Soft Tissue Injuries in Horses
No matter what we do, we can't bubble wrap and stick our horses in a stall 24/7, they are always going to find themselves in trouble somehow. Sometimes it's wounds, scrapes or scratches, and other times it's soft-tissue injuries to the ligaments and tendons.
A horse carries about 60-65% of its weight on its forehand, therefore, the tendons and ligaments of the front legs tend to suffer injury more often than the hind legs. Although, any tendons or ligaments in the limbs can be damaged, however, those that perform the majority of the weight bearing and movement are more at risk.
“Typically, injury occurs with fast movement. It is often a combination of fatigue, overextension of a limb, compounded with bad footing, with poor conditioning of the horse and/or continued work in the face of previous injury to the tendon or ligament. The strength of the tendon is in the multiple bundles, so disruption or swelling significantly decreases the strength of the structure. The tear causes an inflammatory process, which tends to continue to damage the fibres around the area.”
- Dr. Melanie Tuplin (DVM)
If you find an inflamed, warm area in your horse's hoof area or lower leg, you've probably found a soft tissue injury of some sort. However, not all soft tissue injuries present themselves with heat and swelling, sometimes, it takes a bit of sleuthing to see just why your horse is lame.
If you find your horse with active presentation of a soft-tissue injury what are you going to do?
The first course of action would be to try to reduce the inflammation, which would help with the pain. Cold water hosing or a soaking boot would be indicated with definitive assessment, keeping the horse quiet is also essential. Standing wraps to help support the legs are helpful after the cold water hosing. And, of course, you should call the vet whereupon the veterinarian will do an ultrasound. An ultrasound is the best way to see soft tissue injuries and the extent of the injury. The extent of the injury will dictate the healing recovery process.
A couple of suggestions that will help speedup the recovery...
Cold Water Hosing
As mentioned previously, cold water hosing will help reduce the inflammation and allow the tissues to begin to recover.
Standing wraps will help support the tissue during the healing process. Make sure to wrap both legs, as the uninjured leg will take more of the brunt of weight bearing and movement as the horse is healing.
Personally, I do not like to use NSAIDS, as this will allow the horse to feel better. I believe pain is a great way to regulate movement as needed. The horse will move as he or she feels comfortable. NSAIDS also does help to reduce inflammation, however, cold hosing and gentle movement (not forced) will do that. There are essential oils and homeopathic that are great for such injuries and can be extremely helpful.
How much to allow the horse to move, and when the horse should start to move, can be controversial among veterinarians and lameness experts. Some cordon the horse off to stall rest for the first few weeks, while others recommend, as mentioned above, gentle movement, as the horse is willing. No forced movement. Movement helps to increase circulation to the injured area that brings healing oxygen and nutrients that are needed for recovery. A few minutes of hand-walking, gradually building up the duration and intensity, until the horse can be ridden, over a matter of the weeks/months of healing is the most noted therapy. Once under saddle, workouts will need be gentle with an slow increase in length and difficulty over a scheduled period of time. Turn out during this time should also be limited and monitored.
Turn out or not
Turning the horse out in a large area that is conducive to play and galloping is not a good idea for a horse with soft tissue injuries. However, many have used a small 'track system' within a small paddock that will restrict excessive movement, yet allow for the gentle walking over varied terrain that is so crucial for healing. Placing stones in muddy areas, grassy areas, sandy areas, etc. can help 'vary the terrain' over which the horse will walk, thus providing healthy ground for the hooves to cover.
Photo from thehorse.com Andres J. Kaneps
There are other complimentary modalities of treatment that are frequently used with soft tissue injuries, including laser treatment, shockwave therapy, Red Light Therapy, Acupuncture and more. I encourage research into other therapies and veterinarian's options and treatments.
Soft tissue injuries take time to heal.
Some maintain it will take a year or more for a full recovery. Some maintain it will take a matter of weeks or months. It really depends on the severity and the care and treatment the horse receives during their rehabbing time.
Seeing to it that one provides the most possibly 'natural' environment during this healing time will go a long way in a complete recovery.
Please do follow your veterinarian's suggestions, and be willing to work as a team together. Your hoof care provider is also to be included, as the limited movement will absolutely affect the growth and wear of the hooves and, even the balance of the hooves.
Working together as a team with your professionals, following instructions, patience and supporting the healing process is the best way to ensure a full recovery for your horse.
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the world-renown author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" and "Natural Hoof Anthology" as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com