Recognizing & Preventing
Due to a very large volume of enquiries regarding injuries I will update this page with a more detailed version. If you have a specific problem, an enquiry that you would like to see detailed or information on a particular type of injury, please contact Ross Manson here.
Following are the basics that every person who owns a horse should be aware of and hopefully find some self help when you need it.
The use of sports medicine on horses has been in practice for a number of years. To appreciate the benefits you only need to consider that most professional sports people use a therapist to keep them competing at their top performance. The same can be said of competitive horse people in their chosen fields. Nowadays racehorse trainers, polo players, dressage, 3 day eventers, show jumpers etc. are using professional people to keep their horses in competitive condition.
Sports medicine is basically a method of keeping your horse physically supple and toned and treatment of injuries by a variety of methods. This in turn assists in the prevention of serious injury.
For instance if your horse has a back or hind quarter strain or is prone to "tying up" in these areas, then, to ease the discomfort the horse will place extra stress on the fore legs which in-turn places further stress on the tendons, which on occasions can lead to a bow.
This can also work in the reverse, say a horse has an existing tendon or foreleg problem, then the extra stain will be placed on the back and hind quarters, leading to strain or muscle problems.
Have you ever had a sore back or injured an ankle etc. What is the first thing you would do? For an ankle you would apply an ice pack to reduce the swelling, for a back problem, you probably would rest, then have a massage. If after an assessment of the injury you would then seek professional advice.
These two instances are common sense responses to the problem. So with that approach, you should deal with your horses problems in much the same way.
In many cases, injuries, which may appear serious at the on-set, can be treated with this common sense approach. An ice pack to the area of concern, rest, a massage and assessment of what should follow.
Remember one import thing. If you are not confident in your ability to assess the seriousness of injury, don't delay and call for professional help.
This is very important. If your horse is lame or is not moving as it normally does, you need to take a good hard look at it.
Assessing the problem......
Lameness: Most cases of lameness are fairly easy to detect. But establishing the exact area is sometimes a little more difficult.
Usually quite pronounced limp, but to find where the soreness is simply a process of elimination. First, check the hoof, has the shoe moved, is there any heat in the hoof, are there bruises or abrasions to the heals? Then work your way up the leg, fetlock, tendons, knee and shoulder.
An easy way to detect heat in the foot is to stand the horse on some open ground, and wet both hooves with water. If one hoof dries markedly faster than the other - you have heat, which could be caused by inflammation in the hoof. Maybe as simple as a stone bruise or a shifted nail or as serious as bone injury in the foot, or founder (laminitis). With founder or internal bone injuries lameness is very evident, as well as excess heat.
Check for heat, swelling, abrasions first. Apply a little pressure to the joint by flexing. If you get a reaction to flexing, you may have a simple sprain or injury to the sesamoids, suspensory or joint capsule. Determine how lame the horse is, or how strong the reaction was to flexing of the joint. The greater reaction the more serious the injury. Excessive heat is another reliable symptom. In the first instance apply an ice pack to the fetlock, this will help reduce inflammation. Fetlock injuries are serious and need to be treated as such. When in doubt as to how serious, call a veterinarian, and receive the proper care.
Check for heat, swelling, abrasions first. Tendons or ligament injury can be either visible within a few hours or initial injury, or difficult to assess. With serious injuries, the horse will appear ok until it has cooled down. Once it is cool you will be able to see and feel lesions at the effected area. There is normally swelling and soreness to touch with tendon injuries. Apply an ice pack and have a veterinarian look at it. If there is no apparent swelling but the tendons are sore to touch, you may have just strain. If this being the case, ice the tendons twice a day and apply some liniment (careful in your choice of liniment as horses are much more sensitive than humans and may react to what we use on ourselves), and rest the horse.
Check for heat, swelling, abrasions first. Knee injuries are difficult for the novice to detect, unless of course there is obvious swelling or heat. Flexing the knee can be of benefit, if you get a reaction to flexing there is a possibility of bone injury. Normally when a horse has an injury to the knee you can see an altered gait. Have the horse trotted toward you and away from you. If there is a knee injury the horse will tend to throw the leg out to the side and impact the ground with the inside off its hoof on the injured leg and will dip the head as the hoof hits the ground. Knee injuries are serious and need assessment by experts, if you have doubts call your veterinarian.
Another difficult area for the novice. From experience I have found that what appears to be shoulder injuries are actually injuries to the hoof, fetlock, or knee in 90% of cases. But in the remaining 10% it is usually muscular problems that cause the lameness. Whether torn muscles or tying up, you will need to rest the horse and apply massage to the muscle area, also very light exercise is a help. I am not a fan of lunging horses with muscle problems, a preferable exercise is a mounted walk or trot in straight lines.
This is where correct assessment or diagnosis of the injury comes into play. I have found on many occasions that misdiagnosis has caused further and more serious injury.
Broadly speaking, what appears to be a shoulder injury may actually be soreness in the lower limb or what appears to be a back injury may actually be a problem in the neck.
Correct assessment and diagnosis is essential to recovery.
Usually if you treat an area that appears to be the main cause of concern, probably 90% of the time you would be correct. There are instances where symptoms can be confused with the injury site.
