When communicating with our Princess Park owners on the progress of their horses, I’m often referring to horse anatomy and the various associated issues and injuries. Despite our obvious differences, there are some similarities between human and equine anatomy and I’ll always try to draw on that comparison where I can. So here’s The Guide - Anatomy to give you a brief understanding of some of the basic terms you may hear from your trainer – Because sometimes in this industry you need a translator!
*Above: The Points of a Horse
Near Side - The horse's left side. This is the side on which we approach, handle, lead, mount and dismount. One theory of why we stick to one side is that ancient warriors generally carried a sword on the left side and this would get in the way if swinging up from the right or off side of the horse.
Off Side - Right side of the horse; also called the far side.
Bones – A horse has around 205 bones and whilst strong, most are very light, which assists the horse to run fast. Cannon bones (often referred to as their shins) are found in the front and rear legs and provide the major support of the animal’s body weight. The fetlock joint, on the lower part of the leg, is commonly incorrectly called their ankle (even I was going to refer to it as that until I double checked Google!) but it’s actually more like a knuckle. The hock is located in the hind legs and anatomically corresponds to a human ankle and heel. A horse’s radius is similar to our forearm. Equine carpal (knee) bones compare to human wrist bones, whilst a horse’s splint bones can be compared to human fingers.
Why can’t horses recover easily from broken bones? This is a question I get asked often, especially after incidents such as Saturday’s Sydney Cup which saw Almoonquith euthanised after breaking down. Whilst racehorses are very tough animals, they have light bones, which in the wrong circumstances may as well be as fragile as glass. And usually before they break and/or shatter, the bones bend, so the pieces would never go back together properly. A horse can weigh half a tonne and it is not anatomically built to lay down for long periods of time, they can’t use crutches nor would the other 3 healthy legs be able to support the additional weight. So unfortunately, despite all attempts to save their life, euthanizing a horse may be the only humane option after an injury.
Tendons and Ligaments – Tendons and ligaments hold the skeletal system together. Torn or bowed tendons and ligaments are usually caused by excessive strain, just as they are in human athletes. Rest, surgery and rehabilitation all form part of the treatment of such injuries.
Hoof – There’s a saying “No Hoof, No Horse”. Healthy and strong feet are paramount to a horse’s well being, soundness and performance. The hoof is made up of several different layers and structures enclosing bone and ligaments, and despite its hard appearance, it is actually quite flexible. Daily hoof care is essential as cracks and injuries can cause infection and lameness.
Chestnut – The callous textured growth on the inside of both front legs and below the hock on the rear legs. There are various stories as to what the purpose of these are including ‘scent’ glands for the horses to identify each other, their ‘night eyes’ to help them see in the dark, or little suction caps that hold the foal’s legs together in the womb. All of these are false and the chestnut is purely just a leftover toe from evolution.
*Above: The muscles and tendons of a horse
OTHER TERMS you might hear to describe your horse or their health include:
Shin Sore – An annoying but very common condition, especially in young racehorses. Shin soreness is the result of rapid bone growth and increase in strain to the cannon bone (front legs) due to the increase in galloping exercise. As they develop, some horses may go shin shore once or multiple times (or even not at all). Rest is the cure and will not prevent a horse from racing down the track.
Windsucker – If your horse is a windsucker, it has a bad habit of meaninglessly gulping air with a grunting sound, usually while gripping onto a fence post or stable door. The most common remedy is a windsucking collar as well as using a product such as ‘Crib Stop’, a harmless yet unpleasant tasting spray (same sort of thing as that horrid tasting nail polish you’d put on to stop nail biting).
Roarer – Roaring is caused by a paralysis of two cartilages within the larynx. They don’t move apart enough (or at all) when the horse breaths so the airway is compromised and the animal cannot inhale enough oxygen. This causes the horse to make a roaring sound and can affect their performance. The range of dysfunction is graded from One (minimal dysfunction) to Five (complete paralysis). Surgery can fix the problem.
Bleeder – Exercise-induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) is the presence of blood in the lungs, most often found after exercise. Signs of this can be excessive swallowing, coughing, poor appetite or blood in the nostrils. Lasix is an anti-bleeding medication that can be used here in Australia (excluding as a raceday treatment). A first time bleeder receives a 3 month racing ban and a subsequent incident sees compulsory retirement.
Tying Up – No, your horse hasn’t literally been tied up. This is a term to describe the muscles along the back, rump and back legs severely cramping. It is usually seen in horses for two main reasons: there’s an underlying muscle disease or the horse has been overexerted during exercise.
Are there any other terms you’ve heard and are unsure of their meaning? If there are, let me know via email or social media - remember that no question is a stupid question, just a quest for knowledge!
Wishing you all a Happy Easter.