Common sport horse injuries
What types of injuries and conditions do sport horses commonly have? Well, it’s a few categories of things.
- The wear and tear, caused by the repetitive nature of horse training. Arthritis in the horse is a common example of this. There also might be wear and tear of soft tissues, like ligaments and tendons.
- Then there are issues that arise in a horse while he’s growing and developing. Perhaps his nutrition isn’t appropriate, or his training is too harsh. His body, his joints, and his tissues can be damaged as a result.
- Another way that horses injure themselves is by having an accident. It might be something that happens in the stall or field, like being cast, or hitting a hole in the pasture. It could also be a bad step after jumping a fence, or a fall or slip.
- Most horses, at some point, are going to injure themselves. It could be a random accident, a kick from another horse, or it could be something related to your horse’s job! Performance type injuries may be the wear and tear variety, or they could be directly related to a specific incidence during your horse’s training.
- Your horse’s job may make him more likely for certain injuries! But all horses are at risk of these injuries and body issues, but it’s helpful to know how your horse’s discipline relates to common issues and wear and tear locations.
- The information that follows is generalized – all of our horses have different jobs and work at those jobs on different levels. But there are some interesting trends that can be seen in horses of certain disciplines.
- Lots of injuries to horses that jump involve the forelimbs – logically. That’s where they land. The deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) in the forelimb is a popular location for injury. There might be inflammation with tendonitis or a tear. The DDFT is a long and winding tendon, from the upper leg into the hoof, so the location of injury varies greatly.
- Jumping horses also damage their suspensory ligaments as well, more commonly in the front limbs than the hindlimb.
- Research also shows that jumpers can injure the navicular bone in the hoof as well as the ligaments in the hoof.
- Fancy dancing horses often have injuries related to the legs – and back. It’s how the dressage horse carries his weight – towards the hind end and across the back. Of course, the amount of weight carried on the hind end increases as the dressage horse moves up the levels.
- It’s common for dressage horses to injury their suspensory ligaments, and you commonly see horses with degenerative joint disease (arthritis) in the hocks, fetlocks, and knees. Stress fractures can also happen, as can back and neck injuries.
Western performance horses.
- Highly active western horses are similar to dressage horses in that their hind ends are required to work hard. Think about the reining and cutting horses that slide, spin, and squat to get their jobs done.
- Hock problems, stifle problems, and forelimb suspensory ligament injuries are the most common in these performance horses. As a horse slides or stops, the front limbs are often hyperextended to allow for planting of one leg to perform the maneuver.
Things to look for when grooming and caring for your horse.
- Heat, swelling, and/or tenderness anywhere. Heat and swelling go hand in hand, so you might spot one but not the other. This is why a daily leg inspection is so critical!
- Flinching and soreness across your horse’s back, neck, and major muscle groups.
- Irritation at the tack. Granted, this might just be the manner in which you put it on – throwing saddles on, stacking the edges of saddle pads, cinching up too quickly. It also speaks to saddle fit.
- Stiffness after being in a smaller paddock or stall.
- Uneven steps as you are leading your horse around. Do his hind legs track up equally? Does one swing out? Or in?
- Hesitancy to pick up a leg for hoof picking, as if the standing leg is too sore to hold the weight.
- Ears pinned, tail swishing, stomping, etc. as your horse is being handled.
Things to look for and feel under saddle:
- Your horse acting “cold backed”. As if he needs to buck it out before you can get on with your ride.
- Anytime your horse is hesitant about doing things. Turning, fast starts and stops, jumping, anything that seems like it’s harder for him to do than previously.
- He might also decide that speeding up is better, and he starts to rush things, or the opposite and starts to flat out say NO.
- You might also find your horse being resistant to your leg and cues. Or he braces against your hands.
- Having a significant difference in gait from one direction to the other and/or difficulty picking up or maintaining a canter lead.
- Anything out of the ordinary! Sudden changes are obviously easier to spot, but keeping a training journal can help you notice long-term changes in how your horse feels.
Always involve your team – vet, farrier, trainer, saddle fitter, everyone really, when you start to notice a shift in your horse.
Lots of these common sport horse injuries can be treated, and the long-term wear and tear conditions can often be helped with simple therapies that you can do, like icing and exercise modifications.