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Why Are There So Many Lame Horses Around?


Why are there so many lame horses today?


There is a growing concern within the equine industry regarding the amount of lame horses across all disciplines. Why is this? Technology, pharmaceuticals and horsey “gadgets” are advancing at a growing rate, yet the amount of stories I’m hearing from owners and their friends regarding the amount of lame horses is astounding and sad.


What are we missing?


Horses are the most kind, honest and willing animal on this planet and give us so much joy when we are in their presence. I’m going to share some of the thoughts below about why I believe there are so many lame horses across all disciplines.




On a weekly basis, I see clients losing their faith and trust in the veterinary and paraprofessional industry. Why are there so many stories emerging about horses being diagnosed with chronic and in some cases career ending conditions, only six months to a year post purchase, despite having had a five stage vetting?


I know so many horse owners that are frightened to go to their veterinarian for further investigation, because they are apprehensive about the outcome and the costs involved. As we all know, owning a horse is a very expensive passion and hobby, and most of the time, it is not the initial cost of buying a horse that is expensive, It is the management and caring for the horse that is often the biggest expense.



Having grown up in the industry, as an owner, rider, groom and practitioner for over 20 years, I believe that we need to come together as an industry and focus on communication and education. It is never too late to change and I do not believe in blaming people, however I do strongly feel that we can not keep going the way we are. Below are my main points about how we can solve this growing issue of lame horses in the industry.



BREEDING



As much as my heart melts when I see foals running round, I do believe that we are breeding without correct education and understanding on the link between conformation, injury and performance longevity. How many of you have heard stories about people owning a mare that is classified as “unrideable and chronically lame” and have been advised that the best thing to do is to breed from that mare. My first question for this situation would be :


Why is this horse and unrideable ?


Why is she chronically lame?


If the answer is down to her conformation, this mare should not be bred from. Is the foal going to miraculously have better conformation?


I believe we should be breeding for performance longevity focusing on conformation instead of breeding for the sake of it. There is a growing focus on big exaggerated front limb movement despite the horse being narrow behind and needing veterinary Intervention to maintain their performance.


How many of you are noticing how big and weak horses are becoming?


If we look back 20 years ago, horses were under 16.2hh and had a “leg in each corner”. This wider postural stance allowed horses to sustain training with less risk of injury, compared to a narrow and taller posture which is predisposing horses to injury.



TRAINING


After the correct breeding regarding conformation and performance has been established, the next important point is training and management.


What is the ideal age to start riding your horse?


The answer to this question is individual to the horse in front of you. As we all know most horses are started between the ages of 2-5 years old depending on their breed and discipline. I believe we should be starting horses dependent on their conformation. There is growing research and evidence supporting the fact that we are starting horses too young across disciplines.


What Does Research Say?


“The effect of early training and the adaptation and conditioning of skeletal tissues”

BySmith and Goodship (2008)



“Effects of early exercise on Metacarpophalangeal joints in horses.”

By Kawcak et al (2010)


Only a small study of 12 horses aged 18 months of the same breed. This study found that horses performing specific exercises starting at 3 weeks of age until 18 months of age may be protective to certain joints, compared to horses starting exercise at 18months of age. These findings were preliminary and done on a very small sample size requiring more research on the effect of the articular cartilage matrix.



“The response of bone, articular cartilage and tendon to exercise in the horse” By Firth (2006)


This review paper summaries that the effect of training on the anatomical or patho- anatomical connective tissue structures is affected by the type, timing and amount of natural or imposed exercise on young horses.



“The risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries in thoroughbred racehorses in Queensland, Australia. How these vary for two-year-old and older horses and with type of injury” By Crawford et al (2021)



This comprehensive study looked at data from 202 cases and 202 matched controls analysing patterns. In summary the study recommended close monitoring for signs of injury and that by increasing the number of days thoroughbreds performed slow pace exercise and in some cases day off from work prevented injury.





I believe that starting a horse does not only involve riding the horse. Ground work, trust and partnership should be the foundation of starting horses. In my opinion and experience as a rider and practitioner, I believe that corrective ground work training no matter what age is fundamental to reducing the risk of injury, by focusing on postural strength and stability both statically and dynamically. There is a real lack of education amongst horse owners into the correct way of performing ground work. The term lunging has many negative and misunderstood connotations. Allowing your horse to run freely on the lunge on a circle smaller than 20 m will increase the risk of acute and chronic injury. Compared to controlled exercises from the ground (with no training aids) performed with quality not quantity will reduce your horse’s risk of injury.


How many of you understand the importance of corrective exercises from the ground?


Can you honestly say that you are skilled at ground work?


Instead of always having riding lessons, should we be concentrating on having lessons to improve our ground work? I believe that this is one of the solutions to reducing lameness in our horses. Learning how to perform ground work effectively with your horse will provide many benefits.


Benefits of ground work:


  • Training and education

  • Develop strength and stability through their back and core

  • Observation

  • Partnership and trust

  • Improve Posture

  • Varies exercise - fun




MANAGEMENT & NUTRITION


Here in the UK, the population of people and horses is increasing which means that space is becoming limited. As we all know horses are natural grazes that if left to their free will, would cover miles of grassland in a day. Most horse owners understand the importance turn out, however there is a lack of understanding regarding nutritional content and management of grassland.


Why is this important ?


There are four seasons in a year, which means that there are nutritional changes in the environment at least four times a year.


How many owners sample the soil that the horse grazes on?


How many of you add or remove supplements depending on the season?


Once we educate ourselves and understand the importance of this seasonal change and what effect it has on the nutritional content and value of food and grassland, we can alter our feeding to support this seasonal change.




PARAPROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION



The communication between paraprofessionals within the equine industry is limited. Despite the common knowledge that paraprofessionals should be communicating, in reality this is not happening.


Why?


Many paraprofessionals I speak to admit that it is due to a lack of time. We are all busier than ever in today’s society however, what impact is this having on our four-legged friends? I do not have the answer to this problem however, I believe that one solution could be a database whereby all qualified and registered paraprofessionals who provide service to your horse should upload their findings so that knowledge and education can be shared. In the meantime, another solution could be that we take responsibility as horse owners to note down and record what each professional has advised.



Solutions To Communication:


  • Group chats

  • Phone calls

  • Emails - google drive folder

  • Log Book



Why is paraprofessional communication so important?



Communication between paraprofessionals is paramount because it allows a collect support network for your horse. There are many different professionals working on one horse;


  • Vet

  • Dentist

  • Farrier

  • Practitioner (Chiro, Osteo, Physio)

  • Saddler

  • Nutritionist

  • Trainer



Each professional must be qualified and regulated to give you expert advice. However, without sharing their knowledge between one another, I believe that most owners are left feeling confused and frustrated with the amount of advice. I am sad and baffled by this reality because fundamentally, each paraprofessional dedicates years of studying and investment towards improving the lives of horses.



In conclusion, it is our responsibility as horse owners, riders and paraprofessionals to come together as an industry and support one another, but also to educate ourselves in preventative strategies to reduce injury and increase performance longevity for horses.

In my opinion I believe that focusing on breeding for conformational performance longevity, corrective ground -work training at an early age with individualised management through corrective nutrition we will see less lame horses.




For more information please do not hesitate to to contact me:






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