Tendon injuries in horses generally occur when a horse’s muscles get tired so they contract and relax less efficiently.

When strained, the structure of the tendon is disrupted and the damaged tissue starts to become inflamed. Tendon inflammation is characterised by five signs:

  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Redness (hard to see in horses because of their coat and skin colour)
  • Lameness

Assessing the tendon damage

It isn’t hard to recognise tendinitis, but it can be difficult to determine the severity of the damage by clinical examination alone. Ultrasound plays a big part in diagnosis.

In spite of our efforts to treat tendinitis, the outcome is still largely determined by the severity of the initial injury. Obviously, if the clinical signs are uncertain, ultrasound also helps to define where the injury is.

A tendon can sustain significant damage without causing the horse to be lame. Cold applications may reduce swelling after a few days, so you might think the problem has gone. However, the symptoms will reappear when the horse starts work again.

Treatment for tendon injuries in horses

The repair process in tendons is very good, but the problem is the scar tissue is not as elastic as normal tendon, although it can be as strong or even stronger.

While we can’t regenerate tendons at present, we can, with careful management, modify the quality of the scar tissue to maximise its functionality. Tendons take between nine-18 months to heal completely.

Dealing with tendon injuries

If a horse has suffered an injury, you’ll need to take special care of him.

  • Taking that little bit longer to get a horse fit will help prevent problems
  • Don’t let a horse get tired when working. If he is fatigued his muscles will tire, putting the tendons at a higher risk of damage
  • Play things by how a horse feels
  • Get to know your horse well so you can recognise when there might be a problem.
  • Recognise any tell-tale signs and don’t ignore them. Is your horse comfortable working on both reins or does he keep changing legs? When you start jumping, is he as confident as he was before?
  • After a horse is worked in canter or jumped, hose down his legs or apply a clay compress or cold bandages to help take the heat out and reduce any swelling
  • Be realistic about a horse’s ability. If he is no longer happy competing at the same level, it could be time to lessen his workload