Understanding Palmar Osteochondral Disease in Racehorses

Learn why this fetlock injury occurs and how veterinarians diagnose it.
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Understanding Palmar Osteochondral Disease in Racehorses
This image shows the location in the fetlock where palmar osteochondral disease (POD, or “traumatic osteochondrosis”) most commonly occurs. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Katie Garrett
Palmar osteochondral disease (POD, or “traumatic osteochondrosis”) is a fetlock injury that can occur in any horse, but veterinarians commonly see it in racehorses. As part of the 2020 Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit webinar series, Katie Garrett, DVM, Dipl. ACVS-LA, from Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, described why this injury occurs and how to diagnose it.

How it Happens

Palmar osteochondral disease is a condition affecting the lower ends (condyles) of the cannon bone—an area subject to very high and repetitive forces during racing or race training. To understand why it occurs, we first need to understand how bones adapt to exercise.

“Horses in high-intensity exercise like race training adapt their bones to the repetitive loads placed on them—this is a normal process,” said Garrett. “If you want a bone to become strong at race training, you need to train the bone to know these are the forces being asked of it. Bones are incredibly smart, and they will adapt in response to these loads.”

This adaptation doesn’t happen overnight; she said it can occur over days to weeks to months. “Ideally, the bone makes those adaptations and can keep up with training load,” Garrett said. “This balance can be difficult to strike, and we don’t always get it right, unfortunately. POD develops when an imbalance exists between the work asked of a horse and the horse’s ability to adapt the bone quickly enough—essentially the bone can’t keep up, and a normal process gets out of hand

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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