Performance horses are finely tuned creatures and keeping them fit, healthy and free from injury is a full-time job.

Not surprisingly, many of the same principles that apply to preventing injuries in human athletes also apply to performance horses.

These principles relate to preparation, training loads and giving your horse the best possible equipment and environment in which to succeed.

Injuries can strike at any time and sometimes cannot be prevented.

But by strictly observing the following fundamentals, you will give your horse the best possible chance to not just remain injury free but excel.

Focus on early development

Studies have shown that how a horse is raised in its first year will impact its future performance.

Depending on when you purchased the horse, that may already be beyond your control.

Most of a foal’s musculoskeletal development occurs in their first 11 months – tendons, muscles, bone density and cartilage.

Foals that are maintained at pasture throughout their first year develop significantly better than those that spend time confined in stalls.

Warming up and cooling down

You wouldn’t run a 200m race, play a game of football or even train for one without properly warming up.

And nor is it in the best interests of your horse.

Time constraints sometimes tempt us to skip warm-ups or cool downs.

But walking a horse before exercise is important to guard against tendon and ligament injuries while they are under duress.

Equally, a walk at the end of a training session allows your horse to relax as their heart rate returns to normal.

It also provides a mental benefit as well as a physical one.

Conditioning

Conditioning is the art of training a horse for a particular event to ensure it is ready to perform at its maximum potential.

But no two horses are alike and many will respond differently and at different rates to any conditioning program.

There is often a great temptation to enter your horse in an event they have been set for.

But understanding and determining their readiness for the event is critical to reduce the likelihood of injury.

If an event comes too soon for a horse in their conditioning program, it is always wiser to err on the side of caution.

Consider skipping the event rather than risking the increased possibility of serious injury.

Other factors may also make a horse more prone to injury such as if they are overweight.

Particular patience must also be shown with a horse returning from injury.

They may take months before they return to their pre-injury capacity.

Systemic training

Performance horses are at the highest risk of ligament and tendon damage.

That’s because of the demands placed on them in terms of sprinting, jumping and sliding.

To minimise those risks, the following training techniques should be observed:

Increase workloads gradually – too much too soon is inviting trouble.

Train regularly – routine is important to keep your horse in peak condition.

Cross-train – it improves your horse’s physical attributes and stamina as well as keeping them mentally engaged.

Don’t overtrain – knowing when enough is enough and allowing rest and recuperation time is critical to avoiding ligament and tendon injuries.

Daily monitoring

Check on your horse daily in an effort to ensure all is well and to detect when something might be ‘off’.

Continuing to train your horse when they are battling a minor niggle risks turning it into a major problem.

Keeping a journal noting daily changes can help ensure nothing is forgotten or missed.

If you don’t have the time or skills to pick up on any minor changes in your horse, consider hiring an experienced groom to do the job for you.

Shoeing and footing

Shoeing is all that protects a horse’s slender hoofs from the 500kg pounding down on them.

Ensure proper fitting and maintenance of shoes from a farrier to guard against musculoskeletal injuries.

There still remains much to understand about footing and its relation to injuries in horses.

But giving your performance horse the opportunity to work on the best available surface will go a long way towards preventing injury.

The money spent on using or maintaining that surface will almost always be saved in vet fees paid to help your horse recover from injuries sustained on sub-standard surfaces.

It is generally accepted that horses training on soft ground with too much give over extended periods are at a higher risk of injury.

Exposing your horse to different surfaces in short stints may help them become more robust.

Feed and supplements

You’ll only get out of your performance horse what you put into them so always use the highest quality hay and feed.

No supplements have been proven to prevent ligament and tendon injuries.

But your vet may be able to recommend a range of supplements to enhance your horse’s overall health.

These may include carbohydrates, fat and ration balancers that can help top up vitamins and minerals.

Contact us today

Prevention is so much better and less expensive than cure.

Get on the front foot and take all possible steps to prevent injuries by working closely with a trusted veterinarian.

They can help you identify potential problems before they morph into serious ones.

Early intervention is essential to help prevent minor injuries in performance horses becoming major ones.

We provide a dedicated service to the thoroughbred racing industry with the practice having a long and proud history based around the excellence of our staff.

Our vets are accomplished in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of equine injuries.

We will examine your horse and work with you to devise a comprehensive, well-rounded diet and advise on management programs that will have them operating at peak performance.

Contact us today to book an appointment.

The information contained on this article is general in nature and does not take into account your horse’s individual needs. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your horse’s needs, and seek professional advice from a qualified vet.

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