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The bones of a young horse are spongy, fiber bone, not strong dense bone. The repeated, high impact training can result in increased inflammation and metabolic changes within the bones. The bone begins to break down or hemorrhage, causing stress fractures, swelling and potential lameness.
Most shin soreness can be alleviated with rest and a cold compress, but occasionally the shin soreness is a result of a more serious problem that could end a young horse’s racing or performance career.
The shin of a horse is very similar to a human’s shin or the front of the cannon bone just below the knee. Too much stress on that shin can lead to soreness. Shin soreness will develop when the front of the cannon bones in the forelegs are subjected to high impact training. Young race horses are most affected due to the galloping at a high speed on hard tracks. This causes distortion and flexion within the cannon bones.
Changes within the forelegs of your horse may be mild and can go undetected for some time until the inflammation within the bones builds significantly. Daily examinations done by you or a trainer will help to bring any changes to attention. Once you notice any changes, contact your veterinarian for a full assessment and consultation. Symptoms to look for associated with shin soreness include:
Lameness does not always present right away. Heat within the shin is one of the first symptoms that many owners notice, followed by a stiff front or a shortened stride.
Shin soreness occurs when the cannon bone attempts to repair any damage caused by high impact exercise that has overloaded the forelegs. The cannon bones will grow new, spongy bone when the bones breakdown. This causes inflammation, swelling and soreness within the front of the cannon bones or the shins.
Race horses and other performance horses that are trained on hard, compacted dirt tracks are much more likely to develop shin soreness. Young horses are also more likely to develop shin soreness due to the pliability of their bones. Horses trained on turf tracks can still develop shin soreness but are much less likely to do so.
Your veterinarian will begin their assessment by doing a thorough physical examination. They will also ask you to describe your horse’s training regimen and the track that your horse currently trains on.
X-rays will also be needed to look for hairline fractures and any secondary bone formations within the forelegs. Based on the findings from the x-rays, your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your horse’s needs.
Your horse will need to be stall rested to avoid the risk of any long term damage to the cannon bones. Your veterinarian will give you detailed instructions on the duration of stall rest recommended as well as a schedule for limited exercise or activity.
Cold compresses using ice packs may be recommended for your horse. The cold compress should be applied to the affected shin two or three times a day for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. This will help reduce inflammation and ease discomfort.
Phenylbutazone may be needed to help with pain and inflammation. Phenylbutazone is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Once the inflammation and the pain have diminished, your veterinarian will most likely re-examine your horse’s cannon bones. This is done to assess the severity of any secondary bone deposits that may have developed.
Your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan and also an expected timeline for returning to a full training regimen. Be sure to follow the treatment plan as it is prescribed and direct any questions concerning your horse’s prognosis or treatments to your attending veterinarian.
It can be relatively easy to prevent shin soreness. Good horse management and not pushing a young horse’s training too quickly are important. Do not train a horse on a hard, compact track, rather use a turf or wood fiber track. When training, do not force your horse to corner in small radiuses to limit the amount of strain on the cannon bones.
Allow your horse to have plenty of rest in a soft floored stall in between high impact training sessions. Specialty stall flooring can be installed to cushion your horse’s legs and alleviate undue stress on the leg bones and joints.
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