Now that summer is here and the eventing season is in full swing, horse owners should be on the lookout for a condition that affects horses in fast work.
Sore shins are an occupational hazard for horses worked at speed, even on good ground, especially racehorses and eventers. This bone pain is caused by the bone tissue’s response as it adapts to the stress and impact of fast work.
The bones actually change markedly as the horse’s training program progresses in order to cope with the massive forces placed upon them as the horse gallops. As the changes take place, there may be some pain which ultimately manifests itself as sore shins, or dorsal metacarpal disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Although the horse may not actually be lame, you will notice some heat and pain affecting the front side of the horse’s cannon bones. The horse may appear stiff and work with a shortened stride. Lameness is not usually obvious as the condition affects both forelimbs, and riders often describe an affected horse as feeling ‘not quite right’ when ridden. Sometimes, x-rays may be taken and these will often show the formation of new bone tissue on the front of the cannon bones. Occasionally, fractures may be discovered on the front of the bone as a consequence of sore shins.
Prevention and Treatment
It’s much better to prevent sore shins than to treat them. Once a horse has developed the condition, it is usually treated with oral anti-inflammatories or topical ‘leg ice’ preparations. Cold hosing is also thought to be beneficial in providing some pain relief.
It’s extremely important that you cease any fast work with your horse immediately if you think he might be developing sore shins in order to prevent further damage. You must allow the bone a chance to recover and repair which is best achieved through allowing the horse to rest. Swimming is ideal in order to maintain cardiovascular fitness during layoffs without placing undue stress on the horse’s limbs, although the majority of amateur riders do not have access to an equine swimming facility.
There is no proven method of preventing horses from developing sore shins other than by avoiding prolonged fast work. Fast work on hard or uneven ground should be avoided at all costs as this can lead to other foot and limb conditions in addition to sore shins.
However, evidence suggests that horses which do not gallop as part of their training regime are at a much greater risk of suffering serious fractures. US researchers suggest that regular fast work over short distances makes it less likely for horses to develop sore shins. Interval training is recommended as the best method of conditioning horses without placing undue stress on their limbs which could cause the problem to develop.
Sore shins can develop through prolonged periods of fast work even on good ground. Instead, consider using interval training to get your horse fit and avoid working on sun-hardened going or uneven trails.
Image source: jmbets.ca
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