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William Rhoads, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Equine Specialty

As the sport of reining becomes more and more popular, selective breeding and advancements in training has allowed for the development of a highly specialized, phenomenal athlete. Extremes of any sport, human or equine, places unique stresses on the musculoskeletal system. This is particularly true for the discipline of reining, because many different types of movements are required to complete each pattern.

Lameness in any athletic horse can present itself in many different manners, from obvious limping to subtle changes in behavior or decreased performance. This may be displayed as a stiffness on one side of the body or face, pinning the ears when asked to perform a maneuver, reluctance or even refusing to change leads or stop, in addition to a multitude of other performance issues. Whereas it may take a trained eye to detect a lameness, the rider or trainer that is familiar with the horse is usually the most sensitive detector of problems. Because horses don't have the ability to directly relay information about what is going on with their bodies, the veterinarian, owner, and trainer must rely on other clinical signs to know when something is wrong. Even though horses don't have the ability to speak, they often are "telling" us that they have a problem. The difficult part is trying to learn to read or speak their language.

Lameness issues are generally of 3 types. The first is the wear and tear problems that occur in horses some time during their training and showing career. These are typically low grade arthritis problems or soft tissue (tendon or ligament) disorders. The second type of problem is an injury that can occur from accidents, bad steps, or falls. Finally, developmental disorders are joint and bone problems that arise from improper maturation and development of these tissues. These types of problems are frequently seen early in the training period, when new stresses are being placed on these areas.

By far the biggest problem that reiners encounter is lameness or soreness in the rear legs. This is due to the extreme stresses that are placed on the joints during sliding stops, rollbacks, and turnarounds. Very often rear limb lameness may present as a decreased performance, such as quitting in the stop or kicking out in a lead change, rather than obvious limping. This is because the soreness is most often bilateral, with both limbs being affected similarly (this is also true for forelimb lameness).

Hock soreness is the number one cause of lameness problems in reiners. The hock joint is actually made up of 4 individual joints. The top joint is the largest joint and is responsible for the range of motion of the entire joint. Problems in this joint are usually developmental, and manifest as swelling (bog spavin) at the start of training or earlier. The bottom 3 joints are low motion joints that are primarily responsible for shock absorption. Arthritis in the bottom 2 joints (bone spavin) account for 95% of hock problems.

The stifles also encounter a lot of stress during the extreme maneuvers of the reiner. Low grade arthritis in the stifle can lead to problems similar to what is seen in the hock. The stifle is also the location most commonly implicated in developmental disorders (often referred to as OCD). There are many vital soft tissue structures associated with the stifle joints that can be traumatized when an injury occurs (cruciate ligaments, collateral ligaments, meniscus-the same type of injury that occurs with football players that damage the ACL). These injuries can be very serious and career threatening.

In the front limbs, feet problems are most commonly seen. The feet are very complicated anatomic structures that have evolved to be tremendous shock absorbers. Heel soreness (sometimes called navicular disease) is often exacerbated in the circles and turnarounds. Much new information is available about this syndrome, and we now know that there are many potential problem areas other than just the navicular bone (navicular bursa, deep digital flexor tendon, impar ligament, digital cushion, coffin bone, coffin joint, etc.).
Soft tissue problems such as suspensory ligament soreness is also common on the forelegs, leading to an obvious lameness or performance problem. Additionally it is also common to have a combination of issues, including feet or heel soreness together with suspensory soreness.

It is also important to remember that when horses are sore in one area, secondary soreness issues commonly develop as the horse changes the way it moves and caries its body. An example of this is back soreness that often develops secondary to rear limb lameness. These "secondary" problems further exacerbate lameness problems and decreased performance, and are only corrected when the primary problem is taken care of.

Lameness in horses can be difficult to sort out. Initial diagnostics include nerve blocks, radiographs, and ultrasound. If the problem can't be determined from these, advanced diagnostics such as nuclear scintigraphy may be necessary. It is extremely important to get an accurate diagnosis, because this will influence both the treatment and prognosis.
In order for horses to perform at their maximal potential, soreness must be eliminated. Many new treatment modalities are now available that can prolong and improve a horse's longevity. If your horse is having performance problems or lameness issues, consult a veterinarian that is experienced in lameness diagnosis and understands the sport of reining.


John & Kristy Milchick
10234 Boston Road
Boston, Kentucky 40107
502-833-0325 Farm - 502-833-0405 Fax


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