Legs and The Performance Horse

Legs and The Performance Horse

People often wonder how a horse talks to you. Well the really astute horse whisperer type might look deep into their eye. And the eye usually does communicate some form of happiness. But generally for the veterinarian and the performance or racehorse its the physical exam. And most notably the legs. Now the language used isn’t defined in a dictionary but learned through practice. And really is open to anybody to learn. But there is no doubt a veterinarian, with a good background in anatomy and physiology, has a better start than most that aren’t veterinarians. However, I have taught many people the fundamentals of the language. Its not only fairly straightforward, but associated with most top notch trainers in todays world. Yesterdays world was looking for the iron horse; todays world is pay attention to detail.

It wasn’t that long ago on the racetrack everybody was commenting on a leading trainer: “he has the good stuff”; or “what’s he using?”. Little did they know that after his horses had trained he had many out on the street jogging them, flexing their joints, going over them with a fine tooth comb. The fact is the legs will give you subtle signals as to whats going on. Even body pain can be primary or associated with a leg issue.

Today I’m looking at this horse with a massive tear in a suspensory branch. Small tears are common baby problems. But when I go to clip the area for scanning, there’s a scurf present. Somebody had been blistering the area. Somebody hadn’t been receiving the proper signals. Somebody hadn’t been watching over the legs properly. They knew there was swelling present but were clueless as to what it really represented. “Lets just paint it”. Or inject it. Well thats old school.

What are some simple things to look for? Heat. Sorta difficult at some times in Florida but early in the morning, most certainly before training, it is possible. Heat in the knee is a critical observation and can be a precursor to much more serious injury. Same with shins, maybe. and ankles. In the foot it is almost always associated with an increased digital pulse.

Pain. Well thats a big “duh” right? Well its tricky sometimes to palpate a suspensory or a tendon but do it every day and you get an idea of trends. And a little pain, any pain, in a tendon, though not always present with an injury, if it is, get it looked at right away. Suspensories, particularly in babies just being broke, can sometimes normally be a little sore. watch for trends in this area. Of course lower branch suspensory problems typically have swelling associated with them and are commonly called “sesamoiditis”. But are in fact a strain or tearing of the suspensory where it attaches to the sesamoid. Pain can also be realized quite readily in the knee or ankle by flexing the joint. And can signal serious issues in the knee. But pain can also be accentuated by flexing a joint for a minute or two and then jogging the horse off. Getting a little off the subject of “legs” pain on palpation of the body and its muscles can be very significant in the comfort and performance of a horse and many times indicate a  related leg problem.

Swelling. Many times its superficial and not related to a vital structure. And it can also be swelling in a joint. Over time, practice, and input from a veterinarian, one can learn the vital from the non-vital structures. Generally swelling with pain is going to be serious though.

So basically the idea is know your horse. If you’re too busy training horses,  train somebody else to go over your horse’s legs, daily. Squeeze the tendons and ligaments. Flex the joints. Feel for a digital pulse. Feel for heat or swelling. Take the time to find out the significance of your findings.

Then, and only then, look the horse in the eye. and feel free to ask me any question anytime; for the sake of the horse.

August 1, 2017

H.O. Ferguson, DVM