Racehorses are athletes. And just like any sport, there is risk in racing. Horses might experience stress and injuries during their racing career and it’s our job to figure out what happened, treat the injury, and prevent further complications. What are the common injuries for racehorses and the treatments that can get them back up and running again?
Bone chips are among the most common injury in horses. It’s a small piece of cartilage-covered bone that can chip off into the joint, most commonly in the knees or fetlocks. The cause can range from a genetic or conformational defect to an overloading of a joint during training or racing. Some bone chips are minor and cause no pain, while others are painful and may require surgery to correct. Typically, a chip is a minor injury with a short layup period post-surgery and a good prognosis to return to racing.
A blown or popped splint is an injury unique to horses due to their incredible evolutionary story. In proto-horses, there were three toes that, over time, evolved into the single hoof, which was essentially their middle toe. The other toes receded and became support bones on either side of the cannon bone. This injury is generally caused by a strain or tear of the ligaments. The injury is easy to spot but also reasonably easy to treat. It can be treated with rest and cold therapy.
Bowed tendons are the inflammation of the superficial or deep digital flexor tendon. This tendon is located behind the cannon bone. When this tendon or the tendon sheath is torn or strained, it can result in lameness. They’re caused by strain in the front legs and can happen during racing, training, or even just being a horse. Icing and wrapping the leg can provide relief. Rest is essential; it can take several months or more to heal. Alternative therapies, such as, laser therapy, Magnawave, or shockwave have also proven helpful in aiding the healing of these soft tissue injuries.
Fracture of the Fetlock
Fractures are some of the most concerning injuries, but they don’t always have to be career-ending. One of the most common is the condylar fracture or a strain injury resulting in the fracture of the cannon bone above the fetlock. These fractures can be repaired surgically, using screws to compress the fracture line. Just as with any surgery, there is a layup time post-surgery. With proper rehabilitation, horses with an injury like this have a good prognosis to return to racing or having a second career.
The suspensory ligament is a band of ligaments behind the cannon bone and is critical for mobility. When damaged, it prevents the extension of the joints, as observed in the fetlock. This injury is generally caused by fatigue, age, hyperextension, or improper training or conformation. A horse with this injury will exhibit lameness, and the leg will be swollen and feel hot to the touch. Stall rest and ice or cold hosing is the best treatment.
Rest and Recovery at horseOlogy
Rehabbing a racehorse takes time and patience. It can also take the latest technology and therapies. At horseOlogy, we know that swimming is a great way to build back to better health while avoiding unnecessary concussion, and we will work with injured horses in the pool to regain strength and stamina. We work closely with our veterinarians and follow the best equine medical advice when rehabbing a horse.