Studies of fractures and joint injury in racehorses have underlined a factor that is true also for sport horses (and human athletes); that an orthopedic injury seldom develops from one day to another, even if the rider or trainer does not observe the first subtle signs. So what is called “acute” has, in fact, in many cases taken days, weeks or even months, coming. One exception, when injuries can really be called “acute” is, of course, accidents such as a kick or a fall.

One aspect of equine orthopedic injury is that the sport horse of today is almost too physically talented for his own good. Modern sport horse breeding has developed horses with a natural, inborn ability to jump big fences or to trot with spectacular action. Riders can then become easily tempted to demand too much performance too soon, especially from a young horse. The young sport horses of today have the genetic potential to perform at a high level, but if the body is not allowed a build-up period, to adapt to the physical demands in training and competition, the risk of injury will be imminent.

You can compare a talented young horse with buying a computer with a great number of gigabytes. The horse also has a high built-in capacity, but before the body is ready for specific training or competition it first needs various “programs” installed. Such updates take no more than a few hours in a computer, but months and years in the body of a horse.

If you then decide to change what is expected of the horse, including at what level, the “programs” need updating, to adjust to the new use. In other words the horse’s body needs a re-installation period. While fitness training can quickly give the horse increased heart-lung capacity, the musculoskeletal system with bone, tendons, ligaments and joints, needs longer in order to adapt to increased work demands. This process needs to be done step by step. To repeat; ignoring or minimizing that can increase injury risk. It is the same for an athlete or recreational runner. A person can be born with great talent for handling a ball or running, but were he expected to play several matches in a row, or run a marathon without the prior preparation of a conditioning period, injury would be very likely.

In Sport Horse Soundness and Performance, author Dr. Cecilia Lönnell provides guidelines for nurturing a happy, healthy equine athlete.

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