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Long pasterns

From: Robin

Hi Jessica, I have yet another dilemma and was hoping that you could advise me as well as educate me on a horse with long pasterns. My 12 year old thoroughbred has long pasterns though I have been told they are not THAT long. When I bought him the vet advised me not to jump him and not to ride him hard but I could take him on trails as well as ground work. Since I had no intention of jumping him that did not present a problem. Currently I ride him 6 days a week, one day we go for an hour trail ride, one day he's schooled by my trainer for a half hour, one day I have a half hour lesson on him and the other days I just hack him for about an 30-60 minutes. I practice transitions in the ring and in a jump field. I have just learned to canter him and in the last month he's put on some muscle and seems to have more strength and stamina. Can you tell me if this type of activity would be considered hard work? I do not fully understand the implications of his long pasterns. I was not concerned about them at all until my new trainer told me that eventually I will become too good a rider for him and I will wear him down. As a new horse owner I would appreciate some guidance. She also suggested that I get him a pair of boots to give added stability. Currently he's moving well and there are no problems with his feet. I would like to keep it that way. Thanks for your time. Robin

Hi Robin!

The program you've described is one of light work, and should be very suitable for your horse. Don't worry about becoming too good for him - I've rarely seen that happen. It does often happen that a rider reaches a certain level and then wants to go on and do something that the horse cannot do, but that's a different matter. If you become fascinated with dressage, you can go on improving your horse for many years to come; if you become fascinated with jumping, you will probably need to find another horse, but your veterinarian has already told you that.

Long pasterns, like so many other elements of conformation, are a tradeoff. Long pasterns are weaker than short ones, and more susceptible to damage, in the same way that a long back is weaker and more easily injured than a short back. From the point of view of a horse's soundness over the long term, short pasterns and a short back would be best - but short straight pasterns are generally matched by a short straight shoulder, and the combination makes for short strides and a jarring ride. Long pasterns and a long back absorb a lot more shock, which puts far more stress on the horse's body but makes the ride much more smooth and pleasant. So it's a tradeoff - if you have a horse with long pasterns and smooth gaits, you'll probably have the "Cadillac ride" - and you'll need to be very careful not to overwork him.

Without seeing your horse, I can't tell how long his pasterns are, but your vet gave you excellent advice when you bought the horse, and I'm sure he looked closely at the animal and talked to you about your riding experience, plans, and goals. The riding you are doing now shouldn't harm your horse, as long as you pay attention to his comfort and condition, and don't work him on footing that is either deep and muddy or rock-hard.

It sounds to me as though you have a sensible riding program. Just continue being sensible, and remember that your goal is to build your horse UP, not wear him down. Follow a good, gradual conditioning program and remember three basic rules of conditioning: 1. LSD (long slow distance) will build a horse up, whereas short fast work will tear him down. 2. When you step up your program, add distance before you add speed - and never add both at once. 3. Listen to your horse. "A little off" and "a little sore" are terms riders often use without realizing what they mean. "Sore" means "injured" - and that means it's time to take a break. If your horse becomes sore, give him a few days off in the pasture, and when you start riding again, go back a few steps in your program.

Boots won't necessarily add stability. Most boots provide nothing but protection against blows, and are useful only if a horse interferes, or if you are participating in an activity that requires additional leg protection (cross-country jumping and polo come to mind). Some stretchy boots do provide a small amount of support for tendons and ligaments. If you feel that you need to use them (talk to your vet before you put boots on your horse, please!), I would recommend the ones from ProEquine or Professional's Choice. Be sure to get the correct size, learn how to put them on, and always be sure that the horse's legs and the insides of the boots are clean before the boots go on. A tiny bit of dirt or sand inside a boot can rub enough to create a nasty sore on a horse's leg. Even the very best boots won't change your horse's pasterns from long to short and strong - so don't let anyone tell you that you can go ahead and jump him if you'll just put "Brand X Magic Boots" on his legs. ;-)

You must be doing something right, since your horse has put on muscle and gained energy and stamina. Just keep doing what you're doing, and enjoy your horse!


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