Rehabilitating horses with joint issues, lameness, broken legs and lower-limb injuries
30th July 2020
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We all find it frustrating when our horse comes up lame. Missed competition, training, and time in the saddle can be plainly disappointing as well as expensive. No matter the cause, your horse’s rehabilitation is key, from the very starting time of diagnosis all the way to the point where your horse will return to normal work.


Prevention methods come first

Our first priority needs to be to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. The horse needs to be properly conditioned, just like a human athlete. The muscles should be strengthened appropriately. Many of our injuries happen when the muscles fatigue: our tendons and ligaments get weaker and are prone to tendon or ligament injury or even joint injury from there.

To that end, it is recommended to perform exercises to build and strengthen the horse’s core, exercising on different surfaces and keeping your horse in a regular exercise program.

With the purpose of prevention in mind, horse owners as well as trainers should keep fitness into account. Not only muscular fitness but also when it comes to tendon, hoof, ligament and bone. Horses participating in a speed event need to be able to trot for about half an hour uninterrupted. This is approximately six kilometres and a half. Prevention and preparation should start early in life. Prevention of joint, ligament and tendon injuries begins with foals.


What can we do to heal our horse’s broken leg?

Horses are naturally designed for speed. This actually means that they have skinny and light limbs moved by enormous, very powerful muscles in the shoulders. There is just a very thin layer of skin covering the bones in the lower limbs and a bit of soft tissue cover that can absorb the impact of a bang. Not only are bones in this part of the body susceptible to fractures, but also that “open” fractures, where the bone goes out and the skin is broken, are much more probable. Infections as a consequence of such fractures have very serious consequences at times.

When your equine partner gallops at speed, it stores a huge amount of energy in his leg bones and if a crack — like a stress fracture — happens, the bone can explode, generating multiple fragments as a consequence. Fractures involving joints have a worse prognosis because damage in the joint surface can increase the chances of potential arthritis.

A broken leg is very serious because the horse will need to be able to carry weight right after the fracture has been fixed. Horses need to weight-bear right away after an injury, but they usually also need to recover from a general anaesthetic. This can actually be traumatic enough even with 4 healthy legs.


In a few recovery hospitals in Europe, pool recovery systems are available. Advances with sedatives, local anaesthetic agents and painkillers have allowed some fractures to be fixed while a horse is sedated and standing, and this obviates the need of general anaesthesia altogether. However, this requires a surgeon with outstanding skills in this area.

It usually takes about a month and a half to two months for a fracture to fully heal, but the actual rehabilitation journey is likely to be about six months. Repairing fractures is not a quick job. It is also expensive. It is key that horse owners seek early treatment of such injuries, so any sudden onset of lameness can be investigated immediately.


Observations when it comes to lameness

So, you have just realised that your horse is limping. How should I address this problem? It is definitely in the best interest of the horse owner to take immediate action as soon as you have the suspicion that something is not right with the horse, particularly when it comes to potential lameness. The first thing you need to do is consult with a qualified specialist who has an equine rehabilitation therapy certification and has gone through proper training, as lameness can be a serious issue.

Careful observation is key when it comes to identifying what is actually causing the lameness. When your equine partner is lame, it is very important to carefully follow up with any treatment your veterinarian or qualified specialist recommends. When you examine your horse and observe the movement in action, you might be able to identify the cause of the lameness.

Most lameness issues involve a structure in the knee or hock. As you move forward with your examinations and observations, make sure you pay close attention to the legs and feet of the horse.

About the Author

Iñigo Etxebeste

Member since: 31st January 2019

Iñigo is a London-based digital copywriter passionate about the new technologies and the online universe. He spends his time writing about the topics he loves, travelling as much as he can and playing...

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