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Are you doing more bad than good by pushing him?

Effects of training too hard, too soon

Are you doing more bad than good by pushing him?

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s very exciting to have the opportunity to school a young horse and see the progress through many hours of training, time and effort. However, all too often riders and trainers get carried away too quickly, and we subject the young horse to injury – not intentionally, but it can happen nonetheless. We explore the main training injuries sustained by young horses and the potential causes and consequences.

Growing up


Horses take a long time to develop completely, and often as riders and trainers we tend to disregard the importance of allowing a young horse to develop fully and the limits to what our training should include, taking into consideration the horse’s age, anatomy and development. This does not mean we cannot do anything with our horses until they’re fully grown, but we need to be mindful of the level of training that we ask. Here we highlight the process of fusing growth plates:

BirthDistal phalanx (coffin bone)
Birth to 6 monthsMiddle phalanx (short pastern bone)
6 months to 1 yearProximal phalanx (long pastern bone)
8 months to 1.5 yearsMetacarpals/metatarsals (fetlock and cannon bones)
1.5 to 2.5 yearsCarpal bones (‘knee’)
2 to 2.5 yearsRadius, ulna (forearm)
2.5 to 3 yearsFemur, tibia (hind leg)
3 to 3.5 yearsHumerus, femur
3 to 4 yearsIschium, ilium and sacrum (pelvis)
3.5 to 4 yearsScapula and top neck vertebrae (shoulder and neck)
4 yearsTarsal bones (hock)
5.5 to 8 yearsVertebrae (the larger the horse and the longer the neck, the longer it takes for the growth plates to close up along the back)

Suspensory ligament injuries

The suspensory ligament runs down the back of the cannon bone from just below the knee (or hock), splitting into two branches that pass around the back of the cannon bone (around the fetlock area) and end at the front of the long pastern bone at the front of the leg above the coronary band. The suspensory ligament supports the lower leg/ankle joint as it sinks under weight and returns to normal when the weight comes off, as the horse walks, trots and canters. Suspensory ligament injuries occur if your horse overloads the leg. The injury may be mild, where a few of the ligament’s tough collagen fibres tear, but repeated stress will make it worse.

In a severe injury, the ligament may rupture or even fracture bone as it tears away. Young horses are at risk due to their limited schooling and footing experience, particularly when jumping or travelling at faster gaits. Dressage horses are also at risk, as there is a lot of strain on the hind legs.

Signs that your horse may have sustained a suspensory ligament injury include possible lameness (although not always present), heat around the leg, swelling or sensitivity to touch. Your vet will be able to identify the problem through the use of nerve blocks (see the article in HQ121), ultrasounds or even x-rays. Treatment usually includes cold hosing, hydrotherapy, stable rest and short in-hand walks.

A suspensory ligament injury can take anything from six weeks to over a year to heal. Exercise should always be reintroduced gradually and under veterinary advice.

The full article appears in the Young Horse Guide issue (May122) of HQ > Shop now