What You Should Know About Tendon Injuries in Horses

If you’re looking to learn more about a horse tendon injury, then you’ve come to the right place!

Unfortunately, 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.

READ MORE: 10 Best Tendon Boots for Horses

Tendon Injuries in Horses

a horse facing tendon injury

Tendon injuries in horses are a serious issue. They have the potential to seriously limit or even end a horse’s riding career.

This is why you should be aware of potential signs as often quicker treatment can increase the chances of recovery.

Tendon injuries in horses are a serious issue. They have the potential to seriously limit or even end a horse’s riding career. This is why you should be aware of potential signs as often quicker treatment can increase the chances of recovery.

Signs That Your Horse Has a Tendon Injury

Signs of tendon injuries can range from obvious lameness to very subtle changes in gait or inflammation.

The most obvious sign is lameness. In addition to this, you will see swelling around the tendons and feel the heat in the lower leg. However, identifying there is a tendon problem can sometimes be quite tricky.

Minor fiber damage can result in no lameness. If you have a very close understanding of all your horse’s bumps and marks, you might notice subtle signs such as mild swelling or a small amount of heat.

It is easy to miss this or even make the assumption that because there is no lameness that the horse is ok to still be ridden. However, this can be a costly mistake. A mild injury can quickly become more severe.

Severe injuries, such as tendon rupture will cause the fetlock to noticeably drop, in addition to very obvious lameness.

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.

Tendon and their associated ligaments that suffer even mild damage take months and a carefully controlled rehab program. 

Related: Why Use Tendon Boots For Horses?

How Are Tendon Injuries Diagnosed?

If you suspect your horse has a tendon injury, you will need to bring in an experienced equine vet. The vet will palpate the suspected area and carry out an ultrasound scan.

a vet doing ultrasound for diagnosing horse tendon injury

Many vets will have a portable ultrasound that they can bring to you, but sometimes you will need to 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.

Treatment Options

Once you have a diagnosis, you will need to follow along with, 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 provide some support and movement restriction.

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 will then be able to start a period of gentle hand walking. This can go on for at least three months. During the process, the vet will take more scans to access the progress.

As the week progress, you will then add in 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 as opposed to bone marrow.

Another recent popular treatment is a shockwave. Shockwave is a type of machine that gives the tendon a series of shocks. These are not electric. This helps improve blood flow and can reduce pain.

Let’s have a look at the video below for more details about horse injury treatments.

Different Types of Tendon Injuries

a horse with different tendon injuries on it

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, or 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

FAQs

I’m sure you have many questions about tendons! It is an interesting and complex topic where you can never stop learning. I’ve included the answers to some of the most common questions here.

What are tendons and ligaments?

Tendons and ligaments are soft tissues that are elastic and move with your horse and stabilize joints. They are made of fibers and collagen. They also contain fibroblasts which create and repair fibers but they are small in number which is the main reason for slow and poor healing.

What causes a tendon or ligament injury?

In addition to stress or trauma caused by activity, a horse can also suffer an injury if they do not have good farrier care. This includes both letting their feet get too long and using a poor quality farrier.

What boots for tendon injuries in horses are there?

a horse wearing boots that support tendon injury

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 of the feet or using a poultice.

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 reduce pain. Always talk to your vet first before using them, to make sure they are safe for your horse’s specific injury.

Conclusion

Luckily, with good, proper care many horses can return to work after tendon damage. 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.

References

  • Sushil Dulai Wenholz. 2017. “Tendon Injury FAQs.” Expert How-to for English Riders. Expert how-to for English Riders. August 31, 2017. https://practicalhorsemanmag.com/health-archive/tendon-injury-faqs.
  • “Tendon Injuries in Horses.” 2021. Vca_corporate. 2021. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/tendon-injuries-in-horses.
a vet doing horse tendon injury treatments

Did you ever treat your horse for tendon injury? What was the experience? Please tell me in the comments below!

Siun L
Siun L

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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