Promoting bone health and strength in the sales yearling (even after purchase!)

Bone injuries are one of the biggest factors in a horse being unable to realise its full potential on the racetrack. Many factors influence bone strength and density in the horse: nutrition, growth rate, genetics, medication use and gastrointestinal microflora. Yet one of the most overlooked aspects is one that we can significantly influence- particularly in the yearling just purchased from sales.

Exercise (or lack thereof) SIGNIFICANTLY influences bone strength and density in the horse. For horses turned out in paddocks where they are free to move about, bone gets the opportunity to strengthen and increase in mass- due to the natural loading that occurs through daily movement.

Research has clearly indicated that young horses kept in stables/stalls have a significant reduction in bone mass- even when they are walked for an hour a day. Most sales yearlings undergo a prep where they are stabled for anywhere from 8-12 weeks. In many of these cases, turnout is restricted to small yards. Some facilities have no turnout for yearlings during this time. This immobility results in significantly decreased bone mass and strength at a time when horses should naturally be developing significant increases in bone mass.

So what can we do to improve this? For yearlings in sales prep, maximising paddock turnout time (where facilities allow) is one of the best ways to help. For the recently purchased yearling, turning them out for at least 8-12 weeks prior to commencing breaking allows bone density to increase. This is important, as in many breaking setups, horses will spend significant time stabled and/or in small yards and do relatively little ridden work, again resulting in reduced bone density. Having 2-3 months between the two periods gives bones a better chance to improve in mass, rather than continuing to decrease in density.

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