More About Legs

Watching a field of two year old racehorses circling the paddock, you are likely to see a variety of shapes and sizes. Foals are born between January and June each year, and all have their official birthdays on 1st January. So a colt or filly racing as a two year old in March or April may, theoretically, have two or three months to go before reaching that age. In practice, though, few horses under two years old will be ready to be introduced to the racecourse. Depending largely on their breeding and their size, two year olds will mature at different rates, and some will clearly be more able to reproduce their natural ability at an earlier stage of the season.

Up behind

One obvious physical characteristic of the immature two year old is the development of its legs in relation to its body. The front end (termed ‘the forehand’) of a young horse is slower to grow than its back end, so its hindquarters will be higher than its shoulder. The horse is said to be ‘croup high’, the croup being the area behind the saddle and the highest point of the hindquarters. Trainers often use the phrase ‘up behind’ to describe a croup high horse. As the horse matures the forehand will gradually catch up until its conformation is no longer ‘downhill’.

Bandaging the legs

When racing, a horse may wear bandages or boots on both front legs, both hind legs, all four legs, or on one leg only. National Hunt horses usually wear leather or synthetic boots rather than bandages. One reason why a horse might be wearing bandages or boots is for protection.

Boots in front

Just as the trainer of a professional boxer will tape up a fighter’s hands before putting on the gloves, so a racehorse trainer may bandage a horse’s legs, or equip them with boots, in order to protect them. The bandages or boots will give a measure of protection from injury caused by another horse during a race. For example, a horse may fall in a hurdle race, a steeplechase, or even in a flat race. As it rolls over on the turf it may strike the legs of a following horse with the sharp edges of its racing plates. A horse’s flexor tendons, which run down the back of the leg from knee or hock to fetlock, are extremely vulnerable to injury. If damaged, it could mean months or years off the track; at worst, it could be the end of a horse’s career.

Hind bandages

Bandaged all round

There are other, more controversial, reasons for equipping a horse with bandages, which I’ll discuss next month.

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