Tendon injuries quickly can end a performance horse’s career. There are no definitive statistics concerning how many horses in the world suffer from tendon injuries of some sort, but the number is considerable. The most common injury is the one referred to as a bowed tendon, but other injuries, such as lacerations, also can compromise a horse’s capability.
One British researcher estimated that more than 30% of the horses involved in racing and other forms of competition in the United Kingdom and on the continent suffer from some sort of tendon injury or problem as the result of the vigorous exercise involved in running, jumping, or dressage. Nathaniel White II, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, and Professor of Surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center at Virginia Tech in Leesburg, Va., doubts that the tendon injury rate would be as high as 30% in the United States.
It might be that high in the United Kingdom, he says, because racehorses there usually compete on turf that often is soft and yielding. As a result, greater stress is placed on the tendons. Conversely, he added, American racehorses likely sustain more joint and bone injuries than their European counterparts because they run on harder surfaces.
Whatever the number or percentage, the fact remains that tendon injuries do compromise a great many performance horse careers, ranging from the weekend pleasure horse to the highly skilled jumper and racehorse.
When one takes an in-depth look at the tendon and the role it plays, the wonder is that there aren’t even more injuries, especially when horses race or compete in jumping events. The tendon is asked to do the near-impossible–stretch and contract over and over as a racehorse pounds down the stretch or a Grand Prix jumper comes to earth after soaring over a high fence. These horses constantly are at the tendon injury precipice, and one bad step or too much fatigue can send them over the edge.<