Can horses break their leg on rocky terrain?
June 17, 2011 3:55 PM   Subscribe

How readily do horses break their front legs? Can a horse break a leg just from walking on a rocky surface?
posted by sholdens12 to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
What do you mean by "rocky"? Horses don't beak their legs just walking around in rocky places like creeks and washes. They might if their leg got stuck and they panicked, but horses don't generally walk around in boulder-y places.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2011

A horse walking on a rocky surface might trip or stumble and thereby break a foreleg, just like a person might trip and break an ankle. It's recommended you ride in places free of holes and poor footing for this reason. Horses can also stumble for other reasons, though, so at least in theory, a horse can break a leg doing just about anything.
posted by Andrhia at 4:34 PM on June 17, 2011

Typically you don't want to have a horse walking too much on things such as bare rock, roads, concrete, metal, etc. mainly because their hooves slip. If you see a working horse such as a police horse, horse pulling a carriage or any other horse that would be on hard, slippery surfaces often they will have special rubber shoes to help prevent the slippage.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:01 PM on June 17, 2011

Response by poster: Essentially, I'm writing a story set in the Middle Ages in which a horse slips on rocky terrain and breaks a front leg. I just wanted to verify that this can happen or that it might happen but wasn't too far-fetched. They obviously would have no use for the horse after that but to skin it and butcher it for meat, no?
posted by sholdens12 at 5:10 PM on June 17, 2011

Horses can fall on rocky terrain, especially if you are pushing them to go too fast or can't see to place their feet. I'd say your scenario is not far-fetched.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:18 PM on June 17, 2011

Doubly so if something spooked the horse in question. A loud, unfamiliar noise ought to do it.

Unless the horse has seen battle, in which case the horse has presumably been trained to tolerate noise.

Multiply your odds if it's raining. Multiply again for ice.
posted by bilabial at 5:42 PM on June 17, 2011

Broken knees would be the problem for which you seek.
posted by winna at 6:50 PM on June 17, 2011

It's recommended you ride in places free of holes and poor footing for this reason.

I ride cross-country in the Great Basin Desert and mountains of Southwest Idaho. Badger holes, rocks, pumice, and wind--it's no show ring. If you ride here, you ride in shoes. None of that barefoot stuff. Occasionally even the mustangs can wear their feet off badly enough they die of starvation, if idiots run them on 4-wheelers.

I absolutely despise riding 'flatland' horses raised in a stall or on cultivated footing. First, they never develop the bone density needed to withstand the concussion and occasional spills, and most importantly, they never develop the proprioception to know where their balance, legs, and feet are to cover this kind of territory. I've been chasing cows and had my best horse come a cropper and flip completely over after a badger hole collapsed with him. Even the good horses occasionally take a wrong step. It was spectacular, but neither one of us was hurt. For all the holes I've gone into chasing cows and training young horses, I've never had a serious injury to a horse.

That said, twice I've had to be responsible for destroying horses with broken legs, both fortunately not mine. The first was a horse raised on a lovely irrigated acre of grass near town with not a rock in sight. We were doing a trail ride on a nice little two-track road, and he pulled loose from his rider when she got off to open a wire gate. He took off cross country, didn't see a small ravine until too late, and lost his footing trying to get over it. Complete fracture of the cannon bone (long bone below knee on front.) This was way in the back country with no access to the vet, so DH and I took care of it.

The second was a horse that slipped crossing a rock slide on a mountain side and torque fractured a hind leg at the hock. Again, too far out to get a vet in. This, not rattlesnakes or bears, is the reason DH carries a gun when we're in the back country. IMHO this accident was preventable. The man riding the horse wasn't paying attention to the footing, and there were better spots to cross. This could have been serious for the rider also, which is why I hate going with novices or wannabe cowboys.

So, if your horse is going to break a leg, he will either be a young, green (untrained) horse, a panicked horse running blindly, or a horse that is in absolutely horrendous footing that he shouldn't have been put across to begin with.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:47 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

It would sound pretty extreme to me, but we've always had tough little ponies, not nancy horses.

But it's close enough for artistic license.

As for future vet care in the middle ages? Roast horse for dinner.

I don't think that horse leather is particularly valuable, so skinning for the hide wouldn't really happen.
posted by wilful at 10:30 PM on June 17, 2011

BlueHorse has it. Horses are sure-footed animals and they aren't made of china. That being said, I've seen countless young racehorses be euthanized due to broken legs during a race. Typically this due to fracture of the sesamoids that results in the horse supporting its weight on its cannon bones. Not pretty.
posted by gumtree at 2:11 AM on June 18, 2011

I don't think that horse leather is particularly valuable, so skinning for the hide wouldn't really happen.

Horse leather is awesome. I had a Peruvian saddle made out of horse leather. The pores are nearly invisible, and it is quite strong. People in this country (the US) object to horse leather for the same reasons they object to horse meat, so it's not used for anything (or advertised as such). People in the Middle Ages would have no such qualms.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:38 AM on June 18, 2011

Response by poster: That's great. Thanks for the excellent answers.
posted by sholdens12 at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2011

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