by Marilyn Munzert
If you compete in intense sport, such as barrel racing, cutting, reining or working cow horse, your mount is at risk for a lower-leg injury. However, being aware of your discipline’s dangers and taking the necessary precautions and help beat the odds of him getting sidelined for the season.
The number of cases of leg injuries has been reduced significantly in recent years due to the selective breeding for specific qualities, improved management and shoeing techniques, and more gentle training methods. However, horse owners need to ride with caution.
Because 60 to 70 percent of a horse’s weight is carried on the forehand, most lower-leg injuries occur in the front legs. Lower-leg injuries commonly afflict the tendons and ligaments, also known as soft or connective tissues. These vital structures support, stabilize and flex joints, aid in movement and absorb concussion. However, when the pressure is beyond the structure’s strength, tears and strains occur, causing swelling, heat, pain and lameness.
To prevent fatigue, condition your horse for your event. A weekend trail horse doesn’t require the intensive training of an endurance horse. Condition for mental and physical fitness by working the horse four to five consecutive days a week. First walk off the freshness, then build to loping. Frequently allow the horse to stop and breathe. Spending one day a week grooming the horse and allowing him to stand tied is good for his mental state. Allowing one day of rest is just as important as five days of work.
An adequate warm up will allow his muscles, tendons and ligaments to become flexible to withstand the demands placed upon them. Take several minutes to walk, trot and lope the horse. After riding, walk the horse until he is breathing normally and isn’t warm to the touch. Then allow him to stand tied for another 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t apply cold water to major muscles immediately after work, or you could cause cramping or tying up.
Although injuries occur in competition, a majority of horses are injured during training or schooling due to unbalanced movement, repetitive motion and fatigue.