Shin splints, also known as bucked shins, in horses are considered an expensive problem. The cost is less related to the treatment, and more related to losing out on valuable training time and/or performance time that can rob a potential champion of his glory. Shin splints are stress fractures of the front leg bones, sometimes complicated by a swelling of the membranes that cover the bones, making the leg painful to the touch. The result is severe lameness and a horse that is out of commission.
The cause of shin splints is relatively simple---overworking young horses, riding over extreme surfaces that are too uneven or hard, excessive jumping of any animal, or even light jumping of young horses. Occasionally shin splints can be caused by overreaching, or accidentally kicking the foreleg with the rear hoof.
Rest is the most common treatment for shin splints. Severe cases may require complete stall confinement to limit movement, while lesser cases may allow light turnout in small areas. The rest period is usually extensive and in most cases is at least 1 year in length. That means losing a year of training or competition. Shin splints are often notorious for reoccurring, so once returned to heavy training or competition in fast or high-impact sports, breakdowns are likely to happen again. In many cases repeated shin splints means retirement from any form of hard sport. If a horse is not abused and still suffers from repeated shin splints, he may still be able to enjoy continued light riding and pleasure activities. Horses that are permanently crippled by shin splints often need permanent pasture retirement.
NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Bute or Banamine are often used to alleviate the pain, as well as to reduce any swelling of the surrounding membranes while the horse is on stall rest.
Linaments & Bandages
Thick protective bandages are applied during stall rest to support the leg, prevent further damage from kicking, and to hold in liniments that are applied topically. These can reduce swelling and help with the pain. After rubbing and massaging the area generously, the leg is wrapped in a heavy sheet of cotton, and covered with "vet wrap" or a stall bandage.
When the injured horse returns to work, it is wise to protect the leg with shin guards. These are leg-forming leather or polyurethane sheathes that keep the leg from being kicked by a rear hoof. They will not prevent stress damage from reoccurring.
The best treatment for shin splints is prevention. Do not overwork any horse, especially young ones that have not developed fully. Do not jump a horse under 5 years old, when the joints and bones are not completely developed. Avoid riding over rough or uneven surfaces, and when you absolutely have to, ride slowly over such areas. Allow a hardworking horse in heavy training for high-impact sports plenty of rest periods to let the bones and muscles recover.
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