How to treat suspensory ligaments in horses

Written by tiernan mckay
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How to treat suspensory ligaments in horses
Race horses are particularly susceptible to suspensory ligament injuries. (Portrait of a Racehorse image by Wimbledon from

Injury to a suspensory ligament is common in high-performance horses including race horses, show jumpers, barrel racers and polo ponies. Suspensory ligaments are under a large amount of strain, as they help support the horse's weight and cushion their joints during intense activity. Located between the flexor tendon and the cannon bone, the suspensory ligament is essential to a horse's soundness and ability to perform. Injuries to this ligament can end an equine career, but they can also be treated successfully, depending upon the location and severity of the damage. A licensed vet should be involved in every step of the treatment process, as this is not an injury to treat on your own. While there are surgical treatment options available, it is often best to consider non-surgical treatment first, if the injury allows.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Ultrasound machine
  • Enclosed stall
  • Hose
  • Equine ice packs
  • Experienced farrier
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Anti-inflammatory topical treatment
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Halter
  • Arena

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  1. 1

    Diagnose the injury. A vet can use an ultrasound to determine the location and severity of the injury. This is a crucial step, as the results will dictate the best treatment plan and provide insight into the likelihood of success.

  2. 2

    Put the horse on stall rest. Immediately after the injury, the horse should be confined to his stall to prevent further damage. The exact amount of time should be determined by your vet.

  3. 3

    Spray cold water on and ice the injury. It is important to keep inflammation to a minimum, especially during the two weeks after the injury. Check the injury for heat or additional swelling before each hosing session.

  4. 4

    Ask your farrier to check the horse's hooves. It is common for the farrier to raise the horse's heel to reduce pressure on the ligament.

  5. 5

    Administer anti-inflammatory medications. Your vet will most likely provide you medication as well as topical anti-inflammatory treatments.

  6. 6

    Support your horse's recovery with nutritional supplements. Supplements containing chondroprotective agents will boost production of collagen, which will speed healing. There are a number of suitable products available on the market.

  7. 7

    Introduce hand-walking. When the vet gives the green light, lead your horse out of the stall with only a halter and calmly hand-walk it around your property or barn, slowly increasing the frequency. Too much stall rest will hinder recovery. Hand-walking gives the horse some much needed exercise and helps rebuild the ligament.

  8. 8

    Slowly introduce an exercise program. Eventually, the horse will be ready for very light work under saddle. This is a major step toward recovery. Introduce a program very slowly, as the ligament is still vulnerable at this point. Begin by walking and work up to a casual trot as the ligament shows signs of strengthening.

  9. 9

    Diagnose the injury with an ultrasound again. When the horse is working well under saddle, the vet will check the injury to determine if this non-surgical treatment was sufficient or if a more drastic course of action should be pursued.

Tips and warnings

  • Exhaustion, hoof balance and poor footing are common contributors to suspensory ligament injuries.
  • An equine massage therapist can be extremely helpful in the treatment process.
  • After stall rest, the horse may be full of energy. He could cause further damage if not properly controlled during hand-walking. Consider using a stud chain to discourage any dangerous behaviour.

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