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Common Injuries in Sport Horses: Prevention and Treatment

Common Injuries in Sport Horses: Prevention and Treatment

Your horse works hard and plays hard which means that injuries can be quite common, but how can you help prevent them from happening? Here, our Versailles equine vets share the most common injuries in sports horses and how they are prevented and treated.

Common Sports Horse Injuries

Horses are very active, and some are pushed quite hard, especially if they are high-performance sports horses. Unfortunately, this means that injuries may become more likely to occur.

If your horse becomes injured it can not only be expensive but it also means that there will be a period of time where your horse will need to rest and recover.

In order to help minimize the risk of injury you can offer your horse adequate training, exercise, a healthy diet and more as outlined in this post. When in doubt, reach out to our Versailles equine vets for a consultation or examination.

Suspensory Ligament Injuries

The suspensory ligament is a thick ligament that runs down the back of the cannon bone and divides into two branches that attach to the inside and outside sesamoid bones, on the back of the fetlock.

This ligament supports the ankle of the horse which is an important task given the amount of push, pull and pressure that area of their body endures. Sometimes, that pressure is too much and the ligament sustains an injury.

These injuries may be difficult to spot but it is important to monitor your horse for any signs of a torn ligament such as discomfort, swelling, and warmth in the area. Your horse may require an MRI and nerve block and will need to rest for at least 12 weeks while recovery may take up to 12 months.

Deep digital flexor tendon Injuries (DDFT)

The flexor tendons, both the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) and the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) run down the back of the limb from the knee (hock). It is common for sports horses to injure these tendons.

While mild injuries are pretty straightforward and don't hold serious concern, sometimes serious cases including ruptures can occur and hold the possibility of damage to the tendon health leading to potentially life-threatening infections.

Rest and anti-inflammatory medications are the most common methods of treatment for these injuries in sports horses. That said there are a number of helpful items that may also be used. Speak with your equine vet to learn more about treating tendon injuries in your horse.

Bone Bruises

Bone bruises are an injury that occurs as your horse is moving around. The weight of your horse coming down as they run creates an impact that leads to bruising of the bone.

Your horse will most likely experience some lameness when they suffer a bone bruise but with anti-inflammatory medications and a long rest period (typically around 12 weeks), they will be able to bounce right back.

Joint Inflammation

This type of injury is common in sports horses. The consistent stress on their joints can cause severe swelling and eventually lead to osteoarthritis.

Luckily, the odds of making a full recovery are high as long as you help keep your horse resting and once they are ready you can slowly begin to reintroduce their regular activities.

Soft Tissue Injuries

If a horse is suffering from lameness, it is likely that they are suffering from some type of soft tissue injury. Unfortunately, this type of injury commonly goes undiagnosed and can be notoriously difficult to treat properly.

If your horse has a soft tissue injury then it may have been caused by sudden trauma or overworking of the affected area. Whether your horse has been overworked or if they've caught a leg on a fence or bush, the result may be moderate to severe swelling which requires your horse to use the affected limb as little as possible until it heals.

How to Prevent Horse Injuries

Here are 5 tips to help you prevent injuries to your sports horse:

Implement warm-ups before working. Warming up your horse prior to the event or work is crucial to ensuring that they don't experience any preventable injuries to muscles, joints and tendons. 

Understand conditioning. Conditioning is not something that can be rushed. So while you may want to condition your horse prior to every event, only do so if you have enough time to do it well.

Only work in a high-quality location. It is important to only work your horse in an area with high-quality grounds. This will help ensure that accidents are less likely to occur.

Monitor your horse and their performance. By monitoring the performance of your horse you can help ensure that you notice any potential issue or condition before it becomes more serious.

Ensure the health of your working horse. Your house will not only need a balanced diet of hay and grain, they will also need vitamins, minerals and a proper balance of fats and proteins.

Warm-Up Routines to Prevent a Horse Injury

A good warm-up is a crucial part of your horse’s work and will help to reduce the risk of injury. This warm-up is meant to stretch and warm the muscles while increasing blood flow, pulse and respiration. By moving your horse's joints fully prior to putting them to work you can also help to decrease the risk of injury. Once you've completed a warm-up with your horse you will also notice that they seem more focused and ready to work.

Structuring your warm-up

  1. Have your horse begin with a forward walk on a long rein.
  2. Hacking your horse for a short time can also help them warm up.
  3. Have your horse do lateral work to help supple your horse. 
  4. Using a long rein, you can have your horse work from a trot into a canter.
  5. Have your horse canter in a two-point position to relieve the stress on their back.
  6. Long and low cantering can be ideal for warming up your horse.

Managing Injuries When They Happen

Any potential treatment for your horse will need to be done under the supervision of a vet. You will need to reach out to have your horse examined before a treatment plan can be made.

If your horse is suffering from inflammation of their joints, the vet will likely recommend rest until the joint is back to normal. This should take no more than two weeks. This is the same method of treating sore muscles. Once your horse is well rested and relieved of the discomfort they can begin to work again.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

Generally, you will want a vet to look at and diagnose any injury that your horse sustains. You wouldn't want to risk further injury by not treating your horse appropriately. Contact your vet at the first sign that your horse is in discomfort.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals, or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate regulations governing the care and transportation of equine animals please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned that your horse may have sustained an injury? Contact Bluegrass Equine Surgery right away to speak with our experienced equine vets. 

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