Are you interested in learning more about preventing developmental orthopedic diseases in young horses? The Indiana Thoroughbred Alliance recently hosted a webinar on young horse nutrition, led by Dr. Clarissa Brown-Douglas. In the webinar, Dr. Brown-Douglas discussed the impact of size on sales price and future racing performance. The study found that taller and heavier yearlings tended to sell for higher prices and had more success on the racetrack. However, smaller yearlings were not necessarily bad, as they often had more career starts and ran earlier and for longer. Nutrition plays a key role in the growth and development of young horses, specifically in providing the necessary minerals, vitamins, and protein for strong skeletal development. Balancing ration and monitoring body condition score are important in preventing developmental orthopedic diseases. Regular weighing of young horses is recommended to track growth progress. Kentucky Equine Research (KER) offers various resources and services, including ration evaluation and access to their GrowTrack weighing program. So if you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out the webinar video by the Indiana Thoroughbred Alliance!

Table of Contents

Understanding Developmental Orthopedic Diseases

Developmental orthopedic diseases (DOD) refer to a group of conditions that affect the bones, joints, and musculoskeletal system of young horses. These diseases can have a significant impact on the growth and performance of young horses, making it crucial for horse owners and breeders to understand their causes, signs, and prevention.

Definition and types of orthopedic diseases

Developmental orthopedic diseases encompass a range of conditions that affect the skeletal system of young horses. These conditions include osteochondrosis (OCD), physitis, angular limb deformities, and flexural deformities. OCD involves the formation of cartilage defects in the joint surface, while physitis refers to inflammation of the growth plates in the bones. Angular limb deformities cause deviations in the alignment of the limbs, and flexural deformities result in abnormal bending or contraction of tendons and ligaments. Each of these conditions can have different causes and treatment approaches.

Common signs and symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of developmental orthopedic diseases is crucial for early detection and intervention. Some common signs include lameness, joint swelling or pain, shifting leg lameness, stiffness, and changes in gait. Young horses may also exhibit poor performance, reluctance to move, or display abnormal postures. It’s important to consult with a veterinarian if any of these signs are observed, as early diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve the prognosis.

Impact on the growth and performance of young horses

Developmental orthopedic diseases can have a significant impact on the growth and performance of young horses. These conditions can affect the structural integrity of the bones and joints, leading to pain, lameness, and reduced athletic ability. Additionally, the treatment and management of these diseases can require long periods of rest and rehabilitation, impacting the horse’s training and competition schedule. Therefore, preventing developmental orthopedic diseases should be a priority in the rearing and management of young horses.

Factors Influencing the Development of Orthopedic Diseases

Several factors can influence the development of orthopedic diseases in young horses. Understanding these factors can help horse owners and breeders take preventive measures to minimize the risks.

Genetic predispositions

Genetics play a role in the development of orthopedic diseases. Certain breeds or bloodlines may be more prone to specific conditions. It’s important to research the breed’s susceptibility to orthopedic diseases and consider selecting breeding horses with a lower risk.

Impact of birth weight and size

The size and weight of a horse at birth can also affect the risk of developing orthopedic diseases. Foals that are excessively large or small may be more prone to developmental issues. Proper prenatal care and balanced nutrition for the mare during gestation can help regulate the foal’s size and weight, reducing the likelihood of orthopedic problems.

Seasonal influences on development

The season in which a foal is born can influence its growth and development. Foals born in the winter months may experience slower initial growth but often catch up in weight gain during the spring. Understanding these seasonal influences can help horse owners anticipate potential growth patterns and adjust their management strategies accordingly.

Role of Nutrition in Preventing Orthopedic Diseases

Proper nutrition is essential for preventing developmental orthopedic diseases in young horses. Providing the necessary nutrients for strong skeletal development is crucial during the early stages of growth.

Key nutrients for the development of young horses

Several key nutrients are vital for the development of young horses. These include minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, vitamins like vitamin D and vitamin E, and high-quality protein. These nutrients play a crucial role in bone and joint formation, muscle development, and overall growth.

Importance of minerals, vitamins, and protein

Minerals are essential for the development and maintenance of skeletal integrity. Calcium and phosphorus, in particular, play a vital role in bone mineralization. Vitamins, such as vitamin D, contribute to calcium absorption and utilization, while vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, supporting cell health and reducing inflammation. High-quality proteins provide the necessary building blocks for muscle development and repair.

