Horses become injured in a variety of ways while participating in sports, such as racing, polo and rodeo. Even performance horses suffer injuries during training or play. Protective gear and appropriate training help reduce the risk of injury. When an injury does occur, sports medical techniques may be used to treat the injury. Veterinarians must investigate injuries closely as things are not always as they first appear.
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Bowed tendons are one of the most common injuries in sport horses. According to a Grayson Jockey Club fact sheet, bowed tendons are injuries that cause a tearing of the tendon fibres, not simply the swelling of the tendon tissues. Bowed tendons occur in varying degrees of severity. Some are so minor they can be barely detected, while others feature completely severed tendons. Causes include hyperextension of the fetlock (or metacarpophalangeal joint), muscle fatigue and loss of control. The treatment is determined by the severity of the injury. Anti-inflammatory medication, cold water therapy and rest usually suffice for minor to moderate injuries.
Inflammation in the Foreleg
Inflamed tendons and joints on the foreleg can be caused by trauma, tripping or muscle fatigue. Extra stress can be placed on the forelegs because of a back or hindquarter strain. This makes the inflamed tendon a symptom of the main injury. According to Equine Sports Medicine, this also works in reverse. A bowed tendon may cause back or hindquarter sprains because of the shifting of weight off of the forelegs. Exercise boots, tendon boots, competition boots, polo wraps and other types of protection help prevent foreleg injuries.
Overreach injuries occur when the hind foot moves too far forward and strikes the back of the front foot. This causes lacerations, bruising and pain in the front hoof. Equestrians use overreach boots to protect the front feet of the horse. The boots, also called bell boots, prevent bruising and the loss of the horse shoes. Rubbing can occur around the top of the hoof when rubber boots are used for prolonged periods of time. Neoprene boots help prevent rubbing and chafing.
Abrasions to the Hind Legs
In racing, rodeo and other competition sports, horses may go down on their back legs, causing abrasions to the hind fetlock and ergot area. Soreness in the forelegs may cause some horses to put more weight on the hind leg area. Trainers and racehorse owners refer to these injuries as "rundown" injuries. Various boots and wraps are designed to protect the horse from injury to the hind leg. For example, the application of a rundown patch with vet wrap can protect the fetlock area. Many Western-style equestrians use skid boots designed for horses that often skid or slide on the back legs.
General Sprains and Muscle Strains
Even physically fit horses experience general sprains and muscle strains. With most general sprains of the lower limbs, applying cold water or a cool pack will help draw down the swelling. Cooling and horse liniment, in addition to rest, help repair most minor sprains. Serious lameness should always be checked by a veterinarian. Muscle strains and tying up occurs for a variety of reasons. Many injuries that first appear to be muscle problems in the shoulder or the back may actually be caused by lameness in another area. Muscle strains in the back, shoulders or hip areas require rest and massage. According to Equine Sports Medicine, light exercise may be beneficial with muscle strains in the shoulder area.
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