Preventing and Managing Injuries in the Event Horse

The 2015 eventing season is already upon us and under way. An unexpected injury can put a halt to best made plans, and preventing injuries can help improve horse welfare, reduce costs and can help stay on track for eventing plans.

Fitness

Fitness can not be underestimated. Tired horses can often trip, fall and stumble and it has been shown that tired horses are more likely to injure themselves. It is very important that horses are appropriately fit for the level and activity that they are expected to do.
This fittening work is not just important for the horses aerobic and cardiovascular fitness but also for strengthening and conditioning the horse’s soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments and muscles.

I believe that conditioning and regular work should be varied and on multiple different surfaces. The event horse is quite unique in that they are asked to compete on a variety of surfaces, and the horse should be ready and conditioned for this.

After bringing a horse back into work, an initial period of walking exercise should begin. This will vary a little bit on the horse’s age, temperament, expected level of competition and previous injury history, but should be on a hard flat surface such as roads and be for a period of around 4 weeks. After this a period of trotting is introduced, and again will vary on people’s circumstances but will be incremental over a few weeks, when later canter work is introduced.

The horse should be suitably fit for every individual level of eventing and when moving up levels of eventing this may require further fittening work.

Tendon Injuries

Tendon injuries are often associated with high speed and high force pursuits such as racing. However outside of racing, eventing is one of the most common pursuits in which tendon injuries occur.

There has been a large amount of research showing that excess heat within a tendon can increase the risk of tendon injury. For this reason particular importance should be paid to keeping tendons cool. Many modern cross-country boots allow air flow through the boot, allowing heat to escape and have a cooling effect on the tendon. It is important that a large amount of heat is not generated underneath the boots.

After cross-country suitable cooling of tendons in the recovery period is also beneficial, to minimise risk of future injuries and allow rapid recovery of the tendon.

Again the conditioning of the fittening work is very important in preventing tendon injuries. Tendon injuries often occur when an unfamiliar high strain force is put through the tendon fibres, this can be associated with hyperextension of the leg, a slip, a hole in the ground or uncharacteristic deep ground. If the horse can be conditioned to varied surfaces including softer ground, grass, surfaces and hard ground, then there will be increased conditioning of these tendon fibres and increased muscle memory to all these surface interfaces.

Check the legs regularly – regularly checking a horse’s legs and tendons is very beneficial. Signs of a tendon injury are heat, swelling and pain in the region of the tendons at the back of the cannon. Knowing what is normal for that horse is invaluable, and a change from ‘normal’ for that horse may require veterinary investigation. It is important to check the tendons regularly after events, and after more strenuous pieces of fittening work such as working on the gallops. Sometimes picking up a minor injury early can help prevent further injury and damage from occuring.

image1

The above image shows a significant injury to the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT). There is a large amount of dark (anechoic) areas within the centre of the tendon.

 

Managing Injuries

Injuries are inevitable, even if we take as many precautionary steps as we can. If injuries can be correctly maintained and managed in the earliest incidence then this can prevent further damage and maybe reduce the recovery time.

ASK THE VET – every British Eventing Event has a team of course veterinarians. If you have any concern with your horse then don’t be afraid to ask one of the vets.

Suspect Tendon Injuries – use cold therapy such as ice or cold hosing, bandage the leg for transport. Box rest the horse when at home and have a visit from your local vet with or without an ultrasound scan after a few days.

Wounds – if the wound is large and deep, or over a joint then veterinary attention should be sought. If the wound is small and superficial then keep the wound clean with either a dilute hibiscrub solution or dilute saline solution every day. If suitable, application of a wound gel or a bandage to cover the wound if needed.

Horses are prone to injuries in any circumstance whether it be out in a paddock at home or at top level competition. It is impossible to prevent injuries all together but taking precautions and making observations can significantly reduce the risk, particularly under situations which are under our control.

Simon Woods BVSc MRCVS

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