Does the trail horse need the same level of leg care as a sport horse?
Over the years, I have given a lot of “Leg Care” talks at expos, tack stores, barn chats, Pony Club meetings. These talks generally cover the following wonderful topics -
- How to do the daily leg inspection.
- Leg care for exercise and shipping - bandaging, wrapping, boots, polos, protection and WHY.
- Post exercise leg care.
- Weird things you can find on your horse’s legs, like splints.
Here we are billy goating our way through the woods, dodging and weaving and avoiding the roots.
Inevitably, I’m always asked if this leg care is necessary for the trail horse. Or a backyard horse that they only ride on the weekends. (Read this about caring for the weekend warrior horse!) Or an older horse that they just casusally ride around on.
My answer is simple - in most cases, these horses need more care than the top sport or high performance horse, for a few reasons!
- Trail horses usually do their jobs on some really uneven terrain. It can vary from deep sand, to concrete like trails covered in rocks. Nothing is level. When the trails are hard, this creates concussion in the legs. When they are rocky, stone bruises are a real possibility. Deep footing, like sand or mud, strains and stretches the tendons and ligaments. There is a lot of soft tissue being moved around and stretched!
This trail, while level, boasts tons of bruise producing rocks. Protective boots are your horse's friend.
- Top athletic sport horses have the highest level of fitness. Many (but not all) of the trail horses and weekend warrior horses maintain a much lower level of fitness. This can put them at greater risk of injury - as their bodies are not conditioned for stress and exercise. Think of it this way. You are a casual runner, and you complete 4 miles on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday you can barely walk. Your neighbor runs 2 miles, 6 days a week and has no problems walking after two days in a row.
- Many horses that do not have a regular exercise routine like to participate in shenanigans and tomfoolery during turn out and grazing time. There’s nothing wrong with this - it’s what horses do! Don’t forget, though, that horses spend an awful lot of time trying to injury themselves, and in some cases the exercise we do with them helps them relax later in the turnout instead of burn calories zipping around.
It can be a joint and leg challenge to navigate terrain and rocks.
- For older horses, just as in older people, stiffness and arthritis is a common issue. The phrases “motion is lotion” and “use it or lose it” apply here. Without daily movement, many older horses feel worse! Support your older horse’s joints with some great leg care and a suitable exercise program.
Ice can help treat all that ails your horse's legs and hooves. So simple.
What’s appropriate leg care for the trail horse? The weekend warrior? The older guy?
Lots of paying attention. Memorize your horse’s legs. Daily leg inspections for heat, swelling, bugs, cuts, scrapes, scratches, weird new things, splints, you name it! Use cold therapy techniques on your horse’s legs. These can easily be done as you are brushing away sweat marks and cleaning tack - it doesn’t need to add tons of time to your routine!
Some great examples of cold therapies for horses:
- Cold Hosing - although this is time consuming and it does use a ton of water.
Cold therapies reduce inflammation - which causes injuries over time - and has a pain relieving effect, also. Cold therapies are appropriate for new injuries, old injuries, and helping to prevent future injuries if used regularly after exercise. Always talk to your Veterinarian if you have any questions about how to help your horse stay healthy and sound doing his job! Remember that just because your horse may not go to the Olympics, he still deserves to be pampered just as much.
You may also find that warming therapies feel better for your horse, and these types of support include: