Injuries are always a worry for horse owners, they can be expensive, time consuming and painful for your horses. Overuse injuries are something that owners can help reduce. Read on if you would like to know more about overuse injuries and how you as an owner can reduce them.
What is an overuse injury?
As in humans overuse injuries in horses occur due to a build up of micro trauma to tissues and the tissue is unable to repair quickly enough. When training to gain fitness and strength you want to overload your body but you need to give your body time to remodel and repair to be stronger. This is the same in horses. If they are not given the opportunity to recover after training then these micro traumas build up and can cause overuse injuries.
While humans can verbalise discomfort and pain horses often hide this making it really difficult for owners to know when there is something wrong. It is therefore important to know the potential causes of overuse injuries so that you can reduce there impact on your horse.
Causes of Overuse Injuries
Training & Fitness
Horses like humans can be unfit so it is imperative that training is planned to take the horses fitness level into consideration. The training load and frequency want to be increased gradually to allow the body to adjust. If the training load and frequency are increased suddenly and quickly then the horse is unable to make this adjustment and overuse injuries can occur.
Another important aspect of training is giving the horse enough rest time between training sessions. Giving your horse two or more days off a week is a good thing. It allows there bodies to repair and gives them some down time, however if stabled then an in hand walk would be of benefit to allow them to stretch muscles and joints out.
Training should also have different intensities, duration and activities (schooling, hacking, jumping) to create more physiological adaptation in your horse (increase their fitness). If you always keep everything the same then staleness and boredom can set in. By mixing it up you will get better fitness gains and a reduced risk of overuse injuries
Confirmation and Biomechanics
Horses come in so many different shapes and sizes. Some have been breed for specific traits that predispose them to be better suited to a job. As an owner we do need to look at our horses to see if their confirmation suits what we want to do with them. By doing this we can give the horse the best possible chance of not sustaining injuries due to their confirmation. Their confirmation will dictate how they biomechanically move and also show up as tightness in certain areas. For instance I have an ISH who has medial rotation on his lower front limb. This means that he gets tightness in his shoulder. To add to that he has a long neck so quite often he is tight through that shoulder and the base of neck. Regular bodywork in the form of massage, and mobilising stretches (carrot stretches) help reduce tightness and overuse injuries.
Ill fitting tack can cause overuse injuries by placing undue stress on certain structures such as the shoulder and back. The pressure created can cause atrophy of muscle, a change in biomechanics, stress on other areas, and inflammation. Checking tack regularly by a good saddler will help reduce any overuse injuries from poorly fitting tack.
Foot balance is really important in horses. Having a long toes for example puts unwanted strain on structures above and will result in overuse injuries. A farrier should be able to maintain a balance that is suited to your horse. Regular visits should also occur (4-6weeks). Horses hoofs do grow at different rates through the year and so you may even need to change your trimming or shoeing schedule to fit in with this. It is also imperative to be feeding your horse a balanced diet that encourages good hoof growth.
The fuel you put into your horse is important on many levels. Firstly it helps a horse recover after exercise and gives them the energy requirements to perform that exercise without having to use alternative sources like muscle. Secondly a well balanced diet gives all the nutrients to develop strong hooves. If your horse has not got good hoof structure then this will create issues for the rest of the body.
It is also very important for young horses to be getting a good balanced diet so that they don’t develop any growth issues. It is particularly important to look at copper, zinc and magnesium levels as these are all involved with bone development.
Overuse injuries can be caused by many different factors but as owners if we make sure diet, training load, tack, trimming/shoeing and conformational issues are acknowledged and monitored than the prevalence of overuse injuries can be reduced.