Anyone who has been around a young horse in training has heard this phrase from their conditioner at least once, “We have to back off, his shins are biting him.” What does this mean? We know it means that our patience will be tested, but what causes a horse’s shin to become inflamed? One of the primary reasons is because of something called bucked shins. Some people regard bucked shins as virtually an inevitable part of a young horse’s development from two to three.
Approximately 70% of young thoroughbreds in training develop the problem to one degree or another. Horses with bucked shins have an enlargement of the front part of the cannon bone between the knee and fetlock joints of the leg. The condition generally only occurs in the front legs, and the swelling is caused by trauma to the periosteum, or the thin membrane that covers the bone. The horse essentially develops microfractures of the cannon bone. The condition is easy to diagnose because of the swelling on the front of the leg. Many horses exhibit some degree of lameness.
In the long run, bucked shins are not a serious issue, and are seldom seen in older horses as they have more developed bones. The difficulty in training young horses is stressing their bones enough to promote bone growth and strength, without stressing them too much so that they buck shins or sustain more serious injuries.
The goal in treating horses with bucked shins is to strengthen the front part of the cannon bone and most common practice is through a short period of rest followed by a gradual increase in exercise to provide the bone time to heal. Complete rest is not recommended because exercise is an important part of the healing process, and too much rest allows the new bone growth to be reabsorbed. However, not enough rest can lead to a more serious injury. Topical treatments are used for pain control and to promote healing as well. Some trainers choose to swim their horses to maintain their cardiovascular fitness while giving the shins time to heal. Many horseman will agree however, that the best treatment for bucked shins is Mother Nature.
Mother Nature has worked her magic on several top West Point runners who had sore shins as youngsters, including graded stakes winners Flashy Bull and Mr. Fantasy.Other notable racehorses who bucked shins include Palace Malice, I’ll Have Another, Congaree, Silver Charm, Tapit, and Tale of Ekati amongst many others.
Although it is frustrating to have a 2-year-old with bucked shins when we are all dreaming of running our juveniles at Saratoga and Del Mar this summer, we must remember, patience is a virtue.
This is an x-ray of a horse with bucked shins. The arrows are pointing to areas of increased thickness in the front of the cannon bone.