I haven’t talked a lot about it on the blog, but Copper has been hard to keep weight on in winter since the winter of 2013, so for three winters now. I’ll admit that in the winter of 2013 I wasn’t as attentive of a horse owner as I’d been previously, and I didn’t really notice that his weight had dropped so significantly. I was one of the primary caregivers for my father in the end of his battle with ALS that year, and quite honestly, nothing outranked him as far as my priorities went. I fed my horses (then just Robin, Copper, boarder Kricket, and the two donks) as I had in all years previously, but apparently what previously kept Copper fat and happy wasn’t fitting the bill anymore, but due to taking care of dad, I just didn’t notice. Once his winter fluff started to shed off, I realized that he’d dropped a lot of weight during Dad’s last days, and began to try to put the pounds on him, something that isn’t hard to do once the grass comes on.
The last two winters, I’ve been graining him 2x a day and making sure he has unlimited hay, but that hasn’t kept him from shedding the pounds in January and February. Apparently there is enough grass still hanging onto life through December to keep him looking quasi decent, but after New Years it is either covered in snow or lacks any nutritional value. I’ve spoken to my vet about it, and he has deemed Copper “rangy” and says that is just the type of horse he is. This vet never knew Copper prior to the weight loss though, so I guess he thinks this is “normal” for Copper.
Since my vet hasn’t really seemed too troubled by Copper’s mystery winter weight loss, I’ve been looking into other routes to figuring out his issue. A friend once mentioned that his jaw could be out, and they’d had a horse lose a lot of weight, then gain it back as soon as his jaw was popped back in. So I began to hunt for a horse chiropractor, which isn’t a super common thing in SWVA. After hunting unsuccessfully on my own, I posted a plea to the local horse fb group that is generally populated with sales ads and the like. Tada! A friend saw my post and suggested a lady who has done bodywork on several of her horses.
So when the chiro got there, I gave her a little bit of background on Copper. I wanted to not tell her about my concerns about his jaw, because a few friends (and my vet…) have suggested that chiropractic work is hocus pocus, and I wanted to see what she said about him without filling in the blanks for her. But, since my horse looks like utter crap right now, I felt that she needed the 411 on why he’s so light weight and why his topline is basically non-existent.
So she began working on him in the back and asked if he’s bad at picking up his left lead, and I told her that he’s always been bad at his hind leads because of the curb in his hock from when he was a weanling, and that his leads have been around 70% consistent when I’ve ridden him this year, but with his lack of topline, I’ve not really been surprised. She agreed and said that he was pretty out in his left hip, so that was his first area of wonkiness. She stopped again when she got to his lumbar region and adjusted him there as well. She was pleased that his back was in good shape as well as his ribs.
When she got to his withers, he started to twitch them like he does when I ride. I thought that was just a fly sensitivity thing, but apparently it is a sign that he’s out there. So she worked on his withers before we moved to his neck. This is where things got weird for a horse of his age. She said 9 was way too young for him to be so stiff when you ask him to flex. So she pulled his neck around and popped it in where it meets his shoulders and he jumped and showed the whites of his eyes. She laughed and said that he was going to be super dramatic when she got to his poll since that is where most horses are reactive. Apparently they can hear the pop in their neck up in the poll since it is right behind their ears, so the fact that he reacted so dramatically to the lower pop was unusual. She ended up putting his neck in place in three places on each side of his neck before moving to the upper and lower cervical in his neck, which were also both out.
Next up was his TMJ, which I was most interested in because of the weight loss issues. He turns his head funny when he eats grain out of a ground pan, so I felt like something would for sure be wonky there. Sure enough, he was out there too. She was actually able to let me feel for this one and had me put my hands on either side of his jaw area below his eyes while she made him chew. I felt the unevenness easily despite not having felt for it before. When she let me feel after she adjusted it, the chewing felt much more even in both sides. She said that between his cervicals being so off and his jaw, it could be a factor in his weight loss.
So, in summary, he was out in his hips, lumbar region, withers, three places in his neck, upper and lower cervicals in his upper neck/poll area, and his TMJ in his jaw. His overall opinion about the visit from the chiro was positive. He really enjoyed having his jaw adjusted and, according to her, REALLY leaned on her shoulder heavier than any horse she’s ever adjusted. Since he was so relaxed after that, she went back and did some more work on his neck since he got so tense there earlier anticipating the pops. She pulls their tail at the end to leave them with a pleasant memory of the event since that releases endorphins and he leaned when she did that as well. Copper really likes his endorphins apparently. His big ears relaxed and he shut his eyes and yawned.
So now time will tell. If he starts to drop again this winter, I’ll be adding oil/alfalfa cubes/God knows what to the mix to try to keep weight on him since apparently grass hay and high $$ grain alone isn’t enough to sustain him when its cold. I’ve determined that he and I need to just start wintering in Florida to keep him fat and me warm. Sounds like a good plan, yes?
sorry not sorry for the lots of #tbt Copper pictures. He’s so handsome. 🙂