Horse Overreach Injury: A Comprehensive Guide

Table of Contents

Horse Overreach Injury: A Comprehensive Guide

Table of Contents

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What is an overreach injury?

Overreach injuries occur when the hind foot or hind hoof steps on the front heel or the back of the pastern of the horse’s leg. When the horse is fatigued and is less co-ordinated, or is doing fast work or jumping, this is more likely to occur. 

For the back foot to reach the front foot and possibly break the skin surface, the horse must take longer strides with less coordination. As humans we sometimes lose our footing because we become tired, get muscle fatigue or we engage in activities that require trick footwork, such as dancing. We only have two legs to manage, can you imagine co-ordinating four legs?  That pretty much explains an overreach injury. 

Anatomy involved in an overreach injury

The primary areas affected by overreach injuries include the heel bulb, pastern, and sometimes the coronary band of the front leg.

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An overreach injury is essentially a soft tissue injury in nature. Trauma comes from the hind limbs making contact with the sensitive soft tissue of the front leg. 

This can result in cuts, abrasions, bruising, or more severe lacerations. In some cases, the impact can also cause damage to deeper structures, such as tendon sheaths, ligaments, and synovial structures, depending on the force of the contact and the sharpness of the horse’s hooves. 

The open wound on the front limb is painful and healing is complicated by infection and movement causing further damage to the wound site. If horses were sterile animals that spent their time in disinfected environments, infection would be less of a problem. Since this is not true, keeping a sharp eye on overreach injuries is necessary. 

Disciplines that cause overreach injury in horses

This kind of injury will be more common in disciplines that require the following actions:

  • Fast work (agility)
  • Quick stops
  • Spins
  • Rapid acceleration and deceleration
  • Jumps that require speed and precision

The reason this kind of work causes overreach injuries can be understood by discussing each discipline. 

Barrel racing

Found in rodeo events, this activity requires the horse to complete a cloverleaf pattern around pre-set barrels in the fastest time possible. It demands explosive acceleration, sharp turns, and immediate deceleration. This tests both the horse’s agility and the rider’s control. 

In barrel racing the hind feet overtake the front limbs, especially if the horse misjudges the turn or the rider demands acceleration too quickly. During tight turns, the hind feet are moving with more force as the horse pushes off to exit the turn and this increased force and speed can lead to the hind hoof striking the front leg, causing an overreach injury.


Found in Western riding competitions, reining is a discipline that showcases the horse’s agility, responsiveness, and willingness to follow cues from the rider. It involves a series of patterns that include circles, spins, and stops. 

When performing a sliding stop, the horse accelerates towards a stop point and then uses its hind legs to slide along the ground, while the front legs slow down the forward motion. If the horse misjudges the stop or if the rider cues for a stop too abruptly, the momentum can cause the hind legs to move with excessive force toward the front legs. 

Show jumping

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This discipline tests precision, speed, and the ability to clear obstacles ranging from simple verticals to complex combinations and tight turns. While beautiful to watch, it requires athleticism from both the horse and rider rarely seen in other sports. 

Overreach injuries can occur during the take-off or landing phases of a jump, as well as when making tight turns between obstacles. When the horse gathers itself to jump, the hind legs propel forward sending the horse into the air. If the jump is misjudged by either the horse or the rider, the hind legs strike the front legs. 

Coming out of a jump may increase the likelihood of an injury as the horse makes a sharp turn to clear an obstacle and strike its legs. The power that a horse of 600kg will put into a jump or sharp turn is phenomenal. 

To make it practical, imagine a weightlifter could lift a 60kg object, 98 meters into the air and what force that would require. Or, the energy the average human would expend if they run flat out for 2 minutes. In either of these examples, if the object came crashing down, or the runner suddenly came to a grinding stop, there would be significant injuries. It is the same with a horse. 


Polo requires horses to perform rapid accelerations, decelerations, and agile maneuvers, including quick turns and stops, to follow the play and position the rider to strike the ball effectively.

Overreach injuries can occur as a result of the high-speed chases and sudden changes in direction that are fundamental to the game. During the fast-paced and tight maneuvers often required to navigate around other players and reach the ball, the risk of the hind hooves making contact with the front legs greatly increases if the horse is fatigued from overexercise and muscle strain.

Diagnosis of overreach injury in horses

There will be several visual signs that will give you clues for diagnosing overreach injuries. Some of these signs also overlap for tendon sheath, ligament, or broken leg injuries so it is best to involve a veterinary guidance if your horse is injured. 

  • Lameness
  • Wounds and abrasions
  • Swelling and heat
  • Sensitivity or pain when touching the area
  • Restlessness behavior that is usual for your horse

Prevention of overreach injury in horses

Protective Equipment

In all these cases, the lack of protective equipment such as bell boots or overreach boots, increases the possibility of an injury.

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Bell boots are equine protection equipment that encircles the horse’s hoof and lower leg. Their primary use is for preventing severe cuts, abrasions, and wounds from occurring. Made from rubber, neoprene, or synthetic leather, they offer durability and flexibility. They also have a secure closure system like wrap-around velcro to ensure they do not slip off. 

Should the hind limb come into contact with the front limb, the bell boot absorbs the impact and prevents the hoof from cutting into the soft tissue of the lower limb.

Supportive therapy for muscle health

The disciplines discussed require horses to be in good physical condition, without muscle strain or injury, and to be well-rested. Muscle fatigue from competitive sports is a common issue with overreach injuries and to be honest, the only way to overcome this is to ensure that the muscle health of your horse is supported and maintained. 

A company called Chemipower has partnered with Tartu University to develop a cutting-edge, science-backed carnosine gel called CarnoGel. This product when applied before and after competitive sports, reduces muscle fatigue and recovery time. Because it’s scientifically developed, it is cleared for use in competition and has no side effects. 

Carnosine is a naturally occurring compound in the muscles of humans and horses and the more you have the more protection you get from it. However, it’s unlikely to be in a high enough concentration in the muscles (especially after exercise) so supplementation is the answer. You get all the benefits and none of the side effects from a carnosine gel.

Further reading: Is carnosine the best supplement for performance horses?

Give the Chemipower carnosine gel a try for yourself. Order online.   

Concluding Thoughts

That brings us to the end of our discussion on horse overreach injury. In this article, we’ve explained what an overreach injury is, why it occurs, signs of a possible overreach injury, and what you can do to prevent it. 

In the unfortunate event of your horse getting an injury quick and efficient diagnosis and veterinary assistance will help your horse to heal quickly and return to competitive sports. However, it is better if you can prevent your horse from sustaining this kind of injury in the first place by using bell boots and/or using a supportive therapy such as CarnoGel.  

Until next time, remember the well-being of your horse is in your hands.  Stay safe.