Injury Prevention

Horses are disadvantaged. They must try to give us signals when ridden. They think if they become naughty enough and have a personality change that they just might get our attention. They are only trying to communicate with us the only way they know how. How else can they tell us that something is painful or not right with their body? Sometimes humans are not in tune with the horse enough to know that something is painful. Often people interpret the horses behavior as being down right naughty, and in a lot of cases they work the horse even harder to try and over come the problem. There fore the extra stress causes more traumas to the injured area, further vertebrae locking and more compensation problems. Riders must become more aware of the horses body and learn to identify a potential problem, before it leads to injury. Horses are willing by nature and generally do not misbehave unless man has interfered with them. When a horse is naughty or refuses what you ask, stop and think.

Is he in pain or is there a problem with my training system.

Every horse suffers from some pain and discomfort. Equine Therapy is becoming very popular as riders and owners become aware of their horse's needs.

Every horse suffers from some pain and discomfort. Equine Therapy is becoming very popular as riders and owners become aware of their horse's needs.

The horse is a prey animal and they have a very well-developed fight or flight mechanism and when anything happens to startle them, they often react first and think later. If they get caught in something such as a fence, their first instinct is to leave; often without regard to whatever body part happens to be caught at the time. There fore horses have a well-deserved reputation as being accident- prone. We have domesticated horses and today's horse is predominantly used for sport and recreation, with a heavy emphasis on churning out prospects and starting them at younger ages.


Equine injuries could be subdivided into: accidental, human-induced, or naturally occurring. Accidental injuries would include lacerations and scrapes, broken bones and soft-tissue injuries that occur as a result of a horse playing, falling or slipping, encountering sharp objects (broken fencing, nails etc), trailer traumas, or being kicked or injured by another horse.

Human -induced problems include all those that are caused by our intentional or unintentional ignorance  e.g. , ill fitting tack and saddles, poor trimming and shoeing, imbalance or forceful riding, and failure to recognize signs of early lameness that results in more significant disease or injury.

Naturally occurring diseases as those such as arthritis or kissing spine, laminitis, age related changes (hormonal), cancer or infections. These categories are often overlapping. Man's forceful riding on uneven ground will lead to tendon and ligament tears, or early arthritis.

The four major causes of soft tissue injuries are:

1.   Overexertion for the horse's level of fitness. This is a general occurrence after a spell in the paddock or recovering from injury.

2.   Fatigue caused by stress accumulated over time work i.e.: horses suffer from repetitive motion or repetitive positioning incidents over time, e.g. working the horse in the same frame during the ride.

3.   Injury due to an accident, generally in the paddock.

4.  Saddles and covers that do not fit. Many horses wear covers for long periods of time.  The weight is distributed over the skin covering the vertebral spines and surrounding muscles. The way the cover fits the individual horses conformation affects pressure on specific areas. A research study was done in 2008 (McPhail Equine Performance Center) on different types of covers. The highest pressures on the withers were recorded with the straight cut cover, like the combo especially during walking. Even a lightweight blanket can put enough pressure.  This can make a horse grumpy, girthy, reluctance to lift the back and go on the forehand.

Times when you should get your horse checked out

  • After the winter months when there is lots of mud. Due to mud, horses walkin a different way which puts strain on their body, especially the back and shoulder muscles.
  • After a period of lameness due to a stone bruise or joint pain/strain.
  • After an accident, even if the horse appears normal. In some cases it    can take a few weeks before symptoms surface.
  • When your horse looses its cover in the paddock and straps are broken  or is found with cover around the neck. 
  • After major dental work or when the teeth are sharp or jaw has been    out of alignment.
  • Under a badly fitting saddle.
  •  At the end of the season before you turn the horse out. Insures that the horse is pain free and can have a good holiday.      
  • When the ground is hard a horse can jar up and become sore in the muscles

A sensitive rider can often detect subtle differences in movement but not be able to put their finger on whats wrong. Slight changes in movement or slight under performance can be attributable to so many causes. This makes the vet or therapists job difficult, particularly if there is no clinical lameness or obvious discomfort. Compensatory tactics by the horse can mask the problem. The horse has the ability to change muscle recruitment in order to avoid pain, yet still work with the riders.

New movement patterns quickly become imprinted on the brain rapidly becoming the norm and creating patterns that are sometimes difficult to break. Equine therapy helps break the pain cycle.

Signs and symptoms of back pain

  •     Behavioral changes in your horse can indicate a problem with his  back.
  •     Change in temperament
  •     Resisting previously enjoyed activities like grooming, being caught.
  •     Constantly resting a leg or shifting the weight when standing still.
  •     Dipping the back whilst being mounted.
  •     Reluctance to work
  •     Either wanting to, or showing reluctance to stretch the neck down.
  •     General loss of mobility
  •     Displaying an awkward posture or appearing stiff
  •     Favoring one canter lead, constantly changing legs or being disunited.
  •     Difficulty bending one way.
  •     Does he have problems with incorrect bend or always looking to the outside on one rein?


Discomfort in the lumbo-sacral region

As the lumbo-sacral junction is the most flexible area of the back after the neck and tail, flexion and extension associated with jumping, galloping, and high levels of engagement, impose strain.

Due to the role of absorbing and transferring forces forward, the sacroiliac joint is prone to strain when galloping and jumping at speed.

Signs in addition to some or all of the above may include:

  •     Any form of lameness, however mild.
  •     Reduced hind limb power and impulsion, often characterized by the inability to track up.
  •     Unequal pushing from the hind legs. This could be as a result of right or left leg dominance
  •     Dragging the toes
  •     Holding the tail to the affected side
  •     Asymmetry of the tuber coxae,  (hips)
  •     Muscle wasting        
  •     Unequal weight bearing on the front feet
  •     Crooked movement