My green Warmblood True, like most youngsters, has these beautiful lower legs with clear definition between his strong tendons that brings a smile to any jumping rider’s face.
We protect those tendons on all sport horses, whether they’re reining, cutting, trail riding, driving or racing. When you start leaving the ground on your green horse, it’s important to up your game in leg protection.
About 95% of equine lamenesses are caused by injury to the lower legs or feet. Why? Because the anatomy of this area contains very long tendons and ligaments that come under a lot of strain.
The large joint above a horse’s long cannon bone is commonly called the “knee.” A more accurate term for it is the carpus, and it is actually the equivalent of a human wrist. The horse’s hoof is the equivalent of your fingers. So the tendons in his “hand” are well over a foot long, and they are used almost 24 hours a day.
Long tendons are easily weakened or injured. They twist, pull, strain, tear, or become inflamed, causing the horse to feel pain. Check your horse’s legs for heat or swelling each time you groom and tack him up. Injury to the horse’s lower leg tendons often heal with proper treatment, but usually without their original elasticity. And when they do not heal, a performance horse usually has to be retired or euthanized.
The concussion of landing from a jump with the full force of a horse’s weight on his front legs is a strain. So, if you’re jumping your horse over anything that requires him to leave the ground, protect his lower legs. My top suggestions? Boots or wraps, preventive cold therapy, and proper warming up and cooling out.
Boots—Whenever he leaves the ground to jump the lowest obstacle, True wears soft velcro boots that extend from just below his knee or carpus to just below his fetlock joint. Each one fastens in four locations to provide snug support, with the lowest fastener travelling diagonally under the fetlock and back up toward the knee to protect True’s suspensory ligament. I like this feature—most boots don’t offer suspensory protection.
Polo wraps work, too, as long as they’re wrapped with the right amount of tension—enough to stay on and provide support while jumping, but not so much that they impair circulation. They’re less expensive than boots, but take more time to apply and remove.
Cold—I also use protective cold therapy after each jumping session, though not if the jumps are less than 18” high. Cold hosing the lower leg is effective, as are ice wraps left on for 10 minutes or so while untacking and grooming the horse.
Too often, riders wait until there is some heat or swelling in a leg, a problem of some kind, before applying cold therapy. I like to use it as prevention.
Walking—The third item that will preserve your horse’s healthy legs is proper warmups and coolouts. If you were setting out to jump hurdles for half an hour, you’d warm up your body first, right? So when you begin a ride, spend about 10 minutes at a walk. Follow with some trotting and cantering before you begin jumping.
At the end of the training session, cool the horse by walking on a loose rein for at least 10 minutes before you dismount. Why? Because blood tends to pool in a horse’s lower legs when exercise stops suddenly. That can aggravate minor problems that might be invisible to you—micro-tears in muscle fibers, for example.
Walking allows the blood to return to other parts of the horse’s body, lightening the load in his legs. It also allows his breathing and heartbeat to return to normal before he comes to a standstill.
For the same reason, avoid standing when resting for a minute or two between jump sessions. Many riders practice over a low course, for example, then stand and wait while another horse works or while listening to their trainer’s advice. After standing still for a few minutes, they go back to work for more practice. To maintain good equine leg health, walk your horse at an easy pace on a loose rein while waiting or listening.
These simple standards of care become easy habits quickly. The protective equipment lasts for years if kept clean, and consistent warmups and coolouts should be part of every training session whether it includes jumping or not.
These practices protect and maintain the health of True’s legs. Prettiest tightest legs in the world!
- Pre-Checks for Jumping
- One Little Pole on the Ground
- Raised Poles
- Pole Sequences
- Leaving the Ground
Brain-Based Horsemanship is a weekly column that chronicles Janet Jones, PhD, and her journey with True, a Dutch Warmblood she trained from age three using neuroscience best practices. Read more about brain-based training in Jones’ award winning book Horse Brain, Human Brain.
A version of this story originally appeared on janet-jones.com. It is reprinted here with permission.