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What is Over-Reaching?

Horses that are repeatedly over-reaching need to be evaluated by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will help determine why the horse’s gait is not normal.  Lacerations caused by over-reaching can become infected and untreated lacerations can also lead to tissue damage. Additionally, the bruising and cuts are very painful to your horse.

Over-reaching in horses happens when the horse’s hind foot hits the heel bulb region of the front foot.  The continual strikes to the front foot causes bruising and lacerations to the heel bulb.

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Symptoms of Over-Reaching in Horses

Symptoms of over-reaching may include:

  • Hind foot hits the front heel bulb area
  • Abnormal gait
  • Laceration on the front foot
  • Shoe is pulled off
  • Lameness

Causes of Over-Reaching in Horses

Causes of over-reaching in horses can be from:

  • Fatigue
  • Improper riding of the horse 
  • Injury to the front leg
  • Sore muscles
  • Improper shoeing
  • Young horse not use to being ridden
  • Riding the horse on loose soil or sand

Diagnosis of Over-Reaching in Horses

The horse’s exercise regimen will need to be discussed with your equine veterinarian. To begin the diagnosis, he may want to see the horse walked on a lead rope or he may ask you to ride your horse so he can view the over-reaching at walk, trot, and canter.

The veterinarian will then perform a full physical examination including taking the horse’s blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature. A reflex test and palpation of the limbs and muscles will be important in order to feel for heat and to assess the range of motion. The veterinarian may also want to use hoof testers to apply pressure to different areas of the hoof. If your horse withdraws his foot while the veterinarian is applying pressure, it is a good indication that the patient is experiencing pain.

The veterinarian may want to have a complete blood count drawn on the horse to rule out infection. The veterinarian may also recommend taking x-rays of the front and back legs; this imaging tool can help determine if there is cartilage damage.

Treatment of Over-Reaching in Horses

Lacerations on the horse’s legs must be cleaned. The veterinarian may apply an antibiotic ointment and bandage the wound.  The veterinarian will discuss with you how often the bandage should be changed.  Oral antibiotic medications may be prescribed as a preventative to a bacterial infection.  If the lacerations are severe, the horse will be restricted from activities and may also be prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication.

If there is cartilage damage, your horse will be on a period of extended rest; approximately 6-8 weeks.  He will be prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. The veterinarian may suggest using an ankle boot to protect the foot.

If the equine is young, the veterinarian may recommend using bell boots when the horse is training.  Bell boots are also called over-reach boots.  The boots will help prevent bruising and lacerations to the bulb area of the foot.

Older horses that are over-reaching, may need to partake in less exercise activity.  Often,, fatigue in a senior horse is caused by anemia. Anemic patients will be prescribed vitamins, B-12 injections and dietary supplement.

The veterinarian may also recommend that your horse be seen by a professional and experienced farrier. If there is a foot imbalance, it can be corrected by trimming and correctly shoeing the horse. Horses should be seen by a farrier every 6-8 weeks. 

New riders may benefit from taking a few riding classes from a professional instructor.  Riding instructors can also evaluate riding skills and offer helpful tips. Improper leg pressure or the misuse of the reins can confuse a horse, which may result in injury to you and/or the horse.

Recovery of Over-Reaching in Horses

Most horses make full recovery from over-reaching.  Follow up visits will be necessary to monitor the patient’s progress.  The veterinarian may want to retake a complete blood count (CBC) to ensure there is no longer a bacterial infection.  The lacerations will need to be checked to be sure they are healing properly. If there was cartilage damage, the veterinarian will recommend retaking x-rays and may want to review your horse while at walk, trot, and canter in order to be certain that the condition has resolved completely.