August 9, 2023

Focus on Soundness: Strategies for Injury-Free Horses

At Countryside Veterinary Services, our dedicated team of equine veterinarians has the privilege of tending to a diverse array of sport horses, each with its unique aspirations and challenges. Through the years, our experience has unveiled typical injuries, distinct to the discipline and type of sport horse, whether that is Hunter/Jumpers, Dressage horses, Barrel Racers, Saddlebreds, Cutting horses, Endurance Horses, Eventers, and more. When these challenges arise, and a client is facing a temporary setback due to lameness, our mission is prompt diagnosis, effective treatment, and a swift return to their competitive career.

Given the substantial commitment of time, resources, and emotion that clients invest in their sport horses, it's only natural for owners to seek out ways to keep them sound and healthy; preventing injuries before they happen. Not every injury is within your control, but there are crucial considerations for every horse: good shoeing and trimming, proper nutrition, effective training, and more.  

Additionally, an industry has rapidly evolved dedicated to supporting horse owners in this mission. It's not uncommon to witness horses without apparent issues being thoughtfully adjusted, needled, massaged, supplemented, or injected (and the list could go on). The common goal is preempting potential problems that might compromise your horse’s ability to perform. This proactive approach resonates with us.

With that in mind, we're excited to share tailored recommendations that can contribute to maintaining the soundness, enthusiasm for work, and overall health of your sport horse. Warning: These tips might not be glamorous, but they yield exceptional results!

Build Up Your Horse's Core Strength:

Much like humans, a strong core is essential for horses' balance and posture. When a horse has a stronger core, there is less tension and less stress on the lower limbs, decreasing the chance of injury.

Engage your horse in core-strengthening exercises like:

  • A long and low, stretchy trot which encourages your horse to raise and stretch their back and open up their lower back and sacroiliac region
  • Backing them up a hill. It forces them to push their body backwards while rhythmically coordinating their feet in diagonal pairs.
  • Use a training tool like the Equiband™ system, which is specifically designed to build core strength. It works by stimulating receptors in the horse’s skin and hair follicles. In response, the abdominal, oblique, sub lumbar, deep neck and back muscles are activated, stabilizing the spine and engaging the hindquarters during movement. Consistent use strengthens the core, enhancing your horse's posture and reducing the risk of pain or injury in the neck and back.


Diversify Exercises:

Have you heard the saying "Pushing the envelope"? It means that by repeatedly stretching the limits of something, you risk causing damage or breaking it. Tendons, ligaments and  joints are like that, too. Variety is the spice of soundness. Rather than sticking to repetitive exercises, diversify your horse's routine with trail rides, groundwork, swimming, hill work, raised cavaletti, short gallops or other creative ideas.

Just like a basketball player doesn't focus solely on shooting; they also work on their dribbling, passing, and defensive skills. A well-rounded exercise plan leads to success in the ring and at the shows.


Footing Matters:

Footing is integral to equine soundness. Good footing ensures even loading of tissues, support during peak stance phase, and stability during propulsion (exerting pressure on the deep digital flexor tendon) and is not excessively deep which can lead to muscle fatigue.

An often-overlooked footing consideration is that, if your horse is always training in a perfectly manicured arena, he will be less resilient and more susceptible to injury when faced with a different surface. Incorporating diverse surfaces like sand and grass helps your horse develop surefootedness, improves his spatial awareness (proprioception), neuromuscular and motor control. Imagine two runners about to compete in a cross-country race. One runner only trained on a treadmill, the other on trails with roots, deep sand, rock, etc. As you can imagine, the athlete's body who ran over varied terrain is going to be fitter. Like us, when horses are challenged by uneven footing, their soft tissue structures (like their suspensory ligaments, for example) will undergo different strains.  

It’s important to slowly introduce varied footing at home. For an additional benefit, try walking your horse with her right feet on grass and her left on gravel or pavement. That will really get her brain to body receptors firing.

Promote Soundness through Mindful Grooming:

In the quest for soundness, recognizing signs of soreness or swelling is paramount, yet not always straightforward. Grooming can be a great window into your horse's well-being. Regular grooming sessions give you an opportunity to develop a baseline of what's normal and what’s not for your horse. During grooming, you can watch for cues such as ear pinning, tail twitching, dancing, or aversion to grooming tools' pressure which might indicate pain or soreness. For instance, Does their back flinch when you curry it? Do they try to swat you with their tail when brushing over their stifle area? While you are grooming, you can go over their legs ensuring there is no heat or swelling. Getting in front of potential issues equals less injury, less pain, less down time and more enjoyment riding and competing.

During your grooming session, spend time giving a vigorous curry with a rubber curry comb. Not only is a great way to stimulate oils in the skin, but, it is excellent for nurturing your horse’s fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that stabilizes and links skin with muscles. When the fascia becomes constricted, thickened, or less pliable, it can impact muscle function and range of motion. If you’ve ever felt the benefits of “cupping” you’ll know that when your skin is loose and able to move easily, your muscles benefit. Use a lot of pressure when you curry and move in circular movements aligned with their hair.

Grooming is also an excellent way to enhance blood flow and circulation,— helping deep tissue and decreasing muscle soreness.

Rider's Fitness:

Embrace Your Best Self. Just like we strive for our horses' optimal health, let's remember to prioritize our own well-being. We're not talking about perfection here, but making an effort to achieve vitality and wellness benefits both you and your equine partner. In the spirit of teamwork, consider your horse as your companion in a shared athletic journey. While you don't need to be a marathon runner for a leisurely trail ride, when it comes to performance, remember that harmony requires effort from both sides. Asking your horse for peak performance while not investing in your own fitness might not be entirely equitable. The fitter you are, the more balanced and even you will ride and the easier it will be for your horse to perform.

In conclusion, keeping your horse sound is our shared mission and goal. By giving attention to injury prevention strategies,  you're paving the way for your sport horse's enduring health and peak performance. If you would like to discuss these or other injury prevention strategies, feel free to: