Thursday 21 February 2019

The foundations of soundness

This is a post, fundamentally, about how to keep a horse sound.

It will come as no surprise to most of you, I suspect, that in my experience soundness in a horse is built from the ground upwards.

In other words, a horse has to be able to load its bodyweight  - that great mass of several hundred kilos, several feet up in the air - onto its relatively tiny hooves in the most balanced way possible in order to avoid injury.

Even when a horse is simply standing, there is a tremendous load - his whole bodyweight - being transferred to a very small surface area - his four hooves. Once you add in movement the load immediately increases and the faster the speed, the greater the load and the greater the force on the tendons and ligaments of the limbs.

Other factors, such as hard ground, jumping or uneven surfaces can also put further stress on soft tissue.

For all horses, whatever their work level and whatever stage they are at in their training, it is essential to ensure that their feet are as balanced as possible.

On a balanced foot the risk of injury is reduced because the tendons and ligaments of both the hoof and the limb are able to function as effectively as possible and provide the maximum support.

When I film horses (either at my workshops or when horses come here) it is dynamic balance I am looking for - does the horse land heel first, is his medio-lateral balance correct, are his hooves supporting his limbs and body in the best possible way?

Very often there is a problem which can be seen in slow motion and the horse has a history of lameness. It can also be a warning sign that something needs to be improved before the horse is asked to work harder or faster.

On a couple of occasions a horse with less-than-perfect foot balance has been sound at the time of filming but has developed an injury a few months later. Like us, horses can compensate for a while but a compensation causes strain on other soft tissue and is rarely sustainable in the long term.

So do take the time to check how your horse is landing -  film on your phone and assess his foot balance. Check it in motion because hooves are built to move and it is once a horse is moving that his foot balance either starts to help him or make him more prone to injury.