I have found many times over where a horse has been treated for a sore back, and although this seems to be "fixed" for a while the sore back keeps on re-occurring. Through chiropractic manipulation of the neck and back area these types of injuries usually do not re-occur. It must be stressed that you do need a practitioner with experience to manipulate the correct area of the neck and back for this treatment to be successful. Also an experienced person should be able to tell you why this injury has been re-occurring. It may well be that another underlying injury is the actual cause of the problem. For instance if a horse has existing feet, fetlock, tendon or knee injuries this may be the initial cause of the sore back. Normally what I would suggest in this case is to treat the existing injury until such time as that has cleared up. All things being equal you should have a sound horse again without a sore back.
A very simple rule of thumb is to have your horse physically fit for the work you want it to perform.
A little common sense must prevail, for instance would you go out and play in some form of sport and expect to be competitive with-out any physical training. Have you ever had a run around with friends and the next day you feel muscle sore? I do not know too many people who would answer no to this question.
So you wish to compete, you should consider of how fit your horse is before you go into it. First, if you are a novice and would like to start in a particular horse sport, ask questions to the other people involved as to the amount of physical stress is placed on the horse. Ask about their training programs to fit their horse for competitive competition. Ask is your horse the right type of horse to compete. Most horse people are willing to share there knowledge, and you will be on the right road.
Ok you are ready to start preparing yourself and horse for your new interest. You will need a correct balanced feeding program, you will need the correct tack to use, you will need the correct training program.
From experience in dealing with sporting related injuries, a lot could have been prevented if the above was followed. Also there seems to be a lack of patience in some people who tend to push their horse just a little too hard too early in a training program. Most top trainers will tell you that if you put in the foundation work first, that is a steady consistent work load to start off with, then building to more demanding work as your horses fitness improves injury time and stress is brought to a minimum.
The majority of injuries that I treat are directly related to the fact that a horse has been asked to perform when its fitness level was not up to the task asked of it.
When a horse tires it is building large quantities of lactic acid in its muscles this will prevent proper function of the muscular system. When this happens and if the horse is still pushed to the limit stress will be placed on the tendons, ligaments, and skeleton this in turn can cause serious injury and often does.
Remember don't expect your horse to do what you feel you would be unable to do if you were a horse. Follow these simple rules and you will have a happy horse and a lot of fun competing safely with it.
Apart from injuries sustained during competition or accidents, common sudden lameness can usually be determined quite easily.
You leave your horse in perfect condition, then the next day you find it lame!
If you find this is the case check to see where the lameness is - if it happens to be say in the front leg somewhere, yet the day before there was not sign of lameness. Have you had the horse re-shod in the past few days? Have you been riding in a stony area? Is there signs of the horse being cast in it's stable? Did you leave bandages on your horses legs overnight?
If there is heat or discomfort for your horse to place it's hoof on the ground, chances are either a horseshoe nail is too tight, has shifted or, if recently shod, may be tender from being cut back too far or a nail close to or inside the white line. Or it could be a stone bruise.
Another common cause is that if your horse has kicked out during the night and has made contact with something solid, it could bruise it's heal or hock in the case of hind leg lameness.
If there is no sign of hoof lameness check the fetlocks tendons and knees.
If you think that the problem is in the hoof, remove the shoe, or call your blacksmith to look at it, he should be able to correct the problem.
Of course it goes without saying if the problem appears more serious to that which has been pointed out here call your vet or someone with experience to assist you.
With many problems or lameness in horses, the main question an owner must ask is what are the limitations my horse can endure, or is it going to be able to do the job that I require if it?
In assessing this, one may need to draw the hard line, realizing that most horse people have a lot of affection for the old pals. I think that common sense should prevail in your assessment on your horses ability to perform the tasks comfortably as you require.
Without going into the emotional side of things, I feel that I am unqualified to suggest retirement in the case of sever existing discomfort without knowing the ailment or problem, I will touch on some common troubles which can be managed and help you and your horse enjoy each others company.
Dealing with older horses first. If you know the existing problem and have had professional advise as to how to deal with it. Follow what you have been told unless there is no improvement. You may need to consult a different source.
Older Horses: A lot of older horses tend to suffer from arthritic or feet problems, these can be managed by diet and supplements freely available at most stock feed outlets. For arthritic troubles I have found a supplement of the product MSM does have significant positive effect when fed as directed. There seems to be very few side effects from using this product, I have at times found that some horses become more virulent but long term there seems to be no other. For feet problems ensure regular attention of your blacksmith, one conversant with corrective shoeing.
A lot of older horses don't seem to need the protein intake of a younger horse but do need to be supplemented with vitamins and electrolytes in warmer weather. A good rule of thumb is to feed to the requirements of the workload needed. Be careful not to over feed an older horse as they tend to become "fat inside". This can cause extra stress on the heart and lungs if worked too hard.
Younger Horses: Depending on what the ailment is. First establish where the main area of concern is. If you wish to use this horse for competition the main thing to remember is a positive attitude to the suggested long term treatment of the area in concern. If your horse has been diagnosed with say fetlock or tendon injuries then you must follow the suggested ongoing maintenance treatment. To make short-cuts or to neglect the treatment will only result in a lot of downtime for your horse. Listen to professional opinions, even though they may sound laborious to contend with. The benefits will far out-way the consequences.