Skip to Main Content

Understanding Sport Horse Injuries to Prevent Them

Horses work very hard and carry a heavy body which means that they can easily become injured. Here, our Ocala equine vets share the most common injuries in sports horses, how they are treated and what can be done to prevent them.

Common Types of Injuries in Sport Horses

Horses are very active, and some are pushed quite hard, especially if they are high-performance sports horses. Unfortunately, this means that injuries may become more likely to occur.

If your horse becomes injured, it can not only be expensive but also mean that they will need to rest and recover for some time.

To help minimize the risk of injury, you can offer your horse adequate training, exercise, a healthy diet and more, as outlined in this post. When in doubt, contact our Ocala equine vets for a consultation or examination.

Suspensory Ligament Injuries

The suspensory ligament is a thick ligament that runs down the back of the cannon bone and divides into two branches that attach to the inside and outside sesamoid bones on the back of the fetlock.

This ligament supports the horse's ankle, which is an important task given the amount of push, pull and pressure that area of their body endures. Sometimes, that pressure is too much, and the ligament sustains an injury.

These injuries may be difficult to spot, but monitoring your horse for any signs of a torn ligament, such as discomfort, swelling, and warmth in the area, is important. Your horse may require diagnostic imaging and nerve block and will need to rest for at least 12 weeks, while recovery may take up to 12 months.

Deep digital flexor tendon Injuries (DDFT)

The flexor tendons, both the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) and the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT), run down the back of the limb from the knee (hock). It is common for sports horses to injure these tendons.

While mild injuries are pretty straightforward and don't hold serious concern, sometimes serious cases, including ruptures, can occur and hold the possibility of damage to the tendon's health, leading to potentially life-threatening infections.

Rest and anti-inflammatory medications are the most common treatment methods for these injuries in sports horses. That said, several helpful items may also be used. Speak with your equine vet to learn more about treating tendon injuries in your horse.

Bone Bruises

Bone bruises are injuries that occur when your horse is moving. The weight of your horse coming down as it runs creates an impact that leads to bruising of the bone.

Your horse will most likely experience some lameness when they suffer a bone bruise. However, they can bounce back with anti-inflammatory medications and a long rest period (typically around 12 weeks).

Joint Inflammation

This type of injury is common in sports horses. The consistent stress on their joints can cause severe swelling, eventually leading to osteoarthritis.

Luckily, the odds of making a full recovery are high as long as you help keep your horse resting. Once they are ready, you can slowly reintroduce their regular activities.

Soft Tissue Injuries

If a horse is suffering from lameness, it has likely suffered some soft tissue injury. Unfortunately, this type of injury commonly goes undiagnosed and can be difficult to treat properly.

If your horse has a soft tissue injury, it may have been caused by sudden trauma or overworking the affected area. Whether your horse has been overworked or caught a leg on a fence or bush, the result may be moderate to severe swelling, which requires your horse to use the affected limb as little as possible until it heals.

Ways to Prevent Injuries in Sport Horses

Here are five tips to help you prevent injuries to your sports horse:

Implement warm-ups before working. Warming up your horse prior to the event or work is crucial to ensuring that they don't experience any preventable injuries to muscles, joints and tendons. 

Understand conditioning. Conditioning is not something that can be rushed. So, while you may want to condition your horse before every event, only do so if you have enough time to do it well.

Only work in a high-quality location. It is important only to work your horse in an area with high-quality grounds. This will help ensure that accidents are less likely to occur.

Monitor your horse's performance. This can help ensure you notice any potential issue or condition before it becomes more serious.

Ensure the health of your working horse. Your house will need a balanced diet of hay and grain, vitamins, minerals, and a proper balance of fats and proteins.

How Warm-Ups Can Prevent Injuries in Sport Horses

A good warm-up is a crucial part of your horse’s work and will help to reduce the risk of injury. This warm-up is meant to stretch and warm the muscles while increasing blood flow, pulse and respiration. Moving your horse's joints fully before putting them to work can also decrease the risk of injury. Once you've completed a warm-up with your horse, you will also notice that they seem more focused and ready to work.

Structuring Your Horse's Warm-Up

  1. Have your horse begin with a forward walk on a long rein.
  2. Hacking your horse for a short time can also help them warm up.
  3. Have your horse do lateral work to help supple your horse. 
  4. You can have your horse work from a trot into a canter using a long rein.
  5. Have your horse canter in a two-point position to relieve the stress on their back.
  6. Long and low cantering can be ideal for warming up your horse.

What to Do When Injuries Happen

Any potential treatment for your horse will need to be done under the supervision of a vet. You will need to reach out to have your horse examined before a treatment plan can be made.

If your horse is suffering from inflammation of their joints, the vet will likely recommend rest until the joint is back to normal. This should take no more than two weeks. This is the same method of treating sore muscles. Once your horse is well-rested and relieved of the discomfort, they can begin to work again.

When should you seek an emergency equine vet?

If your horse sustains any sudden injury, you should contact your nearest emergency horse vet in Ocala. You wouldn't want to risk further injury by not treating your horse appropriately. Contact your vet at the first sign that your horse is in discomfort.

Our experienced Ocala veterinary team is on-call for equine emergency care in certain cases for existing clients. When we can't provide services, we are happy to refer you to Equine Medical Center of Ocala.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals, or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate regulations governing the care and transportation of equine animals please make an appointment with your vet.

Has your horse sustained an injury, or does it require emergency veterinary care? Contact Florida Equine Veterinary Associates right away to speak with our experienced equine vets. 

New Patients Welcome

Florida Equine Veterinary Associates is passionate about the health of sport and performance horses. Get in touch today to book your equine athelete's first appointment.

Contact Us

(352) 620-2966 Contact