Sound to Ride

By Terry Golson

Tonka sometimes feels off. The veterinarian has had a look, and then another. The slight gimpyness isn’t enough to come up with a clear diagnosis, or even to be exactly sure where the unsoundness is coming from. This isn’t a new problem. It keeps rearing its head. Or should I say bucking its butt? Because when Tonka is feeling uncomfortable he does this. (Yes, he broke the mirror. This is not an acceptable way to express frustration. More about that in another post!)


Tonka will be 15 years old next week, old enough to have aches and pains, arthritis and knotty muscles. Rather like me! I wouldn’t pass a soundness exam either, but I keep going. We both will. It’s best for both of us. The coffin joint, left-front pain appears to be gone. In a recent lesson, Tonka happily trotted over these raised poles.


He was even happier when he thought we were going to start jumping.


Most of the time Tonka moves fluidly and with even footfalls.


But sometimes he does this. See that head bob?


But also see how Tonka is moving? His under neck is jutted out and he’s braced and short across his back. When Tonka is trotting in a round yet open frame and using his topline, he goes beautifully sound. I’ve had his spine, stifles, and hocks checked. There’s nothing obvious on x-rays or in flexion tests. He has arthritis in a bit of his neck, but that’s been treated and he’s currently very flexible from poll to withers. So, the question is, does he brace because he feels pain, and then shows unsoundness, or does going short and inverted like that cause discomfort, which then causes the head bobbing? It’s never clearcut. I’d say it’s a combination of the two.

What is clear is that the more we do pole and lateral work, the more he goes round and uses his rear engine, the better Tonka goes. Like me and yoga. I do 10 minutes most mornings, and the first 7 aren’t pretty! But I’d be lame for the entire day without that stretching.

Here’s Tonka on the lunge line. It’s the day after the poles lesson. The previous day’s concussion on the hoofs didn’t do any damage. He looks good.


Fine under saddle, too, in a working frame.


I’ve been taking one jumping lesson every week or so (recently every other with this weather.) I’ve talked with my trainer, Steph, and we’re going to add a poles lesson once a week, too.

I’m also adding daily lateral work to address Tonka’s chronic crookedness at the canter (something he’s had ever since I got him.) Wherever his tightness originates, it’s deep in there, and I’m optimistic that these exercises and the jumping will finally reach those knots. I think that Tonka will be going more consistently sound with this gymnastic program. If lameness does recur, it’ll likely be more defined and easier for the veterinarian to address.

Meanwhile, I’d better up my own yoga regime to 20 minutes daily. It’s only fair to Tonka that I be as flexible and sound as he is.

6 thoughts on “Sound to Ride

  • John Schaller

    He looks nice and round while being lunged, too! Groundpoles and cavaletti are sort of a New Year’s resolution for me, now that the horse I have is ready for them. I find it is easy to avoid the time to set them up and take them down, but really setting up enough for good work doesn’t take long in reality.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I used to board where poles were never left out, so it was very time consuming to get them out of the shed, set them out, and then put them back. Tonka didn’t do enough pole work there! One bonus of taking a lesson over poles is that your trainer sets them up – and puts them at just the right distances.

  • Michelle McMillen

    This is an excellent post on how difficult it can be to pinpoint problems, and the fact that a lot of problems can only be managed, not fixed. Oh, how we want them to be found and FIXED! My equine vet husband gets a little exasperated with me….

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Trainers/behaviorists fall into the same hole. We think that we should be able to fix or change any behavior. Somehow create the perfectly performing animal. But that’s not possible either. We can, though, with thought and knowledge and a whole lot of thinking, make things better!

  • tracy

    I always wished I could just change places with a gimpy horse for an hour, so I would know exactly what hurt and where. Either that, or buy a horse that could talk properly…! So frustrating.

Comments are closed.