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Repetition + Conformation Challenges + Fatigue = Injuries

"Awareness is crucial to the recovery of any injury. Keep vigilant of any changes in your horse's behavior and take up any concerns with your vet."

Sheryl Lynde / Horsetrader Columnist - May 21st, 2015 - Trainer Tips

SherylLynde_170pxAthletes who play sports are susceptible to injuries specific to that sport. Common basketball injuries include ankle sprains and shin splints. Football injuries include shoulder separations and torn rotator cuffs. Horses are athletes, too, and whether you ride trail or perform in a specific discipline, injuries will occur when there is repetitive use, conformation challenges, and fatigue.

In addition to starting colts, I do get a lot of problem horses to remedy with issues like bucking, rearing and bolting. The first thing I want to rule out is pain. I will ask a great deal of questions pertaining to the specific problem such as when it began, where does it occur and has the horse’s demeanor changed. If there is anything that points to pain, I will require a lameness exam. When starting colts, I require teeth to be floated and wolf teeth removed prior to their arrival. Awareness is crucial to the recovery of any injury. Keep vigilant of any changes in your horse’s behavior and take up any concerns with your vet.

We all have well-meaning friends who have great intentions and offer opinions and advice as to what the injury is and how to treat it. But the best one to advise you on the health of your horse is your vet. You may notice that your horse is unwilling to stop, or he throws his head while backing, or his refusals have escalated to bucks when asked to go downhill. If you suspect an injury, early detection is key to recovery.

Contact your vet and schedule a lameness exam. By blocking, he can identify the area of pain and focus imaging on that region. You may think your horse has a sore back, but blocking may reveal a completely different area such as the hock. The back is sore due to compensating from sore hocks, but is not the primary source of pain. After the region is identified, imaging that region through both radiographs and ultrasound is crucial.

If the lameness is big, then the imaging should reveal something big. If the imaging identifies something minor, but your horse’s reaction to pain is big, keep looking. Suspensory injuries are really common, yet commonly missed. The x-rays will reveal any abnormalities in the bone, such as arthritis or fusing. However, according to Dr. Michael Hoge DVM of Murrieta Equine, the hock and suspensory act together as a unit to absorb force and create propulsion. In disciplines that repetitively stress this region there is equal opportunity to injure the suspensory and/or the hock. Trainers and riders are becoming more aware of the high frequency of suspensory ligament injuries as a separate injury or occurring with hock pain. An organized blocking protocol of the lameness source is essential followed by radiographs and ultrasound of the region. An MRI may be necessary for a specific diagnosis depending on the skill level of the person performing the ultrasound and the lesion causing the pain.

Hock and proximal suspensory pain is negative to anesthesia of the lower cannon bone region and varies to blocking of the upper cannon bone region, hock joints and above the hock, depending if the pain is from ligament, bone or joint. A common confusion among veterinarians is when the pain is from the bone on which the suspensory is attached. This is commonly confused with hock pain. It is important to arrive at a specific diagnosis; good information allows for good management. Poor information has a random outcome.

If the primary injury and pain source is soft tissue, an early diagnosis allows proper management that includes rest. Without rest, a soft tissue injury is unable to adapt and heal, causing further damage and the formation of chronic scar tissue. Over time, a soft tissue injury that is not addressed with rest and the appropriate rehab, becomes a chronic source of pain with no or limited treatment options. The latter scenario is common with proximal suspensory injuries — less than 20 percent of performance horses treated for chronic suspensory disease return to their previous use and level.

Ulcers are also more common than you think and can play a role in behavioral issues. Eight out of 10 horses have ulcers that can take as little as five days to develop. All horses with ulcers have different triggers, such as changes in routine, stall confinement, separation anxiety, lay-up due to injury, lack of turn-out, trailering, and training. Symptoms may include weight loss, changes in attitude, recurrent colic, cinchy, or poor performance. The only way to diagnose an ulcer is to have your horse scoped by your vet.

Awareness and early detection, proper diagnostics which include blocking, imaging through radiographs and ultrasound, followed by care management and rest are essential to the recovery of your horse.

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