Rolling Fog won the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5, but just two weeks later he was sidelined with bucked shins, a common ailment
in 2-year-old Thoroughbreds.
ANJA HILD, GETTY IMAGES
"Bucked shins are one of the most frustrating hurdles for Thoroughbred trainers to overcome," says Patty Hogan, VMD, DACVS,
of Hogan Equine at Fair Winds Farm, Cream Ridge, N.J. "They're a natural phenomenon, as they occur due to the timing of bone
development during early training of young racehorses. The natural way a bone adapts during training is at such an accelerated
rate, it doesn't allow for the making of healthy bone."
Hogan says that older horses can sometimes develop a sequelae of this syndrome, although with deeper changes in the bone,
leading to stress fractures. If, by chance, older horses (i.e., 3- or 4-year-olds) enter training for the first time, they
may develop bucked shins, too.1
According to Daniel J. Burba, DVM, DACVS, professor of veterinary surgery at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary
Medicine, 70 percent of young Thoroughbred racehorses in training develop the problem, usually during the first six months
of their training. Although it can be treated fairly easily, 12 percent of horses that develop bucked shins go on to develop
stress fractures later in their careers.
Make the diagnosis
Bucked shins can be diagnosed easily on physical examination by palpating heat, pain and swelling on the dorsal surface of
the forelimbs. An affected horse may be short-strided or lame. Radiography of the cannon bone will confirm the diagnosis;
you'll notice increased bone formation on the periosteal surface and thickening of the front of the cannon bone (Photos 1
and 2). However, it's not unusual for clinical signs to be present but for radiographs to appear normal in the early stages
of the disease.
>>>A lateral radiograph of the left front cannon bone in a 3-year-old Thoroughbred racehorse. Note the increased irregular
thickness to the entire dorsal surface of the shin. This horse has experienced a focal cortical stress fracture as sequelae
of chronic bone remodeling of the shin.
"Bucked shins—a high-strain, repetitive-motion injury—is due to the intense training that young racehorses go through," says
Burba. "As a result, the bone hasn't had the time to adapt fast enough, so you get an inflammatory process of the dorsal cortex
of the third metacarpal, called dorsal metacarpal disease."
>>>An oblique radiograph of the left front cannon bone in a 3-year-old Thoroughbred filly. Note the obvious bone inflammation
along the dorsal aspect of the shin. This is an extreme example of the intense bony remodeling that can occur in some situations
in which the bone is attempting to quickly compensate for the inability to handle the exposure to increased speed exercise.
Burba says it was thought that the periosteum of the bone is affected, resulting in a subperiosteal hematoma. It forms because
the periosteum is torn away from the surface of the bone, resulting in microbleeding of the capillaries. As the periosteum
is pulled away from the bone's surface, pain receptors in and along the bone surface are affected, resulting in a very painful
event for the horse.
In a presentation at the American Association of Equine Practitioners in 2002, David Nunamaker, VMD, DACVS, countered that
the classical hypothesis of subperiosteal hemorrhage and microfractures seems to be the wrong interpretation of the bone's
morphology.1 "The high-strain events of bending of the MCIII (cannon bone) induce bone formation on the dorsal surface of the MCIII.
Classical training will induce this bone on the dorsomedial surface," said Nunamaker. "Lamellar bone formation can accrue
on surfaces up to 1 to 2 microns per day. Faster bone formation may occur using fiber bone that forms the periosteal new bone
that is vascular and porous. This normal periosteal formation is interpreted by the clinician as bucked shin, and therefore
Although both forelimbs may be affected, it's often the left forelimb that contracts the condition first, since Thoroughbred
racehorses in the United States race counterclockwise, thus incurring the stress of higher loading of the left leg while traversing
the track's turns.
Nunamaker writes that if Wolff's law is strictly applied, it follows that a bone that adapts to a particular peak tensile
strain may not be adequately prepared to resist far larger peak compressive strains in the same location.1
When an animal is breezing, its leg is at a much different angle than when the animal is jogging or even galloping, and the
bone has to adapt to that to be structurally sound, according to Hogan. "Most horses are not trained to breeze frequently,
and mentally it's very difficult to give a horse the right amount of breeze work to actually train the bone properly. Many
horses have very long jogging regimens—many miles at a lesser speed—so bone is very strong for that," Hogan says. "But when
then asked to do the fast work, the bone is radically affected—the angle is so different that it creates a stress concentration
on the front of the cannon bone." Therefore, the horse develops a very painful reaction, subperiosteal inflammation, as the
bone has not yet remodeled to withstand the demands.
Hogan compares good training to building a house of brick and mortar—both require a very slow process that builds sound structure.
"If you want to build quickly, you use fiberboard," she says. "That's sort of what happens with bucked shins. It's the body's
way of putting something down very fast to adapt to the request for strength and speed. Therefore, it lays down this 'fiberboard
bone,' which is structurally not very sound."
That's when you see periosteal reaction on the front of the cannon bone: frail, linear bone vs. very strong, lamellar bone,