Few things are more frustrating for a barrel racing competitor than a horse coming up lame. If you’re just getting started in barrel racing, not riding regularly can derail your learning process, disrupt your competition goals, and most of all, discourage you from the sport. Arlis Baze, DVM, has worked with barrel racers for years, and he shares some advice to help keep your horse sound and healthy for the long haul.

Prepurchase Exam
Before you buy a horse, make sure you are aware of any potential soundness issues. Baze says to talk with your veterinarian about your riding goals before you schedule a vet check. You and your veterinarian should also have a conversation with the horse’s previous veterinarian and owner to better understand its past history.

“You want to do whatever it takes to assure you are not buying a horse with a problem,” Baze said. “There is nothing worse for a novice rider than to have a horse and not be able to ride it or be constantly dealing with lameness problems. You want to do everything you can to ensure the horse is sound from the beginning.”

Injections as Maintenance—Not Prevention
One thing Baze says some riders misunderstand is the role joint injections play in a horse’s management. Rather than viewing injections as preventative treatment, he advises riders to consider it as maintenance only as necessary.

“Hock injections are not going to stop the problem—you are treating the symptom,” Baze says. “There is nothing I can put in the joint that will actually stop the joint from wearing out. All I can do is help that joint feel comfortable. It can be very effective, but it is not preventative.”

During the pre-purchase exam, Baze advises riders to talk with the horse’s veterinarian about the horse’s injection history. If the horse requires injections every two months to stay sound, that should signal the rider to look for a more sound animal that requires less medical care.

“Make sure you know ahead of time how much hock maintenance the horse will require and if you’re prepared to continue that regimen,” Baze said.

Invest in Proper Horseshoeing
The most important thing you can do to keep your horse sound is to have it cared for regularly by a good farrier, Baze advises. Not all horses need shoes, but every horse needs to be trimmed properly to keep its feet balanced.

StayingSound2 webExamine all four of your horse’s legs and hooves before booting up and getting on. Photo courtesy Classic Equine Examine Hooves and Legs Before Riding
Baze says you should look over your horse’s legs and feet before you ride, similar a pilot performing a complete pre-flight check before leaving the ground. Look for visible bumps, bruises and cuts, palpate the legs for unusual swelling or wounds, and watch the horse walk around before mounting.

“All of these things are important, because if you get a horse out and he has a swollen tendon, but you don’t realize it until you’ve ridden him for 30 minutes, you may have done more damage than you can imagine,” Baze said.

Even if you’re not going to ride, it’s a good idea to clean out your horse’s hooves daily to check for foreign objects and for thrush—a bacterial infection in the frog of the hoof characterized by dark and smelly tissue.

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1 Comment

  1. Jackie Crosby Reply

    Enjoyed this post about horse soundness – Especially as we are approach summer months when we tend to start asking more of our horses. Also liked the comment about hock injections and how these treat the symptom, but aren’t service as preventative care. Great read!

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