How Equine Limb Asymmetries Influence Health and Performance

Sport horses with greater limb asymmetries have lower performance and more injuries

Despite significant improvements in human sporting achievements, the modern sport horse has only shown marginal performance improvements over the last century

The greatest improvement in horseracing times occurred more than 100 years ago with only a 4% improvement in the last 50 years compared with a 12-13% improvement in winning times by man (Gardner, 2006). Despite this, injury rates in ridden horses continue to remain high with 33% of dressage horses being reported lame within a single year (Murray et al., 2010), a 32% risk of injury from falling in eventing (Murray et al., 2005) and National Hunt racing carrying a 6.5% risk of fatality (Pinchbeck et al., 2004).

The anatomical region most susceptible to injury is the limbs, particularly the distal region, with 80% of musculoskeletal injuries in racing involving the forelimb, and 46% of those involving the suspensory apparatus (Williams et al., 2001). Such injury risks pose significant health and welfare concerns to the industry, especially with our social license to operate increasingly in question.

Farrier Takeaways

  • Left-handed Thoroughbred racetracks offer a potential biomechanical advantage by having a shorter inside forelimb when asked to run predominantly on a turn.
  • Where unequal weight distribution exists between contralateral limbs, the unequal weight distribution leads to alterations in the growth and wear patterns of the hoof capsule, resulting in adjustments to the hoof’s conformation.
  • The forces resulting from excessive loading through a specific region of the hoof are transmitted through the wall, to the coronet band and disruption at this level…
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Kirsty lesniak

Kirsty Lesniak

Kirsty Leśniak, PhD, is senior lecturer and program manager of the Equine Department at Hartpury University in England.

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