How to treat strained tendons in horses

Written by jelena woehr
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Tendon strains are dreaded by performance horse owners the world over. A strained tendon can put a horse out of work for months. If the injury heals improperly or incompletely, the horse may never return to his previous level of soundness. Especially if the strain is severe, the tendon affected will be permanently weakened and prone to further injuries. Proper treatment immediately following an injury and during the subsequent months is critical if the horse is to recover from a strained tendon.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Ice
  • Bucket
  • Pressure bandage
  • Telephone
  • Stall
  • DMSO
  • Cling film

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    Treating a Horse's Strained Tendon

  1. 1

    Apply ice to the affected tendon as soon as you discover the injury. If you have an ice wrap made for wrapping an injured horse's leg, use that. If not, place the horse's leg in a bucket of ice and water. Continue to apply ice or ice cold water to the tendon four times a day for 20 to 30 minutes for the first 48 hours after the injury.

  2. 2

    Bandage the affected limb with a pressure bandage. If you've never applied a pressure bandage, ask for help from your trainer or a more experienced horseman.

  3. 3

    Call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment. Your veterinarian should perform an ultrasound to determine the severity of the injury, then prescribe anti-inflammatory medications as necessary. The veterinarian may also suggest options for surgical tendon repair.

  4. 4

    Apply hot and cold therapy for up to six days. Continue ice treatments as described in step one. Wrap the injured leg in a sweat wrap between ice treatments. A thin layer of DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) ointment covered in cling film and cotton wool, with a track bandage to hold it all on, will produce plenty of sweat, which can help to reduce harmful inflammation.

  5. 5

    Confine your horse to his stall for at least sixty days, with two hand- walking sessions of about ten minutes each day. Sedation may be necessary to keep your horse calm during this time. After sixty days of stall rest, your veterinarian should again evaluate your horse and determine whether or not he is healing properly. If all goes well, you can then begin longer hand-walking sessions, eventually progressing to riding.

Tips and warnings

  • Consider therapeutic laser and/or ultrasound treatment. These therapies are expensive but more effective than rest and heat/cold therapy alone.
  • Make a follow-up appointment with your vet sooner than sixty days after the injury if you feel it's necessary.
  • Phenylbutazone ("bute") can be used for up to three weeks after a tendon strain in order to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Consider natural sedative supplements to keep your horse calm during his stall rest period.
  • Even if your horse seems sound, don't deviate from your veterinarian's recommended timetable when bringing her back to work. A second injury during the healing period can delay recovery for months or make it impossible for the horse to ever fully recover.
  • Do not substitute turnout time for hand- walking. A turned out horse can easily re-injure a healing tendon by bucking and leaping, even in a very small area.

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