Showjumping Discipline | Common Injuries & Treatments
Injuries often associated with show jumping horses
Watching showjumping horses close up allows you to see the power through their hind limbs on takeoff and the extraordinary way that the forelimbs deal with the forces of the landing.
Sports horses who compete at any level in show jumping will be subjected to these incredible forces and as such many will sometimes experience some form of pain or lameness. Managing and maintaining your showjumping horse on a regular and consistent basis is key.
Many showjumping horses experience issues with their suspensory ligaments. The stresses placed on the hindlimb suspensory apparatus (on take-off) and the forelimb suspensory apparatus (on landing) put enormous strain on these ligaments. The hind limbs provide the majority of the force for takeoff, and the head and neck position changes to ensure optimal force generation. On landing the front coffin and fetlock joints are overextended (hyperextended) which places strain on the flexor tendons and the suspensory ligaments in these limbs. It is not therefore surprising that damage to the musculoskeletal system and lameness is so common in showjumping horses.
There is also immense torque placed on joints when making quick turns in and out of the jumps. These movements create the potential for subclinical lamenesses, causing low-grade intermittent or continuous pain, often compromising the horse’s performance without resulting in overt lameness. Nonetheless, some horses are able to perform very successfully despite low-grade lameness.
Common lameness from the structures within the foot is an extremely common source of lameness in all performance horses. This pain may come from simple causes such as tearing/bruising of the sensitive laminae or hoof wall cracking, or may be related to injuries to the bones/ligaments in the foot such as the navicular bone. Jumping horses, in particular, are prone to injuries in the most distal parts of the deep digital flexor tendon as it passes over the back of the navicular bone and where it inserts onto the coffin/pedal bone. When diagnosed with navicular in most cases scintigraphy or MRI scans may be needed to distinguish the navicular disease from other forms of foot pain. Despite intensive treatment, in many cases, this disease is progressive so can limit the longevity of a competition career.
The backbone of a horse has large “spines” extending vertically within its back. Through the extensive jumping motion, these can occasionally impinge on each other causing inflammation and pain. The use of local anaesthetic to find an area of pain, radiographs and scintigraphy can all be used in the diagnosis of kissing spines. Often all three are required as ligament pain, muscle damage and arthritis can occur in the same area making diagnosis extremely difficult.
When watching a horse jump it is easy to see why the hock is a common site of lameness. This is particularly true in horses with poor hock confirmation. As additional stress is subjected to the hock inflammation, and associated pain, can be experienced. Diagnosis is most commonly made by hock flexion tests, injecting local anaesthetic into the hock joint to confirm that there is pain from this region and using radiographs to asses for bony changes.
Finally, many show jumpers report swollen fetlocks (filled fetlocks) after competing or when travelling to or from competitions; in many cases, this is a part of the horses natural healing process and should not be cause for concern.
Traditionally used treatments supporting lameness in showjumping horses
Suspensory ligament injuries. Rest is the foundation of treatment for suspensory ligament injuries, regardless of their location. The pain associated with suspensory ligament injuries is often transient and short-lived. It is common in short term injuries that the horse may “look and feel better” and may be returned to work only to have the lameness return. A rest period of three months would be typical for relatively moderate injuries. Horses with more chronic or severe injuries may require longer periods of time off, in some cases approximately a year. In cases of acute injury where there are no definite ultrasonographic abnormalities of the ligament, the horse may respond reasonably well to anti-inflammatory medications, with the purpose to reduce inflammation or swelling of the ligament. Shock wave therapy is now widely used to treat ligament issues with a view to reducing the recovery period. Horses affected with proximal suspensory ligament injuries in the hind limb appear to have the worst prognosis, often suffering from chronic lameness or re-injury after returning to work. The prognosis remains poor even with other forms of treatment. This challenge has led to the development of surgical operations.
Treatments for navicular syndrome are varied and range from conservative to more aggressive. They can involve therapeutic shoeing, various medications, and surgery. The response to therapy can be unpredictable and does not always correlate to the degree of lameness or radiographic abnormalities. Therefore, it generally is best to make gradual changes, working from conservative to more drastic. Many horses will respond best to shoeing changes and prescribed medications.
Treatment of kissing spines will vary, depending on the horse’s condition and health history. In most cases, treatment will range from modifying the horse’s activity and fitness regime, providing injections to relieve the inflammation and associated pain, shockwave therapy, laser treatments and medications.
Many hock issues found in show jumping horses are treated using medications, wraps and bandages. Anti-inflammatory medication is often used, although this can be an issue when treating a horse who competes.
In all cases, treatment can be a long and expensive process with a strong emphasis on recovery and rehabilitation. Many horse owners search for alternative therapies to support their show jumping horses, with prevention being as important as a cure.
Magnet therapy, being a natural alternative to many other prescribed treatments, is becoming increasingly popular within showjumping horses and has produced positive (yet mixed) effects for decades. Traditional magnetic products have shown to help relieve symptoms of arthritis and help reduce inflammation in the fetlocks and hocks after competing. Many of these traditionally applied products are each designed to target specific areas of the horse by applying standard magnets within the product; magnetic rugs, magnetic boots, magnetic wraps, magnetic poll bands, magnetic browbands, magnetic fetlock boots, magnetic hock boots, magnetic knee boots, and varying other magnetic applications.
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