Helping your horse recover after a major injury

One injury can end a horse's career.

One injury can end a horse's career.

One injury can end a horse’s career.

Accidents are an unfortunate risk of any sport, especially horseback riding. A quick mistake can easily escalate to a career-ending injury, and incorrect care will lengthen the recovery process and possibly prevent your horse from healing outright. Here’s how to help your riding partner recover after a variety of injuries:

Skin wounds

It’s important to address cuts, scrapes and other lacerations quickly to prevent infection and the growth of proud flesh. Scientifically known as exuberant granulation tissue, proud flesh occurs when the blood vessels and connective tissue that fill an open wound begin to cover the healthy skin surrounding the area. Granulation tissue is pink and lumpy due to the large number of blood vessels inside, which bring oxygen and nutrients to the healing skin. The tissue is normal, but when it expands beyond the wound itself, new skin cannot grow.

“Proud flesh is more common in horses than other species.”

Mysteriously, proud flesh is more common in horses than other mammal species. It often develops on the lower legs but can appear anywhere on the body. To reduce the risk of development, thoroughly rinse any skin wounds with saline or cold water. If necessary, apply ointment like Finish Line’s Fura-Free™ to reduce inflammation and facilitate healing or flush the area with an antiseptic wash. Follow these procedures with a bandage or splint if necessary. Keep physical activity to a minimum – movement tears at the healing tissues and stalls the process. Adding Finish Line’s Feet First Coat 2nd, which contains several sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, further promotes healthy skin.

Soft tissue injuries

Soft tissue injuries occur when a horse stretches its ligaments or tendons – the connective tissues connecting muscles, bones and joints – beyond their capabilities, resulting in a tear. Usually, the area becomes inflamed as the horse’s body sends extra blood to clean away the dead tissue. This process, which lasts for approximately one week, causes the injured area to swell and grow warm to the touch.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of a soft tissue injury aren’t always so evident. Depending on where the injury is, the side effects of inflammation – heat and swelling – don’t always occur. Some soft tissue injuries are also so mild that the horse doesn’t show consistent signs of lameness. In these cases, the animal will continuously damage the area until the injury grows severe.

The healing process doesn’t begin until after the inflammation subsides, but that doesn’t mean horse owners should ignore this stage. On the contrary, the inflammation can actually cause further damage. Instead of waiting, begin using cold therapy as soon as you realize your horse has a soft tissue injury. TheHorse.com recommended immersing the affected area in ice water at a temperature of anywhere from 59 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Soak the horse for 20 to 30 minutes three to four times per day for the first two days after the injury, then reduce to two to three times per day over the following two weeks.

You can also apply Finish Line products like our Original Premium Poultice, EZ-Willow Gel Liniment or Iso-Tite Gel if you suspect your horse may have suffered a minor soft tissue injury due to heavy exercise or a misstep out in pasture. These products are designed to support overexerted muscles and soft tissue.

Horse healthcare products, cold therapy and light exercise are effective for most soft tissue injuries, but severe ones may need more extensive treatments. Regenerative options like stem cell and platelet-rich plasma treatments add vital compounds to the area to facilitate regrowth. Therapeutic ultrasounds speed up recovery by adding heat to the area to stimulate circulation. Finally, extracorporeal shockwave therapy stimulates cell production while reducing inflammation.

Limb fractures

According to The Horse Report, a publication of the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, fractures are the most common career-ending injuries seen in athletic horses. They’re often incurred on the racetrack, but even pleasure riders are at risk.

A poorly maintained pasture can lead to a devastating slip and fall.A poorly maintained pasture can lead to a devastating slip and fall.

Limb fractures in horses are notoriously difficult to treat. Because their bodies are incredibly heavy and their limbs relatively thin, the bones tend to shatter rather than break cleanly. This makes it harder for surgeons to reconstruct the bone. In addition, horses have few muscles in their legs to support the injured area during recovery. A horse with a fractured limb must stay off the leg until it fully recovers, but doing so goes against a horse’s natural tendencies.

Thankfully, not all fractures end in euthanasia, which was common in the past. Greenstick, stress and simple fractures are much easier to treat and heal. The key is to address the injury immediately – as The Horse Report noted, the steps you take during the subsequent half hour drastically affect the success of any further care. If necessary, clean open wounds, bandage the skin and use pressure to stop any blood loss. Next, apply a splint to the front and back of the limb. A split stabilizes the leg, prevents or reduces further injury, eases the horse’s anxiety and encourages it not to put pressure on the limb.

Contact your veterinarian immediately and have him or her come evaluate the horse’s condition. Keep the animal off the leg and as still as possible while you wait. If your vet decides the horse can be moved, take it to the closest veterinary hospital. Thankfully, most racetracks and other competitive arenas have emergency veterinarians and equine ambulances on standby.

Only time will tell if a horse can completely recover from an injury, but taking the right first aid steps drastically improves its chances.