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Uncovering Lyme: A Tricky Diagnosis


I’m the proud owner of a 16-year-old thoroughbred named Samurai. Sammy and I have been together for six years, and we know each other pretty well. I’ve doctored numerous cuts and abrasions, spent days wrapping and unwrapping legs, and what feels like a lifetime learning what is normal for my horse. So when Sam started to buck under saddle for seemingly no reason, I knew something was wrong.

Sam doesn’t buck, it’s just not in his vocabulary, but one night I was riding and I asked for canter and he takes one stride and POP! He bucked! I was so surprised I had to ask my barn mate if he really just bucked. We did a circle, came down to a trot and tried again, and again he bucked. For giggles I went the other direction and sure enough he pulled the same stunt. Now I was really worried, but he didn’t feel off. I hopped off, grabbed a lunge line and watched him move. Walk, trot, canter, he was sound as can be. I felt all four legs, no heat, no swelling. Was he giving me an attitude? I hopped back on and we finished our ride at a walk and trot.

Sam then had a few days off as I went home to NJ and work kept me busy, so I came back after a good five days off and tried again. I saddled up, hopped on and as soon as we started to trot, POP! I let my friend hop on, just to see if he would do it to her. He did.


In Sam’s defense they weren’t bad bucks, they were pretty big (who knew a sixteen year old could go vertical!), but after each buck he gave me a chance to settle and collect myself. He didn’t feel like he was trying to dump me and well…I know my horse. He wouldn’t try to dump me. So if he wasn’t trying to dump me, why was he bucking?

I began to notice he was very sensitive along his back. That was a little weird, but he’d always been sensitive (he hates to be curried with anything other than a jelly scrubber), so alarm bells weren’t ringing yet. As the days went on he started to show signs of being very back sore. I ran my hand along his back and he flinched. That’s it, no more riding. We stuck to ground work, I called the chiropractor. I had his back and saddle fit checked, and everything seemed fine. Now I was very puzzled, he was acting back sore, but the chiropractor thought he was doing better than the fist time he saw him? What does that mean?

After speaking with an old trainer and chatting around the barn I decide to test Sam for Lyme. Massachusetts has a nasty tick population and although it was early in the season I decided it was worth a shot. The vet was coming out in a few days for spring shots so I called and asked for a Lyme test as well.

As the days went by Sam was becoming more and more sensitive to my touch and it varied day to day, sometimes it took a lot of pressure to get a reaction, sometimes I poked him to ask him to move over and he quivered. I was starting to panic. I was hearing a lot of ‘It’s just his age’ and ‘he’s giving you an attitude,’ but my gut said otherwise. After an agonizing wait I got a call from the vet. The Lyme test came back negative! Well….now what? We talked about a few options; taking him for bone scans, injections, even surgery. Now my mind was spinning. Injections? Surgery? I still didn’t even know what as wrong. It was time for a second opinion.


After consulting with my coworkers I decided to try a popular local vet. I gave them a call and arranged an appointment. The new vet started with a physical exam and listened to my concerns, and we then proceeded to do a lameness evaluation. It turned out Sam has quite a bit of arthritis in his hocks (given that he’s an off the track thoroughbred, this didn’t surprise me). We also decided to do a second test for Lyme disease. This vet chose to do a snap test. As we waited for the results we discussed our options for Sam’s hocks. We decided that while it’s possible that down the road he may need injections or more aggressive therapy, for now we would try a more gentle approach. The vet gave me a topical solution to rub on four times a day, I purchased a pair of Back on Track Hock Wraps, and I reevaluated Sam’s SmartPak and decided that SmartFlex Senior Pellets are the best choice for overall joint support for him going forward. By the time we finished developing a program for his hocks the snap test was done and it was positive. I was almost relieved to hear this, because now I know for sure what is wrong.

Sam was on IV antibiotics for five days before starting a round of oral antibiotics. It was a tough few weeks and Sam certainly didn’t appreciate me trying to force medicine mixed with applesauce in him twice a day, but it was worth it. By the end of the treatment Sam was more flexible than before the bucking had ever started. He was stretching, bending, and dare I say it, nimble! Best of all he was no longer sensitive to my touch. These days I can run my hands all over his back, and when I ride there’s no more bucking!

He still has some discomfort in his hocks, I can’t erase the damage from years of wear and tear, but with SmartFlex Senior Pellets I can maintain what he has and help keep him comfortable. I’m also using the Back on Track Hock Wraps periodically. Sam is happy because we are back in work and he can be his crazy thoroughbred self. He moves comfortably under saddle and out in the pasture. I’m happy that I have my horse back, healthy and sound.

As proof of how well Sam is doing on his new program here he is playing with his buddy Chandler (owned by fellow SmartPaker Jess!)


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