Horse Health: Bowed Tendon

My personal horse, Scrimshaw, recently sustained a leg injury. She is out of shape and overweight. (Take a lesson here). An unexpected romp in the pasture when two ponies breached her fence and created pandemonium caused her to take a misstep.

Here is some information about equine bowed tendons gleaned from her veterinarian, many on-line sources, and our own experience.

The pathology
After injury, a horse’s body immediately initiates inflammation at the site of the injury trying to remove damaged tissue and begin the healing process. Some inflammation is normal and beneficial to the healing process. However, too much can cause further damage. If it’s visible to you, it is too much.

The original injury becomes of little significance when compared to the resulting damage caused by swelling and poor circulation in the extremity. The capillaries leak fluids into damaged areas. When tissues are allowed to swell, the veins become engorged with blood allowing the blood to pool in the lower leg and hoof rather than travel efficiently upward. It is a chain reaction of blood pooling and tissue adhering to itself (scarring) in a mal-adapative and unhealthy configuration.

Use every possible means to stimulate circulation and reduce swelling.

Ice: Ice immediately. Ice has a powerful affect on the tissues, constricting them and pushing the swelling out. This will help prevent the permanent damage due to stretched veins and adhesions forming in the connective tissues of the damaged area (the tendon). It reduces the permeability of capillary walls to slow the leaking that causes the swelling. It also lessons the nerve signals that cause the pain.

Once of the best ways to ice a horse’s leg is to stand the horse’s leg in a deep bucket (or ice boot) with a mix of 50/50 ice and water. If the horse misbehaves or will not stand easily and tends to kick the bucket over, it can be filled with just ice, but the ice-water mixture, though more cumbersome, gives a better full-coverage of the tissue.

If your horse is not used to standing in a bucket, it is best to try this the first couple of times OUTSIDE the stall so that when the bucket of ice and water ends up dumped, it is not soaking the stall. It should only take a few tries to get him desensitized to the procedure.

While there is some evidence that horse’s, unlike humans, rarely get skin damage due to contact with ice, the bucket of ice water never gets below 32 degrees, so can cause little damage.

Ice the leg for at least 10 minutes many times per day. (every hour if you have the time and/or staff to accomplish this.)

Massage: After the icing, which numbs the leg to pain, you should try to GENTLY but firmly massage the tendon tissue up between your thumb and forefingers, further pressing the blood supply toward the heart. The tissue is already trying to heal. Left untreated, it can grow into into a hardened knot or tangle – in effect gluing the tissues together. Massaging the tissue up and down helps to prevent the adhesion of tendon tissue into this non-functional knot. (This is harder to do on a rear leg than a forelimb.)

Wrapping: Scrimshaw is spending 24 hours with a supporting, pressure bandage on her leg to press the swelling out and support the ligament. Then she takes 24 hours with no bandage. This is something your veterinarian will discuss. You can’t ice every hour and wrap for 24 hours at the same time.

Since this site is not intended to be a full veterinary compendium, we will stop with the most urgent treatment (icing and wrapping). Defer to your veterinarian and this series of youtube videos for more details.
See this video.

Luckily Scrimshaw had less soft tissue damage than I had feared. The picture below shows her progress after 2 weeks of wrapping and 3 weeks of stall rest with hand wallking or supervised grazing. (See just the slightest bit of swelling still evident in the right rear hock.)

She must still remain calm for another week or two, and will not go back into a rutted or choppy pasture for another month or two. Instead she will enjoy the pleasures of one of the cultivated, smooth grassy paddocks.

The picture shows her getting her feet trimmed (left front already done)

Horse training can be dangerous. Not all methods work on all horses. Instruction presented here is not meant to be prescriptive in nature, and takes no responsibility for the welfare of any animal or person using our methods.

Please note that any advice given on is neither veterinary nor prescriptive in nature but offered only as an introduction to this topic.

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