What are Bucked Shins?
The key to bucked shins is to prevent them in the first place by making sure your two year olds are not exercised past their limits. However, if you are reading this, you must already think your horse may be suffering from this painful condition. This is especially uncomfortable when you have to stand on your feet all day like your horse does. Giving your horse a break can help, but it is important to have a veterinary professional take a look. Be sure to get a veterinarian who specializes in treating horses. The cause of bucked shins is because the two-year-old bones are not fully developed yet. Racing them while the bones are still forming creates too much stress on the shin bone and causes a buildup of new delicate bone at the point of stress. This may cause stress fractures that can possibly put your horse out of racing permanently.
Bucked shins syndrome (also called dorsal metacarpal disease) in horses is a fatigue injury usually found in juvenile horses (about two years old) that are exercised at high speeds. It is really just an inflammation of the tissue on the front of the cannon bone. The breeds most often affected by bucked shins are Quarter horses, Standardbreds, and Thoroughbreds. In fact, more than 70% juvenile Thoroughbreds that are training as racehorses will develop a loading injury in their third metacarpal bone (MCIII), which is commonly called bucked shins. This usually affects young horses in their first year of training and is seen bilaterally, with the left leg being affected first if the horse is raced and trained counterclockwise. While this is not a life-threatening disease, it can be awfully painful for your horse and costly for you as an owner, especially if you plan to race your equine companion.
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Symptoms of Bucked Shins in Horses
Some horses have no symptoms at all until it turns into a fracture, but most will show at least one of these signs of bucked shin syndrome.
- Painful lower leg
- Warm lump on shin
- Favoring one leg over the others
- Inability to exercise
- Not performing as usual
- Inflammation at the front of the shin
- Type I - Pain with stiffness and refusal to run
- Type 2 - Hard painful callus on shin, refusal to run, lameness
- Type 3 - Severe pain upon touch acute on dorso-lateral aspect of MCIII because of a fracture, unable to run and even walking causes pain
Causes of Bucked Shins in Horses
The cause of bucked shins is stress on the shin bones, which is almost exclusively shown in horses about two years old that have been trained excessively at high speeds on a regular basis without enough rest.
Diagnosis of Bucked Shins in Horses
As with any diagnosis, you will need to bring your horse’s medical and vaccination records. Also, the veterinarian needs to know your horse’s history including recent illnesses and injuries. Tell the veterinarian if you have given your pet any kind of medication, what side effects you have noticed, and when they started. A complete thorough physical is done next. This will most likely include weight and height, a check for lameness, body condition score based on your pet’s body weight, blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and respiration rate.
Also included will be an examination of the eyes, teeth, nasal cavity, ears, and skin. To check your horse’s joint and muscle functions, the veterinarian will watch the way the muscles work as you or the technician walk your horse around and manipulate the joints to check for restricted movements. Radiographs (x-rays) of the legs are needed to diagnose your horse and will show inflammation, new bone growth, and possible fractures.
Treatment of Bucked Shins in Horses
The treatment depends on how serious the condition is and how well your horse is able to walk. The first and most important part of treatment is to redesign the way your horse is worked and trained to let the bones form correctly in order while allowing the new bone to heal. Short periods of rest between workouts and working up to more increased amounts of exercise over time will enable your pet’s bones to heal right. There are treatments and medications available as well such as:
Extracorporeal shock wave therapy
This procedure is done by attaching a probe to the skin and sending energy waves through the probe to the skin. Your horse will likely be under general anesthesia in case of pain, but it is usually mild and your pet should be almost pain free after the therapy.
This is a form of surgical puncturing of a fractured MCIII bone. In this procedure, approximately five to eight holes about three millimeters in diameter are drilled into the bone. The fractures are usually healed enough to train in 90 days and completely healed in less than seven months.
NSAIDS are the best medications to reduce inflammation and pain and corticosteroids may be given as well if the damage is severe and too painful to work with.
Recovery of Bucked Shins in Horses
The veterinarian will likely recommend that your horse only gets a short period of rest. Your horse’s recovery will be better if you work out at least a little bit daily. You should start by working your pet lightly for a short period of time and stay out longer every day to build up strength in the bone as it heals.