Tuesdays with Tony
Tuesdays with Tony – How to prevent a tendon injury
You know my docs are there to help if your horse were to injure a tendon. They have the training and tools to diagnose and rehabilitate an injury. But you know what they like even better than that? Helping prevent a problem in the first place! While there isn’t enough bubble wrap to prevent all injuries (they are horses after all), here is my purrrspective on how you can reduce your horse’s risk of damaging a tendon or ligament.
Start strong with good conformation
When you’re looking for a new horse, we know there are a lot of factors to consider, such as temperament, training, and talent for the job you want him to do. It’s important to consider his conformation as well, as certain conformations can predispose a horse to injury. For example, a horse with a very straight hock angle may be prone to suspensory problems, while a horse with low heels may put extra stress on his navicular area. I’m not saying every horse must have perfect conformation – most of us have to make some compromises when horse shopping. But if you can purchase a horse whose conformation won’t be working against his future soundness, you’ll probably have an easier time achieving your riding goals. A pre-purchase exam by my doc can help you determine what will work for your individual situation.
Know how to feel for abnormalities
While some injuries happen due to sudden overload on a previously normal tendon, many injuries don’t just come out of nowhere, but are the result of cumulative damage that progressively weakens the tendon. Pay attention to your horse’s legs every time you are with him, so you are familiar with what his normal tendons feel like. Run your hands down all four legs before and after you ride. Feel for heat, swelling, and asymmetry. Are there any changes after a ride, such as swelling? Is the left front a little warmer than the right? These slight abnormalities may show up before he takes any lame steps. The goal is to catch a minor injury with only subtle signs before it turns into major damage. An inflamed tendon often has a little heat and mild swelling that lasts for a day or two and then subsides. Your horse may not yet be lame. But if exercise continues, the injury can progress to tendon fiber damage with lameness and a long recovery time. So if anything feels amiss, call my doc.
Quality hoof care
Imbalance in a horse’s feet is one of the most common risk factors for tendon and ligament injuries. It’s really important to keep your horse on a regular schedule for trimming or shoeing. That’s around 4-6 weeks for most horses. As well as keeping on schedule, it’s important that your farrier keep the hoof well balanced. When the toes get too long, it puts excess stress on the tendons and ligaments at the back of the heel and up the leg. That can cause cumulative long-term damage as well as increase the chance of a major blow out of the tendon. Negative palmar or plantar angles also put undue stress on the soft tissue structures and increase the risk of injury. It’s especially important for horses with conformational challenges to stay on top of their hoof care, since they are at increased risk for damage.
To avoid injury, condition your horse appropriately for the job he’s being asked to do. Haven’t ridden your horse in a few weeks? He’s not ready for the 20-mile trail ride this weekend. There are 2 factors here – first, the overall fitness of the horse, and second, the strengthening of the tendons and ligaments themselves.
A horse that is unfit and becomes fatigued during the ride is less able to stabilize his tendons. It’s easy for a tired horse to take one bad step and bow a tendon. The more fit he is, the less chance he will reach muscle exhaustion and be unable to protect his limbs during movement. If your horse seems tired during your ride, don’t push him past his boundaries.
Warm your horse up at the walk for 10-15 minutes to prepare his tendons and ligaments for the ride. These soft tissue structures benefit from long, slow work to stretch and strengthen them. Consistency in his work schedule is key. A regular schedule of 30-45 minutes of walking and trotting will build a stronger tendon than infrequent fast work.
The more turnout time you can provide, the better. It’s much more natural for the tendons to be moving around and stretching while your horse walks his field than to be still in a stall for hours at a time.
Consider the footing you ride in. Deep or uneven footing puts extra stress on the tendons and muscles and can set your horse up for an injury. This applies to the arena you ride in every day but also to the facility you haul to for a one-day show. If you arrive for a trail ride or a show and the footing is excessively deep, wet and soupy, or slick, remember that one day’s ride isn’t worth the risk of an injury. Boots, wraps, or shoes won’t protect your horse from bad footing either. You have my permission to load up and drive home again so you get many more years of good rides with your horse.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to ride your horse in the same perfect groomed arena every time. Cross training is a good idea – ride in the ring, out on the trails, up and down hills and on different surfaces. This will improve your horse’s fitness and strengthen his limbs so he will be better able to handle the places you go together. Just avoid any footing that looks suspicious!
With these simple concepts and a little bit of preparation on your part, you can help to protect your horse’s tendons and ligaments from avoidable injury. Check in with my docs about it next time you see them. As much as they love using their high-tech treatments, what they would prefer is to see you and your horse, happy, healthy, and out there riding!
Until next week,
P.S. – As always, if you are looking to enhance your horse knowledge, don’t forget my docs work tirelessly on their podcast. You can find that right here!
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!