  • Damian Carole Disterdick

    I thank you for letting people know, it might just not be the horse’s “bad attitude” and push him/her through it thus causing more physical and mental damaged even further. The fact you considered his physical state first is something I wish more horse owners would do.
    My horse was having problems accepting the bit. First thing I did was call the vet to examine his teeth and also his strange behavior of moving his nose to his chest, up and down. His teeth were fine and did not need to be floated. As for the movement of nose to chest, I was told it was a photo sensitive reaction which happened at night. This made no sense to me. I knew something was not right with him. I scheduled an appointment to UC Davis veterinary clinic but that evening he choked and I knew he needed to get to the hospital right away. I will not go into how many tests he had but the conclusion was he was having seizures, would be on medication his entire life and dangerous to ride ever again. I was devastated. Once back at his barn, I knew I needed to do all I could to help him and I still did not believe this was his problem.
    The next day he choked again and once again I called the vet. She called UC Davis and spoke to the vet who had worked him up. As it turned out, they never did scoped him. We waited a week before do the test as he needed time for his esophagus to heal. She came back the next week and he was scoped. His diagnosis, mega esophagus.
    There is no cure just maintenance. The only thing I could do was put his feeder up at nose level, have his food soaked to a mush and put large rocks in the feed to make sure he would eat slower. He could never gaze again and this was hard for him and I because he enjoyed a good grazing. As for the bit problem, I used a hackamore which he was comfortable with and never again did I make him take a bit.
    We continued to ride and do a few small shows just had we had done in the past. He adapted very well other than grazing which I know he missed. Because of this I invented new things for him to do which he enjoyed. We learned to “dance” in the arena and it was utter joy for him to match my moves and just play. People used to come to the barn, after hearing about this dancing horse, and he would nose me to the arena and we danced. This for me was the most magical time of my life with him. I am grateful to him for showing me another way to be with a horse. Two and a half years later, I remember somehow he and I both knew it would be our last ride. That evening he when down. I was with him and he put his head in my lap, did his lip kiss on my hand as if saying it was alright he was ready to go.
    As I write this I still shed tears and miss him so much but what he gave in return was the greatest gift. The vet bills were quite a bit of money and took some time to pay off. I know this sounds like a cliche but what I got back was something more than money could ever buy.
    I thank you for this blog and showing new ways to work through the difficult times and showing how great the rewards can truly be with your horse.
    Horses are gifts to mankind.

  • Kim

    Horse math for me lately has been chiropractic and acupuncture treatments, and switching up supplements. Winter is tough for my older horse who also has arthritis in his hocks. I think hock injections may be in his future too, please let us know how Tonka makes out with them.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      We did hock injections last April and they immediately improved his comfort and way of going. My vet believes that doing these prevents more deterioration. I’d add injections to your “horse math.”

  • Deborah Sheppard

    Very interesting perspective. One we’ve all done when spending on our companions. I just recently had one of my dogs in for a teeth cleaning. He doesn’t have bad teeth and it was just a routine cleaning. That will be $680 please. So you’re $380 was a down right bargain! Deb

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