Quite a few horses have come to my farm over the past decade with "problems". "He cant get down the lines". "We just don't get along". "He wont go into the ring". "He's too spooky". "He wont pick up the right lead". "He is missing lead changes". "He rears". "He bucks". "He takes off". "My trainer hates him". "He's not good enough". "He's just an a-hole". "We have reached the strongest bit made and he still wont listen". MUST SELL.
The expectation usually is, "Yes, your 100% right, your horse sucks, I'll try to fix him, make him perfect for your demands, or he has to go on down the road". But, 99% of the time, his cranky attitude and poor performance is due to some kind of pain or that he just isn't fit/educated enough to perform the task we are asking him to do. Simple as that. Now, to the extent of what actually hurts, that can be the never-ending rabbit hole. Usually I hope for something simple like gastric ulcers. But then, I think "Hmm, WHAT has CAUSED those ulcers..."
Horses are internalizers for the most part. Willing herd animals that really do try to please. Now, I have had my share of alphas that are 100% fine physically that just have an edge, or are the direct result of bad riding/training, but its up to us to figure out if that is just their personality or if something is up. The amount of pressure we place on these animals as athletes is pretty intense both physically and mentally. Think of professional sports players. They have soft tissue injuries, injections, ice baths, sports psychologists, surgeries, physical therapists, trainers... you name it, it's at their disposal. Do whatever you can to get these guys back on the field.
They also have the ability to voice exactly where the pain/problem is.
Horses unfortunately do not posses that luxury. They try to tell us in different ways, which usually results in behavioral changes that can be as small as consistently swapping in front of a jump or straight up high-ho silver rears. Being fresh is one thing, but if you notice your horse acting out consistently over the course of a few days, or if he gets worse instead of relaxing into the work during a session, then its time to figure out why.
Does he run at the jump? Excessively sweat? (and I'm talking about dripping when its cool). Not want to turn left? Drag towards the in-gate? Grind his teeth? Pin his ears? Land split? Hard to keep weight on? The right lead canter is different then the left? They jump off to the left or right? Drift in lines? Stop? Trip? I could go on and on. Any and all of these are notable. Work with your trainer, your vet, your farrier... these are the support team your horse really needs, and he's depending on you to listen when he's trying to tell you something. Many times the response is to discipline them (which I do believe in training with firm guidelines and a kind understanding hand) but if your having to discipline them multiple times over and over again, its time to stop and listen.
Just because they aren't limping doesn't mean something isn't wrong.
Plenty of nervous, unknowingly lame horses have come through Echelon's doors, and I am happy to say that we have a pretty good success rate in turning them around. It's a financial commitment we have to make for them, and I would hope you wouldn't put off necessary hock injections for a big show coming up. Continued pain can create lasting behavioral issues and resentment that can NEVER be fixed. How would you like it if you were at work, and you were doing something that really irritated your bad knee, but your boss ignored you (and smacked you with a crop or raked you with spurs) when you tried to explain to him that was something you physically cannot do? It would only be a matter of time before you broke down permanently, or lost it and went off the deep end.
Bonds are broken when egos interfere.
Do yourself and your horse a favor. Don't be quick to point fingers and play the blame game with an animal that has no other way to communicate with us except through behavior. If you take the time to make sure their needs are met, and they can TRUST you to listen, you will create a lasting partnership with an animal that will lay it all down just for you. That will enter those rings and fight to win for you. Because they know they are appreciated, and that you will listen and take care of them.