Part Two: Causes of Overuse injuries in horses

Overuse injuries are generally caused by a number of factors. As an owner it can be quite daunting when faced with injuries. Below we discuss potential factors that could contribute towards a horse developing an overuse injury.

Conformation & Biomechanics

Conformation is a term used a lot in the horse world. It relates to how your horse is put together, for example it might have a long back or neck, toed in on the legs, or it might have an upright shoulder. There are so many different conformations some of which are deemed as good and some less desirable. Conformation to some extent can predict how a horse might move but not all the time. Conformation can also be used to help determine what discipline a horse would be most suited to. For example most draught horses have an upright shoulder to help pull loads. If you wanted a horse to compete at top class dressage you would probably not want a horse with an upright shoulder as this will potentially reduce it’s stride length. This is not to say draught horses can not do dressage but that potentially if you were to compete at a high level you might find your horse has more overuse injuries as you are asking it to do something it was not bred to do.

Tack

Ill fitting tack is a real potential risk at causing overuse injury. Painful saddle pressure can cause increased flexion-extension in the back and decrease lateral bending. As a result your horse may experience pain and develop an overuse injury in its back or even else where as it adjusts its movement patterns to be more comfortable.

Rider

This is probably the area that is harder to talk about as it can offend or hurt people’s feelings. I get this, but as a bodyworker my first priority is to the welfare of the horse and I believe most horse owners also want to put this first. So as a result as owners we sometimes have to put our feelings aside.

There are two things in regards to riders that can cause over use injuries firstly bodyweight. If you are too heavy for your horse this is going to have a detrimental affect on your horses back and joints. Horses were not designed to carry humans on their backs so we do need to make sure we are an acceptable weight for our horses. As riders we should make up 15% or less of your horses weight, including your tack.

Secondly rider symmetry can also affect your horse. If you are out of balance then this will affect how your horse moves as they will compensate. Repetitive compensation can then lead to overuse injuries.

Hoof balance

Is linked to conformation as it also affects how a horse moves. For instance having a long toe causes an increased lever. This applies extra strain to structures above. It is not like tack or a rider where the horse only as to deal with it a couple of hours a day. If a horse has a long toe every time it moves the issue is still there. This can be a major cause of overuse injuries.

Nutrition

Horses need adequate nutrition to allow their bodies to recovery after bouts of exercise. It gives them the energy and nutrients to perform without having to utilise other sources such as muscle. It also helps the recovery process to repair micro trauma caused by strenuous exercise helping to reduce the occurrence of overuse injuries. Also a balanced diet high in fibre and low in starch and sugars will promote healthy hoof growth. Healthy hooves allow them to fully function absorbing impacts reducing wear and tear to joints in the legs and overuse injuries. Horses are less likely to suffer from foot soreness which means they won’t change the way they load their limbs again reducing the potential for overuse injuries to form.

Fitness & Training

Like humans horses sometimes are not fit enough to do the activities they are being asked to do. This means the micro trauma can be greater and be a trigger for the development of an overuse injury. Also training practices that don’t give enough rest time i.e. overtraining can also cause overuse injuries as the body is not given enough time to recover. Often a stale feeling develops and the immune system can also be affected making the body more susceptible to illness.

There are many factors that can contribute to the development of overuse injuries. It is often a combination of factors rather than one single cause which makes them more complex to solve than a traumatic injury. In part three we will discuss ways to reduce the risk of developing overuse injuries to help you as an owner.

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