Impact of imbalanced nutrition and malnourishment

Imbalanced nutrition and malnourishment can have detrimental effects on the growth and development of young horses. Inadequate intake of essential nutrients can lead to weakened bones, impaired muscle development, and compromised overall health. Overfeeding or excessive intake of certain nutrients can also be harmful, potentially causing imbalances in mineral ratios and disruptions in growth patterns. Therefore, maintaining a balanced and appropriate diet is crucial to prevent orthopedic diseases.

Balancing Ration for Preventing Orthopedic Diseases

Properly balancing a horse’s ration is essential for preventing developmental orthopedic diseases. Ration balancing ensures that the horse receives an appropriate and balanced combination of nutrients to support optimal growth and development.

Understanding the concept of ration balancing

Ration balancing involves assessing the horse’s nutritional requirements and adjusting the diet accordingly to meet those needs. It takes into account the horse’s age, weight, activity level, and individual health considerations. Through ration balancing, horse owners can ensure that the horse’s diet provides the right balance of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and energy sources.

Steps and considerations in ration balancing

To effectively balance a horse’s ration, several steps should be followed. These include assessing the horse’s body condition score, evaluating the current diet, determining nutrient requirements, analyzing forage quality, and selecting appropriate concentrate feeds. It’s essential to work with a qualified equine nutritionist or veterinarian to create a customized ration that meets the specific needs of the horse.

Effects of properly balanced ration on horse development

A properly balanced ration can significantly impact the development of young horses. It ensures that the horse receives adequate nutrition for bone and muscle development, reducing the risk of orthopedic diseases. Balanced nutrition also supports overall health and immune function, allowing the horse to thrive and reach its full potential. Regular monitoring and adjustment of the ration as the horse grows is crucial to ensure ongoing optimal nutrition.

Monitoring Body Condition Score

Monitoring a horse’s body condition score is an important aspect of preventive care for orthopedic diseases. body condition scoring allows horse owners to assess the horse’s overall health, weight, and body fat percentage.

Importance of body condition score

Body condition scoring provides valuable information about a horse’s nutritional status. It helps determine if the horse is underweight, overweight, or at an ideal weight. Maintaining an appropriate body condition score is crucial for overall health, as it ensures that the horse is receiving adequate nutrition while avoiding excessive weight gain or loss.

How to assess a horse’s body condition score

Body condition scoring involves visually and physically evaluating the horse’s body fat cover, muscle tone, and overall physique. It utilizes a numerical scale, typically ranging from 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being extremely obese. Factors such as the prominence of the ribs, the presence of fat deposits, and the muscle definition are taken into account to determine the appropriate score.

Use of body condition score in nutritional adjustments

Body condition scoring provides a basis for making nutritional adjustments. If a horse is underweight, increasing the calorie intake and adjusting the ration to include more energy-dense feeds may be necessary. Conversely, if a horse is overweight, reducing calorie consumption and focusing on a balanced ration with fewer calorie-rich feeds may be recommended. Regularly monitoring and adjusting the horse’s body condition score ensures that the horse maintains an optimal weight and minimizes the risk of orthopedic diseases.

Regular Weighing of Young Horses

Regular weighing of young horses is an important practice for tracking growth progress and ensuring the horse is developing appropriately.

Need for regular weighing

Regular weighing provides valuable information about a horse’s growth rate, weight gain, and overall development. It allows horse owners to monitor the effectiveness of the diet, adjust the ration as needed, and identify any growth abnormalities or deviations from the expected growth patterns. Understanding the horse’s weight can also help in determining appropriate medication dosages and evaluating overall health.

Techniques and frequency of weighing horse

Several techniques can be used to weigh a horse accurately. These include using a livestock scale, a weigh tape, or a weight estimation formula based on measurements. The frequency of weighing can vary depending on the age of the horse and its growth phase. Generally, young horses should be weighed every few months to track their progress effectively.

Interpreting and using weight data

Interpreting and using weight data involves comparing the horse’s weight to its expected growth targets. This information can help identify if the horse is growing at a healthy rate, if adjustments to the diet are necessary, or if further veterinary evaluation is required. Tracking weight trends over time allows horse owners to make informed decisions about the horse’s nutrition, management, and potential interventions to prevent orthopedic diseases.

Utilizing Kentucky Equine Research’s Resources

Kentucky Equine Research (KER) offers various resources and services that can be beneficial in preventing orthopedic diseases in young horses.

