California Riding Magazine • September, 2009

Recognizing the Horse in Pain...
And What You Can Do About It!
Dr. Joanna Robson of Inspiritus Equine, Inc. introduces her new book and DVD.

by Kathleen Burke Jensen

Dr. Joanna Robson, DVM, CVSMT, CMP, CVA, SFT of Napa is a veterinarian, owner of Inspiritus Equine, Inc. and founder of Integrated Soundness Solutions™, a practice and philosophy whereby the best healing modalities from many systems and multiple professionals provide an integrated, sound equine body and mind.

Robson helps clients learn to recognize signs of equine pain and saddle-fitting problems that can damage their horse. Signs of equine pain include an “off” horse with an unidentified problem, a horse resistant to work or having trouble with its leads, a horse that threatens to bite when saddled or tosses its head and leans on the bit. A saddle that slides forward or constantly shifts while riding is a definite sign of an ill-fitting saddle.

Checking channel width on a dressage saddle.

A graduate of the Washington State University Honors Veterinary Medicine Program, Robson specializes in veterinary acupuncture, veterinary spinal manipulative therapy, Chinese herbal medicine, saddle-fitting and infrared thermography. An avid rider and jumper competitor, Robson has dedicated her life to the compassionate understanding of the horse to eliminate equine pain and maximize performance and longevity.

It is Robson’s experience that people often don’t recognize that their horses are in pain unless they have an obvious head-nodding lameness. However, many changes progress slowly over time as the horses try to do what is asked of them until they can no longer cope. With this type of pain, muscle is lost or performance diminishes until the horse becomes dull, anxious or aggressive. Even then, the horse owner may know there is a problem but they don’t know what to do about it and can’t find resources to help.

Buckskin mare in terrible pain when saddled.

Robson dedicated herself to writing a book and making a DVD to educate the horse world and help riders struggling with these issues: Recognizing the Horse in Pain...And What You Can Do About It! Robson states, “When the frequently recommended treatment of bute and stall rest doesn’t fix the problem, horse owners often turn to unwarranted joint injections or harsh training gadgets instead of recognizing that the horse functions as a whole. The hooves affect the shoulders, which affect the back, which affects the hocks, which affect engagement. Rider imbalance affects the horse’s center of gravity, which affects their ability to do their job. Pinching saddles dig into shoulder blades, causing choppy, short strides, head-tossing and sunken backs.

“I always ask my clients if their shoes are too tight and pinching, do they wear thicker socks in them to treat blisters?” explains Robson. “So why do we use thicker saddle pads under saddles that are already too narrow?”

Recognizing the Horse in Pain...And What You Can Do About It! is formatted to present basic anatomy, a chapter dedicated to case examples of behavioral and training issues related to pain (biting when saddled, hollow-backed, tail swishing, grinding the bit, lead problems and more), the anatomy of saddle fit and how to properly fit a saddle, hoof balance, acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic and other non-invasive therapies and supplements.

Veterinary acupuncture is used to alleviate performance problems.

The book is true to life and includes real cases and real client quotes. The DVD was edited by Kathryn Lauritzen (creator of the Bay Area Equestrian Network 2-Minute How-To videos), and adds visual learning of these topics, with emphasis on saddle-fit and how it relates to equine performance and understanding integrative medicine.

The book and DVD contain similar information, and also topics unique to each; they are designed to be complementary. “We even have a blooper reel on the DVD,” says Robson. “How can you make a great movie without out-takes?”

Robson is a sought-after lecturer for events such as Equitana™ and Equine Affaire™. She is a board member of the Equine Thermal Imaging Institute™, a technical advisor to EquineIR™ and an active veterinary member of Saddlefit4Life®. She works closely with world-class Certified Master Saddlers, industry-leading farriers, winning trainers in dressage and hunter/jumper riding, and academic leaders in complementary veterinary medicine.

For more information, or to order Recognizing the Horse in Pain...And What You Can Do About It! book and DVD, visit and