Learn by Feeling

Most of us will at least eyeball our horse’s legs while grooming and tacking up, but setting down the brush or hoof pick and actually feeling the legs isn?t always part of the routine. It takes familiarity with your bare hands to tell whether a leg bump is something new and warm or something old and cold.

A decade ago we wrote about a hand-held infrared thermometer used to pinpoint inflammation in legs. The device, used normally by mechanics and electricians to detect heat in hard-to-reach places, was also being marketed to race-horse trainers, priced around $200. Even the well-educated hands of a racing trainer can only detect heat in a leg at around 5 degrees above normal, while the I/F device can come as a close as just a degree above normal.

I bought one for myself because I’d dealt with a soft-tissue injury that would have meant weeks in recovery time rather than months if I’d realized it was cooking below the surface of my horse’s ankle. While I’ve needed my ?ray gun? for myself only once in the past decade (literally paying for itself by confirming an early-stage splint that my hand had found), my barn mates have often borrowed it, and it’s held up beautifully to a lot of use.

Five years ago, we noted the price for the I/F device had dropped to $100. Recently, I saw a similar tool at a hardware store at a nifty 40 bucks. Gee, I thought, maybe it’s time to suggest this as a very low-priced aid to routinely check legs for heat. I asked several vets whether they?d try it out for us.

One vet stopped me cold when she said that she doubted some of her clients ever checked their horses? legs for heat, and it was unlikely they?d bother with the extra step to pick up a tool to aid in the task. We bewailed ignorance of basic horse care.

Horses rarely have four perfect legs. There is always a thickened scar, or permanent bump, or some stocking up that tightens with exercise. it’s normal for one part of the leg to feel several degrees warmer than another, but it’s not usually normal for an area on one leg to be warmer than the same area of the opposite leg.

How many of us routinely check legs for a bump that wasn?t there before we rode, or to see whether tHere’s some filling, or sore area, or suspicious heat in one leg that isn?t present in the other’ It isn?t difficult or time-consuming and can be done at the same time you’re picking out feet. (That is, if you’re even bothering to pick out the feet.)

If you haven’t formed the habit of doing routine daily leg checks, Here’s an easy resolution to keep for the New Year, one that will take just a few seconds a day and can save you and your horse serious down time. In the upcoming months, we’re going to look at some common leg problems, including how to spot them, what you can do and when you?ve got to call the vet in. Start practicing your technique now.

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