In a world where "sustainable" has become a million-dollar buzzword, some horse owners might be on the lookout for ways to create sustainable equine athletes. According to a British equitation scientist, if we pay attention to certain details–like good conformation, good footing, progressive training programs, well-rounded exercise programs, body condition, and subtle signs of lameness–we can help our horses enjoy longer sports careers.

"Musculoskeletal injury is the most common cause of days lost from work and horses lost, in all equine sports," said Sue Dyson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, England. "I believe the prevention of injury and early recognition of injury are key for a sustainable athlete, both physically and mentally."

"Prevention" includes recognizing conformation problems that are risk factors for lameness, Dyson said during a lecture opening the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Recent research has shown, for example, that horses taller than 170 cm (16.3 hands) have a 15% greater risk of becoming lame than horses 163 cm (16 hands) or shorter. Additional research has shown that taller horses also end up with shorter competitive careers.

Horses with straight hocks have a greater risk of ending up with injuries to the suspensory ligament in the back legs, Dyson said, as do those with hyperextended back fetlocks.

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