If you’re looking to learn more about a horse tendon injury, then you’ve come to the right place!
Sadly, this is a common injury and no horse owner can go through their equestrian life without ever encountering it.
Hearing the words ‘tendon injury’ is scary and something horse owners dread to hear but having a good understanding of it can help you get to the other side.
KEEP reading to learn more about a horse tendon injury, and the first sign of a tendon injury in horses, as I will unpack all the basics in a second…
Table of Contents
- Tendon injuries in horses are a serious issue and can limit or even end a horse’s riding career.
- Signs of tendon injuries can range from obvious lameness to very subtle changes in gait or inflammation.
- The most obvious sign is lameness and if caught early, treatment can increase the chances of recovery.
READ MORE: 10 Best Tendon Boots for Horses
Introduction: Getting Ahead of the Problem (Prevention is Better Than Cure)
According to an article about horse tendon injuries, “The most frequently observed injury is the strain injury which predominantly affects the palmar soft tissue structures which support the metacarpophalangeal joint.” (1).
It’s true – Horse owners should be aware of the risks associated with sharp trauma and slight bruising that can cause severe damage to a horse’s tendons.
More so, taking preventative measures to protect tendons from trauma and supplying the tendons with necessary nutrients can help reduce the chance of a tendon injury.
To prevent tendon injury, horse owners should assess the quality of the ground their horses walk on and adjust accordingly to avoid excessive strain on the tendons.
Feed and supplements should be regularly checked to ensure they provide the necessary nutrients for healthy tendon growth and development.
Additionally, owners should establish a consistent exercise program with their horses and gradually build up the intensity of the activities to avoid sudden, sharp movements that can cause injury.
In this article, I’ll provide tips to help you avoid the problem and protect your horse’s tendons from injury.
Tendon Injuries in Horses: First Sign of a Tendon Injury in Horses and More
Tendon injuries in horses are a severe issue. They can potentially limit or even end a horse’s riding career seriously.
This is why you should be aware of potential signs, as often quicker treatment can increase the chances of recovery…
5 Major Signs That Your Horse Has a Tendon Injury
Sign #1: Lameness
The most apparent sign is lameness. In addition, you will see swelling around the tendons and feel the heat in the lower leg and it may range from mild to severe.
However, identifying there is a tendon problem can sometimes be quite tricky.
Sign #2: Swelling around the tendons
Swelling may be visible, particularly around the tendons, which can be felt by gently pressing the area.
It is important to note that swelling can be caused by many different conditions and may not necessarily be related to a tendon injury.
Additionally, if you observe any changes in the size or shape of a tendon, this could also be an indication of an underlying issue and further investigation is recommended
Sign #3: Heat in the lower leg
Heat can indicate an injury, particularly if it is concentrated in the lower leg area.
Elevated heat in the lower leg area can be a sign of increased blood supply to the tendons, which can be caused by an injury or damage during exercise.
Similarly, decreased heat compared to the opposite side can be an indication that the tendons are not receiving the same amount of blood supply and may be injured.
Sign #4: Subtle signs
Minor fiber damage can present with no lameness, but subtle signs such as mild swelling or a small amount of heat can still be detectable.
If you understand all your horse’s bumps and marks closely, you might notice subtle signs such as mild swelling or a small amount of heat.
Sign #5: Fetlock Drop
Severe tendon injuries, such as tendon rupture, will cause the fetlock to drop, in addition to very obvious lameness noticeably
It is easy to miss this or even assume that because there is no lameness, the horse is ok to be still ridden. However, this can be a costly mistake.
A mild injury can quickly become more severe.
ALSO CHECK: Do Horses Feel Pain When Horseshoes Are Worn?
More so, if you’re eager for a visual explanation of treating tendon injuries in your horse, you can’t miss this SUPERB video:
How Long Does a Horse Tendon Injury Take to Heal?
Healing a tendon injury isn’t a matter of giving your horse a few days or even a week of rest (2).
Tendons and their associated ligaments that suffer mild damage take months and a carefully controlled rehab program.
Related: Why Use Tendon Boots For Horses?
Here are some of the best tendon boots for horses:
How Are Tendon Injuries Diagnosed?
If you suspect your horse has a tendon injury, you must bring in an experienced equine vet. The vet will palpate the suspected area and perform an ultrasound scan (3).
Many vets will have a portable ultrasound to bring to you, but sometimes you must trailer your horse to the clinic.
