Poor performance is described as the “inability of the horse to exercise or perform at a level previously observed (or to be expected) based on its training, level of fitness, and physical characteristics”. This may manifest physically as exercise intolerance, stiffness, resistance on one rein, or difficulty executing a specific movement. It can also present through abnormal behavioural issues, for example napping, rearing or bucking. It can even be non-specific; just a feeling that the horse is “not quite right in itself”.

What causes poor performance in horses?

There are many factors that can contribute to poor performance. To successfully diagnose, treat or manage these cases, its important to have an in-depth understanding of the demands of each sport and the potential ways in which an injury can occur or present itself. Pain can influence a horse’s attitude and vice versa, so while some exceptional horses may be able to tolerate working at a high level quite happily with moderate pathological issues, others may exhibit reluctance to perform even at a low level. This is also why we should look at each horse’s individual nature.

What are the next steps?

Lameness cases often require specialist investigation, as the problems can be multi-faceted and quite complex. Whether the issue is suspected to be musculoskeletal, gastro-intestinal, respiratory, cardiopulmonary or hormonal, there are many areas to be considered. Lameness, the most common cause, can be insidious and at first may not be recognised as the cause of the poor performance. Sudden onset lameness is often easier to recognise initially but may still require in-depth investigation to determine the root cause of the problem.

I also believe that it is important not only to manage and treat any poor performance issues, but to look at ways of preventing them from arising in the first place. As a member of the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology, I keep up to date with the latest advances in the cause and treatment of performance issues. I enjoy sharing this knowledge with horse owners, with my regular updates on Facebook and quarterly newsletter.

   Lameness and poor performance investigations.

We focus on equine lameness and performance and have years of expertise in lameness assessment.

Sometimes horses show other symptoms and lameness may not first be recognised as the main reason for poor performance. With our keen interest and experience treating horses across a wide range of disciplines, we are well equipped to help. If your horse is lame, this can have many causes; there can be varying degrees of lameness too. Mild lameness in horses may be hard to spot whereas non weight-bearing lameness is easier to recognise! Whatever the issue, we perform a comprehensive lameness evaluation, giving clear communication throughout.

   How we can help

Lameness investigation

At Espinar Equine, we offer a personal service where we get to know you and your horse. Our small, dedicated team ensures continuity of care, following your horse’s case all the way from initial lameness assessment, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.  Poor performance or not being ‘quite right’ may be down to a combination of factors so we offer other procedures like gastroscopy and endoscopy to determine the root cause of any problem. Being a good equine vet is not just about knowing the most common cause of lameness in horses. Treatment of lameness or performance problems is never ‘one-size-fits-all’! Each case can be complex and as a specialised equine vet, our focus is on achieving the best outcomes for you and your horse. 

We also have access to a network of paraprofessionals like farriers and physiotherapists. Good communication is key; we will spend time talking with you to understand your views on the horse’s issues. We can then give the most accurate prognosis, based on the outcome of investigations, allowing us to offer practical advice tailored to your individual needs.

Diagnostic imaging equipment

We can do lameness work-ups at your yard as we have modern mobile diagnostic imaging equipment (portable battery-operated x-ray and ultrasound machines). This means we take high quality x-rays even in the field. 

Investigation of some lameness cases can require specialist diagnostic techniques such as MRI or scintigraphy (a ‘bone scan’). As we are an independent veterinary practice, we can provide unbiased advice on the most suitable referral hospital. 

Efficient, expert advice

Dr Emiliano Espinar is an Advanced Practitioner in Equine Practice. He is also a certified member of the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology, staying at the forefront of the very latest advances in the cause, diagnosis and treatment of equine performance issues. He enjoys sharing this knowledge, with regular updates and in our quarterly newsletter too. As an independent equine veterinary consultant, Emiliano is also able to offer his opinion on cases and take referrals for second opinions too. 

The International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology (ISELP)
British Equine Veterinary Association
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