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If The Shoe Fits #6

Randy Sublett

Horse racing. Everyone wants to know one thing about horse racing. Which horse is going to win? Nobody can be absolutely sure which horse will be the winner of any given race, as there are many variables such as breeding, conformation, training, jockey, etc. However there seems to be a trait that is common among many winning race horses - the conformation of the lower leg. This is by no means the only factor that makes for a fast horse, but it seems that a relatively short cannon bone combined with a long pastern makes for a faster horse.

In our theoretically ideal horse, the long pastern bone is about one third the length of the cannon bone. The function of the long pastern bone is to increase flexibility in the fetlock joint, thereby reducing the amount of concussion received by the cannon bone. However, horses with a pastern slightly longer than average have the capability of a bit more speed because of increased leverage the fetlock joint creates. The length and angle of the fetlock joint, combined with this joint's flexibility and the angle and flexibility of the shoulder and upper limb, influence the horse's gait tremendously. On the contrary, a horse with a very long pastern combined with a low angle can develop bowed tendons and other unsoundness. Of course without a pastern bone there would be no fetlock joint and the horse would be an animal incapable of carrying its own weight, let alone a rider. The next time you have the chance, look closely at the fetlock joint as a horse walks. You will clearly see the cannon bone descend as the tendons and ligaments of the fetlock joint stretch to absorb the weight of the animal, with or without a rider. When a horse is at a full gallop, the amount of weight per square inch of hoof sole is huge and if it were not for the fetlock joint the shoulder of the animal would be propelled straight up through the withers. The end result would not be pretty.

Fatigue, overexertion, unequal weight distribution on the feet and legs, poor surface conditions, racing around turns and lack of conditioning, combined with poor conformation can result in bowed tendons. Thus bowed tendons are the most common lameness found in race horses. No, I am not saying that all horses with bowed tendons have poor conformation. However, the conformation mentioned above will predispose many animals to bowed tendons.

There are three stages of bowed tendons: first is the soft tendon, followed by the hard tendon and ultimately, the stage where the tendon shows swelling. The tendon we are speaking of is called the superficial flexor tendon, which we will detail in another article, and is located on the back of the cannon bone. It is possible to bow the deep flexor tendon, but that occurs under different conditions, such as pulling or pushing hard. To be quite honest with you, I have a hard time determining the first stages of bowed tendon, and the diagnosis of every lameness of the horse should always be determined by a veterinarian.

The treatment of bowed tendons varies. I have found two schools of thought. One school says to lower the heel when the tendon is first bowed in order to keep pressure on it, and the other recommends raising the heel at first and then gradually lower it. I tend to go with the second group because (usually a horse will tell the farrier what to do) horses with bowed tendons will almost always rest the leg by standing on the toe of the hoof. This relieves the tension on the tendon. So I usually put on a shoe that has heel only and in advanced cases, what is called a Patten shoe. This is a shoe that has an extremely elevated heel. The important thing to remember here is if your horse comes up lame, call the vet and he or she will diagnose and recommend treatment.

Randy welcomes comments or questions about his articles.

Randy Sublett
P.O. Box 9
Telluride, CO 81435

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