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Horse Fitness and Bucked Shins

Performance horse owners should understand and know how to prevent or treat Bucked Shins

One of the more common problems with young horses who are involved in high speed performance is what is called Bucked Shins. Muscles are attached to the bone through a tissue (membrane) called the periosteum which is attached to the bone by a dense fibrous connective tissue. A Bucked Shin occurs when the periosteum tears away from the front of the cannon bone. In young horses the anterior surface of the cannon bone is softer and less dense than in older more mature horses making it more likely that the connective tissue will tear away from the bone under the pressure involved in high speed workouts. There are many factors which affect bone density and good nutrition is critical to bone development in young horses. Exercise is also critical in bone development which means that young horses should be on an exercise program whether it is competitive playing in a large pasture or on a jogging wheel that will increase their bone density through consistent pressure on their bones while moving at an extended trot. Bones will increase in density and strength when they are put under stress. Prevention is by far the wiser and safer course and muscle and bone development is critical for all types of horse. Far too many horse owners think that early development in their horses just naturally takes place without considering the need to build a strong foundation for a future athlete.

In the mildest form of the Bucked Shin the periosteum simply tears away from the bone and a hemotoma forms just under the surface which feels like a small bump and there will be a slight amount of heat in the area. Running a finger quickly in a downward motion over the affected area will cause an immediate reaction due to the painful nature of this condition. In the slightly more serious form of the Bucked Shin, the tearing process may produce a tiny micro fracture on the surface of the bone at the tiny individual points of attachment. These micro fractures will heal rather quickly with new bone growth on the surface of the bone. The natural process is for the bone to increase in density in the area of stress. The key is to provide a certain amount of time for the bone to heal and strengthen itself. Too much rest will allow the new bone growth to be reabsorbed, negating the positive effect of the stress. Insufficient rest can cause these micro fractures to spider-web into a larger and more serious stress fracture. Once this occurs the horse will need a significant amount of time-off to allow the fracture to heal. When in doubt an x-ray can determine the degree of damage and provide the necessary information to determine the best course of action.

The other part of the damage with the Bucked Shin is in the connective tissue that attaches the periosteum to the bone. These tissues will naturally reattach themselves to the bone but usually with some scar tissue being produced in the process. As a general rule, scar tissue is stronger but less flexible than the original tissue. When you have a wound that is healing you’ve probably noticed that the scar tissue is less flexible and you may stretch and tear open the wound several times before there is enough scar tissue to cover the area without constriction. That stretching and tearing is exactly the same process necessary for the connective tissues to reattach and heal themselves without too much constriction.

There are many opinions about the best way to treat Bucked Shins. In my opinion there are four parts to the treatment process.

1: PREVENTION is by far the best method. Laying a good foundation for the development of bone density through nutrition and proper stress on the bones should begin at birth. Once a horse reaches a higher level of performance training he should be moved up as slowly as possible using a program that includes an extended trot, gallops, and speed works. Studies have shown that the slow speed jog will not produce the right kind of bone density due to the fact that the principle strain direction in the jog is different than it is for the faster working gait. The extended trot produces a strain direction in the bone that is more in line with the high speed gaits. The gallops should be no more than a mile in length and should add a speed work once a week at the end of the gallop starting with a furlong and moving up to four furlongs. My recommendation for a week of training is 2 days on the jogging wheel, 3 days of a mile gallop with 1 speed work at the end of a gallop and two days off.

2: TOPICAL MEDICATION should use a combination of hot and cold. As with all injuries the body sends its healing agents to the source of the injury in order for the body to heal itself. One of the problems with this natural process is that the fluid associated with the healing process can cause swelling and further tissue damage through pressure on the tissues. The fibrous connective tissues that are attached to the bone are bundles of fibers that work and stretch together. If there is too much swelling in the area the liquid will spread the fibers apart and produce scar tissue between the fibers. This requires a balance between reducing the swelling in the area with cold water and ice treatments and allowing the healing agents to do their job. This balance must also allow for the necessary stretching of any scar tissue through the slight re-injury of the tissues. My recommendation is to use a cold water or ice treatment on the first day and then alternate that treatment with a mild blistering agent that will create a minor injury to draw the healing agents in the body back into the area. I use a home remedy called “Tight Again” which has been very effective. The product is painted on the shaved surface of the shin and allowed to remain open to the air to avoid too much heat in the area. There are no ingredients in the product that would be harmful if ingested. It is extremely important to wash the area thoroughly before each treatment to avoid a chemical reaction that might result in an extreme blister.
Exercise your horse with our Jogging Wheel.

3: EXERCISE is a necessary part of the healing process in order to put stress on the bones and continue the bone formation that was initiated by the original stress. In addition exercise will help maintain the flexibility on the connective tissues by producing a slight tearing and then a continuation of the overall healing in the area. My recommendation is to exercise the horse every other day on the jogging wheel at an extended trot until there are signs that it is too painful to continue. This should be done on the day that you would be using the cold treatment which can be applied after the exercise period. Once the pain does not appear to be a problem on the wheel it is safe to begin the higher level of training again in a moderate fashion. It is important to watch very carefully for any signs of further pain. Many horses will work through their pain and it is the trainer’s responsibility to make sure they don’t hurt themselves further.

4: REST is the final part of the treatment process. We’ve already discussed the necessary rest between the time the injury occurs and treatment begins and the time an exercise program should be started. This again is a balance between additional injury to the area and losing the bone growth that was started when the bone became stressed. If there is any question regarding the micro fractures and a stress fracture an x-ray should be taken to determine the extent of the damage. In the case of a stress fracture the horse should be off until the fracture is completely healed. At that point they should start a rehabilitation program designed to increase the bone density before resuming any speed training. The higher level of training should follow the same increasing level of work that was part of the first training program.

At we have a jogging wheel that was designed to be safe and effective for training and rehabilitation. Please read the article at the website to understand the all benefits of this kind of exercise equipment. If you’re an owner of young horses it can aid you in building the bone and muscle foundation that will benefit them for their whole life. It will also give them the quality muscle tone that sells the horse for you. If you’re a trainer of any kind of performance horse you can benefit from an exercise program that reduces the mental and physical stress that is inherent in any kind of training program. If you’re a weekend warrior at a boarding stable you can encourage the stable to install the Trojan Horse Jogging Machine for the benefit of all their clients while increasing their source of revenue. Everyone can benefit from this kind of exercise unit, especially your horse. We also have fitness products that will increase the performance of your horse. We are particularly proud of “Pack The Power” which really puts on the muscle. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have or just talk about horses.

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