Every year riders are plagued with limb injuries to their equine partners. Sometimes this is a small blip in the training schedule, other times it spells the end of a competitive season. Today it is possible to rehabilitate many of the more common leg injuries. Many rehabilitated horses live long, comfortable lives, and a significant number are able to return to the same level of work.
THE SUSPENSORY LIGAMENT
The Suspensory Ligament (SL) is effectively a broad elastic cable that runs from the back of the knee down the back of the canon bone and then branches to cradle the fetlock joint. Its purpose is to suspend the fetlock joint and prevent over extension during loading. Essentially, it works like a spring mechanism to absorb the energy as it stretches and then recoils to lift the fetlock back to its normal position.
Over time, micro-damage occurs within the fibres of the ligament. Due to the poor blood supply, these micro-tears are more likely to accumulate than heal. Often this is why we see repetitive strain injuries/inflammation to the SL.
The impact of foot balance is critical to the health of the SL. A foot with long toe/low heel places increased strain on structures within the foot (navicular bone), the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon (DDFT) and the SL by predisposing to a “toe first” landing. Instead of allowing a gradual absorption of impact through the structures of the heels and up the limb, this movement creates a snapping action on the DDFT and SL.
Horse is standing on an EquiVibe vibration platform which provides natural movement through vertical vibration. Vibration therapy can help increase blood flow, improve oxygenation of the tissues, remove toxins and metabolic waste, and enhance the body's ability to heal itself, drug free.
The stifle is both the largest and the most complex synovial joint of the horse and, due to its location and structure, it is also the most vulnerable. In comparison, the stifle is most similar to the human knee.
The stifle consists of two joints:• Femoropatellar joint is formed between the femur and the joint surfaces of the patella. It has multiple ligaments that aid in the support and function of this joint. • Femorotibial joint is formed by the back surface of the femur (condyles) and the tibia. • The menisci are small wedge shaped “cushions” that lie between the femur and the tibia and provide a shock absorbing function. • Collateral ligaments – lie outside the stifle joints and connect the femur to tibia and femur to patella.• Cruciate Ligaments – lie within the femorotibial joint and stabilize the tibia against the femur
The most common injuries to the stifle in sport horses are related to the soft tissue structures (ligament injuries, cruciate ligament tear and meniscus damage) and secondary arthritis within the joint. Often, these injuries are the direct result of trauma that results in multiple injuries to one joint.
Horses who do not respond to medical management (stem cell injections, steroid injections) may require surgery to fully understand the extent of the injury as well as reduce the debris floating inside the joint.
Dressage and show jumping horses are more commonly affected by Sacro-Iliac (SI) pain/inflammation. Common complaints from riders range from a sudden unwillingness to go forward when ridden to bucking/kicking when ridden. Other riders will grow concerned over reduced impulsion and engagement (worse at canter than trot) or a “stiff backed” horse. With true SI pain the signs are almost always worse when the horse is being ridden as they are focused on reduced power and suppleness.
Typically SI pain is secondary to another lameness issue in the horse or a result of repetitive strain. Common primary issues would be hind limb lameness and back pain under the saddle (poor saddle fit, kissing spines). These injuries prevent horses from using their bodies normally and place abnormal stress on the SI joint, eventually causing pain.
Proper identification and treatment of primary lameness issues must be the first step in getting a horse on the road to recovery; however, functional exercises (carrot stretches, walking over poles, hill therapy) play a major role in maintaining the health of the SI joint.
TREATMENT AND THERAPY
One of the most important factors when healing an injury is “time.” If horses are pushed back into work without appropriate rest time, they will be at risk of injuring themselves again. Working alongside your veterinarian to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment program is essential to getting your horse on the right road to recovery!
Many of the injuries encountered in athletic horses are the result of repetitive strain/overuse or speed. This highlights the need for cross training and functional exercises/stretches to be a regular part of a horse’s training in order to reduce the risk of this type of injury. Riders are encouraged to implement carrot stretches and functional exercises into their daily/weekly routine!
Dr. Brianne Henderson gr graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she focused her studies on equine sports medicine and surgery. She grew up on an Arabian and Sport Horse breeding/training farm in Niagara, Ontario where her family continues to produce Crabbet Arabian and Arabian/Warmblood crosses for the sports of dressage and endurance.
Her involvement in the world of endurance racing includes experience as a competitor and a line veterinarian from grass roots to an international level of competition. Most recently she was the assistant team veterinarian for Team Canada at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington Kentucky.