The Most Common Sport Horse Injuries and How to Treat Them

Sport horses are among the greatest athletes in the world, and like all athletes, they sometimes get hurt. Whether they compete in dressage, polo, racing, or any other equestrian sport, injury is a high risk. Sporting events demand a great deal from the horses who compete on a regular basis, and the accumulation of wear and tear can cause harm even if an accident never happens.

Recovery time is just as important as practice time for human athletes, and sport horses are no different. It’s the responsibility of the owner to take the necessary precautions and stay aware of their horse’s overall health.

Joint inflammation, suspensory ligament injuries, bone bruises, and sore muscles are among the many setbacks affecting horses around the world. Rest and rehabilitation will usually be the keys to insuring that your horse can compete again and, most importantly, recovers from pain and discomfort. Understanding the most common sport horse injuries and taking the appropriate steps will help your horse stay healthy and happy.

Joint Inflammation

Inflammation, otherwise known as “synovitis,” occurs in a horse’s ankles, coffin, or hock, and is one of the most common sport horse injuries diagnosed today. The redness is likely due to a change in work level, intensity, or motion that the horse isn’t accustomed to.

Your horse will appear to be sore or stiff at the start of work if he or she is suffering from inflammation. The best way to treat this injury is to give your horse seven to ten days off. However, a horse could be out for as long as a month—rest is crucial.

You can also provide joint injections if the inflammation is recurring. Cold therapy is also an option to treat inflammation, often recommended by veterinarians. Knee joint inflammation is treatable and often requires rest for it to heal. When a horse is coming off of joint inflammation and resuming activities, the best way to handle the workload is to increase the level gradually over time.

Suspensory Ligament Injuries

The suspensory ligament helps the ankle joint when it’s holding up weight and when it returns to normal once the weight is released. If a horse puts too much weight on the leg, the suspensory may give out. Repeated stress will only prolong healing, so recognizing the injury and giving your horse rest is essential.

Spotting the injury can be difficult because it is often barely noticeable. If there’s a tear, the leg could be inflamed and delicate. A hands-on exam performed by your veterinarian is the best way to diagnosis a suspensory ligament injury. Your vet may recommend icing or cold-hosing the ligament multiple times a day. The ligament will need time to heal, so standing horse-wraps for both the injured leg and the opposite leg can help during the rehab process.

Starting to hand-walk with your horse for ten minutes a day will help boost the healing process as well. Gradually increasing the duration of the hand-walking and other exercises over a few months is a wise choice. Ultrasounds can help monitor the ligament, allowing you to can see the progress throughout rehab.

DDFT Damage

DDFT injuries are among the most severe that sport horses can endure and can result in a nine to twelve-month rehabilitation process. The deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) gives a horse its support and positioning in the foot. In adult horses, the tendon runs down the back of the leg and behind the heel, attaching to the bottom of the coffin bone. It can take a long time for a horse to get back into form after a tear.

Like any injury, patience is the key to a full and healthy recovery. Hand-walking and shoeing changes can help your horse in the meantime. A veterinarian may offer an injection of anti-inflammatory medications if the issue is identified as tendinitis.

Bone Bruise

Bone bruising typically occurs in a horse’s foot and ankle joints. The foot and ankle face a lot of force, which focuses on where the bones meet. While a bone bruise isn’t a fracture, it’s still damage done to the bone. Bruising is usually caused by an impact, so landing from a jump or working on hard ground can cause the injury.

An x-ray will not show the bone damage, but the injury may show up on an MRI. A horse might require three or four months of recovery, depending on the severity of the bruise. Damaged bones take a while to heal, but after healing from a typical bone bruise they’ll return to 100%. Getting your horse good shoeing can help prevent the injury from happening in the future.

Sore Muscles

Sore muscles are common when a horse is working its muscles daily, meaning that any sport horse can experience them. Muscle soreness could also be the result of a poor-fitting saddle. One way to look for soreness is by moving your hands and fingers as you groom. If your horse flinches, wrings the tail, or pins back the ears when pressure is place on an area, the muscles may be sore. The horse may also exhibit lameness, tender skin, swelling, and a limited range of motion.

Treating muscle soreness may require a few days off to recover, as well as medications and/or a diet change. Giving your horse a massage or currying can also help him or her get back to top form. Make sure your horse isn’t suffering from dehydration as well.

Investing time, choosing the right equipment, and listening to your veterinarian are the keys to putting your horse on a healthy road to recovery. Not all injuries are created equal, so DDFT damage and suspensory ligament injuries will require a longer resting process than other problems. Besides causing pain for your injured horse, pushing him or her will only cause more harm down the line, so being patient is essential.

Getting equipment like horse-wraps can both improve recovery and help you prevent future injuries. Wraps increase blood circulation and relax muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments, supporting a safe and healthy recovery. Your horse can get back to normal with your help, so make sure that you capitalize on the tools available.