Don’t waste your time using a vet that does not have access to an ultrasound, as there is no way to see the extent of damage there is without it.
Sometimes a thorough lameness exam is necessary which will also include x-rays. The most accurate way to ascertain tendon injuries is the use of an MRI.
This is expensive and will require you to bring the horse to a clinic but sometimes it is the best option to get to the source of the problem.
RECOMMENDED: Degloved Horse Hoof Guide
Once you have a diagnosis, you must follow along with a slow rehabilitation program.
You will start with a period of strict stall rest combined with icing the affected tendon or ligament. This period can be anywhere from two weeks to three months.
The vet may also have you poultice the leg and use standing bandages to support and restrict movement.
The problem with healing is that new tendon fibers are not as well aligned as in a horse with healthy tendons, and scar tissue formation develops.
This makes the repair weaker and increases the risk of re-injury.
When the injury appears stable, you can start a period of gentle hand walking. This can go on for at least three months.
The vet will take more scans to assess the progress during the process.
As the week progresses, you will add small amounts of trot and then canter, slowly increasing every seven days.
In addition to rest, many people are using stem cell therapy or platelet-rich plasma to aid the healing process. Both of these are injected directly into the tendon.
Plasma therapy is easier and cheaper than stem cell treatment as it uses the horse’s blood instead of bone marrow.
Another recent popular treatment is a shockwave. Shockwave is a machine that gives the tendon a series of shocks. These are not electric. This helps improve blood flow and can reduce pain.
Look at the video below for more details about horse injury treatments:
Different Types of Tendon Injuries
A horse tendon injury can occur in several ways. One common one is asking an unfit horse for too much strenuous exercise.
Fast movement, such as playing in the paddock, over uneven ground, and jumping, can also cause damage.
The injury, whether minor or a complete tendon rupture, will be localized to a specific area within the tendon or ligament.
On a scan, the vet will see a hole or tears. Extreme trauma can result in direct tendon laceration. And if the tendon sheath is broken, an infection can easily set in, which is life-threatening.
All of the following tendons and ligaments can suffer an injury:
- Suspensory tendon
- Check ligament
- Coffin joint, fetlock, and hock collateral ligaments
- Stifle cruciate or meniscal ligaments
- Digital flexor tendon
- Suspensory ligaments
I’m sure you have many questions about tendons! It is an exciting and complex topic that you can never stop learning.
I’ve included the answers to some of the most common questions here:
1. What are tendons and ligaments?
Tendons and ligaments are elastic soft tissues that move with your horse and stabilize joints. They are made of fibers and collagen.
They contain fibroblasts which create and repair fibers.
2. What causes a tendon or ligament injury?
In addition to stress or trauma caused by activity, a horse can suffer an injury if they do not have good farrier care.
This includes letting their feet get too long and using a poor-quality farrier.
3. What boots for tendon injuries in horses are there?
There are different types of boots available to help you treat tendons. A popular choice is ice boots. Medical boots for horses can also be useful for ice application on the feet or using a poultice.
4. Do magnetic boots for horses help?
Yes, sometimes magnetic boots for horses can help a tendon injury. They can assist in increasing blood supply and reducing pain.
Always talk to your vet before using them to ensure they are safe for your horse’s specific injury.
Luckily, with good, proper care, many horses can return to work after a horse tendon injury.
You might have an otherwise fit horse that will now be compromised, so be watchful!
Further, now that you read my guide, you’ll notice the first sign of a tendon injury in horses.
Sometimes, the horse will not be able to compete or train at the same level as before, but they can live long, happy, sound lives.
The most important thing to remember is that if you suspect a tendon injury stop working your horse and consult a vet to avoid inadvertently causing more damage.
If you notice these signs and symptoms of tendon injury, DO NOT HESITATE to contact your local veterinarian for a clinical examination or a tendon scan.
Lastly, please don’t forget to share your comments with me. I’d love to hear from you. Until next time…
Did you ever treat your horse for tendon injury? What was the experience? Please tell me in the comments below!
1. Smith R, Schramme M. Tendon injury in the horse: current theories and therapies. In Practice. 2003;25:529–39.
2. Woo SL-Y. Ligament and Tendon Injury – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics [Internet]. www.sciencedirect.com. 2019 [cited 2023 Feb 28]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/ligament-and-tendon-injury
3. Young A. Imaging [Internet]. School of Veterinary Medicine. 2019. Available from: https://ceh.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/imaging
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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