Introduction to Kentucky Equine Research’s services

KER is a renowned organization specializing in equine nutrition and exercise physiology. They provide a wide range of services and resources to horse owners, trainers, and breeders. These include nutritional consultations, ration evaluations, feed analyses, and access to their GrowTrack weighing program.

Benefits of the GrowTrack weighing program

The GrowTrack weighing program offered by KER allows horse owners to track the growth and development of their young horses accurately. It provides valuable data regarding weight gain, growth rates, and overall progress, enabling informed decisions about nutrition, training, and management. The program utilizes state-of-the-art technology to ensure accurate and reliable weight measurements.

Using ration evaluation services

KER’s ration evaluation services help horse owners determine if their horse’s diet is meeting its nutritional requirements. Experts at KER can analyze the ration composition, nutrient content, and balance to ensure that young horses receive the appropriate combination of proteins, minerals, vitamins, and energy sources. This evaluation can help identify any potential nutritional deficiencies or imbalances that may contribute to the development of orthopedic diseases.

Implementation of Proper Exercise and Training

Proper exercise and training play a vital role in preventing orthopedic diseases in young horses. A well-designed training regimen can contribute to the development of strong musculoskeletal systems and reduce the risk of growth abnormalities.

Importance of exercise in preventing orthopedic diseases

Exercise is essential for promoting healthy bone and muscle development. Regular exercise helps strengthen bones, improve joint stability, and enhance overall musculoskeletal health. Controlled exercise also helps prevent the occurrence of flexural deformities and contributes to the proper alignment of the limbs. However, it is crucial to strike a balance and avoid overexertion or excessive training, which can have detrimental effects on the horse’s growth.

Suggested training regimens for young horses

When designing a training regimen for young horses, it is important to consider their age, physical condition, and the desired discipline or career path. Gradual and progressive exercise programs are generally recommended, focusing on a combination of controlled turnout, hand walking, and systematic introduction to under-saddle work. Exercise should be age-appropriate and take into account the skeletal development and growth plates of young horses.

Dangers of overexertion and overtraining

Overexertion and overtraining can have severe consequences for the skeletal development and overall health of young horses. Excessive exercise and repetitive stress on the joints and musculoskeletal system can lead to growth plate injuries, stress fractures, and muscle imbalances. It is crucial to provide adequate rest and recovery periods, as well as appropriate exercise levels, to ensure the horse’s overall well-being and reduce the risk of orthopedic diseases.

Case Study Analysis: Indiana Thoroughbred Alliance’s Webinar

The Indiana Thoroughbred Alliance recently hosted a webinar that focused on the impact of size on sales price and future racing performance of young horses. The study presented during the webinar shed light on the relationship between a horse’s size and its success in the sales ring and on the racetrack.

Summary of the webinar

The webinar aimed to analyze the data from Kentucky yearlings going through the Keeneland sale. The study found that larger and taller yearlings tended to sell for higher prices at auctions. Additionally, the research revealed that taller but moderately heavy young horses had a higher likelihood of becoming successful athletes. Interestingly, smaller yearlings were not necessarily inferior and often had more career starts, ran earlier, and ran longer.

Findings and conclusions on the impact of size on price and performance

The study concluded that size influenced the sales price of yearlings, with larger and taller individuals commanding higher prices. Furthermore, the research demonstrated that a horse’s size as a yearling could also influence its performance on the racetrack. Elite performers, including stakes winners and millionaires, tended to be bigger and taller as yearlings.

Implications of the study and its application

The findings of this study have significant implications for horse breeders, owners, and buyers. Understanding the correlation between size, sales price, and performance can assist in making informed decisions when selecting horses for breeding or purchasing at auctions. While larger yearlings may fetch higher prices, it is important to consider other factors such as potential soundness, career longevity, and individual development rates when evaluating the horse’s long-term success.


Preventing developmental orthopedic diseases in young horses requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses proper nutrition, balanced ration, regular monitoring, appropriate exercise, and informed decision-making. By understanding the factors influencing orthopedic diseases and implementing preventative measures, horse owners and breeders can optimize the growth and development of young horses while minimizing the risk of skeletal abnormalities and other related conditions. Responsible horse rearing and management, coupled with ongoing research and advancements in equine nutrition and care, contribute to the future well-being and success of our equine athletes.