Mission Impossible: Keeping a Horse Sound
Horses have a special knack for injuring themselves…and it always seems to happen at the most inopportune time. I think that they do it on purpose right before a show, the night before a pre-purchase exam, or while you are out of town. Yep, leave it to horses to ruin the best laid out plans.
While lameness is undoubtedly inevitable at some point in a horse’s life, there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk of your horse getting injured.
There is no substitute for a thorough exam several times a day. It is a good habit to examine your horse at least before and after turnout. Run your eyes and your hands up and down the horse’s legs and body. You should be looking for any areas of swelling, heat, asymmetry, redness or discoloration, wounds, bug bites, etc. Also, make sure that your horse has the proper number of shoes on.
A Safe Environment
Monitor the environment frequently to look for hazards. The stall should be clean, well-lit and level. Stall should be large enough for a horse to lay down and get up. Generally 12 x 12 stalls are large enough. Check the walls for any nails, holes, or cracked boards. Ideally, the stall should have rubber mats underneath the shavings. This helps keep the floor level and provides both padding and traction. The walls should be kept clear. If you do hang anything
inside the stall, such as a salt block, make sure that it is high off the floor away from your horse’s delicate legs. Doors should be kept latched. The main aisle of the barn should be free from clutter and allow plenty of room for horses to be safely walked up and down the aisle.
The paddock is also another place to keep close vigilance over. An ideal paddock should be made with horse-safe fencing. The best fence is board fencing (either 3 board or 4 board). Avoid wire fences. The field should be flat and grassy. Frequently walk around the pasture looking for holes, broken fences, nails, and other hazards.
Horses should be turned out alone, or slowly introduced into a small group. Often times injuries are caused by flying hooves as horses “get to know each other” and work out their status in the herd.
The same rules apply to your riding space. Pick a flat space that is designed for riding, such as an arena, with safe footing. The footing should not be too deep, hard, or sloppy. Avoid working on wet grass as it can be very slippery. An indoor arena is ideal because it protects you and the footing from the elements.
It is always a good idea to have a change of scenery and hack out on a trail. If you do leave the arena, make sure that you are riding in a safe place and keep an eye on the ground for potential dangers such as holes, rocks and debris.
Become friends with your farrier
The hoof is literally the foundation of your horse. If you do not take good care of your horse’s hooves you could be asking for a disaster. Horses require trims every 5-6 weeks. Not all horses need to wear shoes, but if your horse has sensitive feet or is working hard, chances are they could benefit from some shoes. Talk to your farrier about your type and frequency of riding as well as your horse’s health and medical concerns. Farriers are often very skilled and together you can work out a plan that is best for your horse and you. I recommend making a set schedule with your farrier and make proper hoof care a routine.
Between shoeing, make sure to pick the hooves often. Not only can stones get lodged into the hoof and cause discomfort, but if the hoof is exposed to “unhygienic” environments such as excessive mud and manure then it can predispose the foot to conditions such as thrush. There are also a variety of hoof conditioners and supplements rich in Biotin and Omega fatty acids which can help maintain hoof health.
Boots and wraps are designed to support and protect those delitate tendons and ligaments however, sometimes they can do more harm than good. Boots absolutely have their place, and horses should wear them for protection when jumping and facing dangerous obstacles. However, ill fitting boots and wraps can cause injury by placing uneven pressure over the tendon. If you use wraps or boots make sure they fit and are put on properly.
Similarly, horses that are being shipped or trailered are often protected with standing wraps or shipping boots. Personally, I prefer shipping boots because they are less likely to fall down or slip. But I also weigh my decision “to boot or not” based on the horses comfort. If it is extremely hot or the horse has sensitive skin, I will not use them because they can get very toasty on a warm day and cause some dermatitis.
Your decision whether to use boots or wraps is an individual decision based on your skills, your horses needs and the degree of danger that he/she will face. Just keep in mind some of the points that I have brought up when making your decision.
You cannot expect your horse to walk out of the stall after an entire winter off and be ready to run the Kentucky Derby. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Horses need to build muscle, endurance and cardiovascular fitness. If muscles are over-strained by improper conditioning it could result in injuries to the tendons and ligaments. Gradually building your horse’s fitness will help reduce the chance of injury.
Horses could hurt themselves in a padded room, so at the end of the day all you can do is your best. Keep your horse in a safe environment, observe them carefully, take good care of their feet, and then cross your fingers that they can stay sound. Good luck!!