Part Three: How to reduce overuse injuries in horses

Last week we discussed the potential causes of overuse injuries in horses. In this weeks blog we are going to go over some ways you as an owner can help reduce the risk of your horse sustaining an overuse injury.

Summary

  • Get tack checked regularly
  • Make sure your weight is acceptable for your horse (15% of their body weight)
  • Make sure you are symmetrical
  • A good diet helps maintain horses weight and hoof health
  • Regular hoof trims help promote good biomechanics
  • Horses need rest days, massages and dynamic stability exercises
  • Ride on good and well maintained surfaces.

Tack

Get your tack checked regularly especially when the seasons have changed or when you have altered your horses training. During the winter horses tend to lose weight and then put it back on for the summer. When you alter their training they may slim down or build muscle especially along their top line.

Bridles should also be checked as this can apply pressure to a horses pole and nose that can also cause injuries if left unchecked.

Signs that your tack might not fit correctly

  • Bucking or rearing when ridden
  • Uneven sweat pattern under saddle
  • Head shaking
  • Not wanting to be tacked up
  • Muscle wastage under the saddle area
  • Soreness along their back
  • Reluctance to go forward

Some of these signs can also be signs of other issues such as ulcers or lameness. If you do get your saddle checked and there are no improvements then a vet should be able to help rule out anything else.

Rider

So what can you do as a rider to help reduce the risk of overuse injury! Firstly you can make sure you are an acceptable weight for your horse. Try and find out how much your horse weights if you don’t know there are a number of websites that offer a rider weight calculator and it is worth having a look even if it is an estimate.

You really want to be within 15% of your horses weight and this includes your tack. You also need to make sure you are looking at your horses ideal weight. If your horse is overweight then this does not mean they can carry more weight. This is where we get into a bit of a problem. If a horse is overweight then they are already overloading their joints and by adding additional weight from a human is only going to confound the problem. The increased weight increases the forces going through the horses body and will make them more susceptible to overuse injuries and potentially osteoarthritis later in life. So keeping your weight and your horses weight down is really important from an injury point of view but also reduces the risk of metabolic issues like laminitis.

Are you symmetrical? No one is 100% symmetrical but the more symmetrical we are the better it is for your horse. Research recently showed that having one stirrup slightly longer than the other causes a different loading pattern through the horses legs. Over time this would cause your horse to move differently and could result in overuse injuries. Seeing a physio, chiropractor or massage therapist and attending Pilates classes would help keep you the rider more balanced.

You can film yourself riding with some tape down the centre of your back and across the back of your shoulders and this will help you see if you are sitting level in the saddle and make any changes accordingly. Having riding lessons with an instructor who can identify areas and help you correct them.

Nutrition & Hoof Balance

I have put these together as nutrition impacts on hoof quality. By having a low sugar and starch diet you are reducing the risk of poor horn quality in the hoof. This also helps with other metabolic issues and laminitis. High starch and sugar in the diet cause more inflammation in the body which in turn affects the hoof. If your horse has hooves that crack, are brittle or your horse is often sore then looking and altering their diet may go a long way. Often feeds contain grains which are high in starch and sugar.

Soya and alfalfa can also cause issues for horses. Such feeds as Agrobs Thunderbrooks, and Speedi-beet offer good alternatives. If you need more energy in a diet try adding Copra. Also adding linseed will help increase omega oils helping with hoof quality, general health and recovery from exercise or injury.

Diet in an exercising horse is important you need to make sure their energy requirements are being met as this will help with their recovery after exercise. You also need to make sure they are getting the right vitamins and minerals so that they can carry out metabolic functions and repair the body. Without there dietary functions being met then they will suffer from injuries and illness.

Hoof balance is important as it affects the way the hoof functions and how the horse moves. For example a long toe will increase forces on soft tissue potentially leading to injuries such as suspensory desmopathy. Make sure you have a good farrier or trimmer that listens to your concerns and is happy to discuss any potential issues. Lastly make sure you keep to a regular 6 week trim cycle or shorter. If you find your horses hoofs don’t grow this quickly then check their diet as this maybe the reason why. If you are barefoot and do a lot of road work then this may extend the time between trims however the hoof may not wear consistently and will need rebalancing.

Fitness & Training

Training a horse should be approached like training a human. Horse need variability in their training. By this I mean not all sessions should have the same intensity or duration and this should be dictated by where they are in their training cycle. For instance in the off season intensity should be low and duration longer. When building to competition and during competition intensity should be higher and duration shorter. This should also fluctuate through a weeks training for example intensity could be high for 1-3 training sessions and then moderate to low for the other 2. By varying training intensity and duration you are creating a need for the horse to adapt, which in turn gives you better fitness gains while reducing injury risk.

Another important aspect is adding rest days. Horses need days to recover this is when they actually make bigger fitness gains and allow their bodies to repair. If you don’t give them recovery time then they are unable to repair the micro damage caused by exercise. This gradually builds up and results in an overuse injury. They also need longer recovery periods dotted throughout their training for example having a few weeks off after the competition period or lighter weeks after an intense training block. Again this allows their body to repair.

In addition to resting is also having regularly bodywork (massage) sessions for your horse. This will reduce muscle tension, help recovery and identify any areas that maybe a potential risk. Adding exercises such as carrot stretches will increase your horses dynamic stability creating a stronger core that will be more resilient to overuse injury.

Increased turnout time is also good for horses and can help reduce overuse injuries. If you can have them out 24/7. Movement really helps horses of all competition levels. I know a lot of people worry that their horses are going to go crazy being turned out but the more they are turned out the less they tend to run around as it is less of a novelty. Track systems are also useful in creating movement as well as a way to control a horses forage intake.

Lastly training on a well maintained surface and different surfaces will help reduce overuse injury. Varying different surfaces is also good as they impact the joints in different ways and reduce repetitive strain. Grass is actually quite a good surface to train on but when the ground is hard avoid high impact activities such as jumping. This is the same hacking if the ground is hard avoid cantering or galloping as this will reduce the impact placed on the joints.

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