Spotting and treating equine shin splints
Equine shin splints can be a problem that causes plenty of pain to the animal and also plenty of stress to you, the horse’s owner. You horse can be performing perfectly in training and outside of the paddock. However, if this crippling problem suddenly flares up - which it can do - then the pain can be debilitating for your horse.
Horse shin splints need to be treated quickly. If the problem is neglected then it can cause a horse major injury and even lameness. Here is some useful information about equine shin splints and how you can work towards preventing and treating them.
The shin is an extremely delicate and fragile area of the horse’s body. The consequences of this ailment can be extremely serious, and although treatment is not particularly costly, the hassle that comes in terms of loss of training and exercise can be difficult to negotiate.
Shin splints occur when horses experience over-exertion during exercise or if this area of the body experiences a hard impact against hard or uneven terrain. In medical terms, a shin splint is simply a stress fracture of the front leg bones. They can be extremely painful and sensitive for a horse, so you’ll need to call off any training as soon as the problem occurs.
The key to being able to prevent shin splints is to know how and why they occur, which is mentioned above. When exercising a young horse, the use of sport-medicine boots is very effective in shin splints prevention. They not only prevent shin splints from forming but they also help to reduce any potential for tendon and/or ligament damage.
However, the most effective way to prevent shin splints is to avoid excessive exercise when the horse is still young, especially in a round pen as the circular motion can cause shin splints and other tendon damage. A horse is not fully grown until it is four years old. Riding your horse and doing some light lunging is encouraged but keep round pen work to an absolute minimum for effective shin splint prevention.
Jumping is one of the most likely causes of equine shin splints. The best way is simply to avoid any jumping until the horse is fully grown. If a horse does develop shin splints and they are warm to the touch (known as a ‘hot splint’) then allow the horse a couple of days to rest. This will stop the shin splint from getting any worse and it will avoid any potential and unnecessary pain for the horse.
In terms of treatment, there is very little you or a vet can do (bar providing common painkillers) to resolve the problem. The best strategy to allow the shin splints to heal is to allow a horse to rest. This can obviously be very frustrating for any horse owner, especially if you’re regularly competing in competitions, but a little patience is vital to allow a horse to return to full health. In some cases, a horse may not be able to return to full training for over a year – but if the horse is going to stand any chance of flourishing in training again, rest and minimal turnout is vital.
Make sure the fragile shin area is protected by thick bandages as this will help to prevent any accidental contact cause further damage to the horse. Try and plan regular massage sessions for this area of the leg to help subside the pain and test the sensitivity of the horse.
Finally, when the horse seems strong enough to return to light turnout, make sure the horse wears protective gear around these fragile bones. Remember, it’s always best to take a calm, considered approach to the treatment of horse shin splints, even if recovery takes a long time.