What does it mean when a horse knuckles during a horse race?

A horse might knuckle during a race when its hind legs overstretch and it could lead to serious injury

Horse racing knuckle over

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You might think race horses are animals bred and trained to reach the peak of physical fitness — and for the most part, you’d be right! After all, thoroughbred horses are conditioned from birth to run fast and glide over the racecourse in the battle for the line.

But some horses inevitably pick up injuries, either from wear and tear, or from freak accidents. And one of the issues you may hear when horse racing betting is knuckling, or that a horse has knuckled over.

So what is knuckling in horse racing, and is it serious? Well, Paddy Power is on hand to explain it all!

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A HORSE KNUCKLES OVER?

Knuckling over is a term used when examining the hind legs of horses. It is a condition where the fetlock joint in the horses leg has straightened so much, that the horse risks tripping over its hind hooves.

The hoof naturally falls at an angle in front of the fetlock (Image: GETTY)

When you look at a horses regular hind leg, you’ll see the hoof naturally falls at an angle in front of the actual leg. However, when a horse has a tight or short tendon, its leg is at risk of overshooting.

If a race horse is suffering from knuckling then it might stumble over its own hooves while competing. However, horses at the highest level of UK and Irish racing are unlikely to reach a stage where they knuckle. After all, they are trained and examined regularly from foal and are unlikely to be able to run at the required speed if their fetlocks are causing them issues.

HOW SERIOUS IS KNUCKLING OVER?

If a horse does knuckle then the damage can range from negligible to bad. After all, imagine jogging down the street and suddenly planting your whole weight on your toenails — your footing will likely fail and you’ll fall flat on your face.

Knuckling can cause strains and even broken bones in horses if they suffer a bad instance.

To fix knuckling, owners will try shortening the toe and re-shoeing the horse. It’s a technique that works when horses are stumbling in general, which can occur when their hooves are growing too long. Owners can also apply special shoes called rockers, which have a slight bend at the end in order to lift the hoof off the ground.

In time a horse, if treated correctly, will get over knuckling as their hooves are modified and their tendons corrected.  

Horses risk falling if they knuckle over while racing (Image: GETTY)

DOES KNUCKLING AFFECT RACING BETTING?

Trainers are unlikely to send a horse onto a course if they think it will knuckle, so racing betting odds rarely make allowances in the market for this.

However, the hind legs of a horse are worth checking out if you can live stream racing and watch the parade ring before a race. After all, if the horse doesn’t look comfortable then its shoes may have been badly fitted, or it might not trust the jockey on its back.

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