First Signs of Tendon Injury in Horses

Table of Contents

First Signs of Tendon Injury in Horses

Table of Contents

Horses are exceptional athletes. Their specialized anatomy makes them fit for various sports, including dressage, endurance, eventing, jumping, horse racing, mounted games, and trekking.

Unfortunately, one of the most common injuries that can take horses out of action is damaged tendons, especially in sports that involve jumping and galloping.

So, what is the first sign that a horse has a tendon injury? This article aims to answer this question and give you a deeper understanding of these remarkable tissues.

Three Common Signs of A Tendon Injury

Generally, 3 symptoms indicate a horse is suffering from a tendon injury or strain: Heat at the site, swelling and lameness. Note that these are a good starting point for diagnosis but could also be symptoms of other injuries. 

Sign 1 – Heat at the site of injury

This heat is caused by increased blood flow to the injured area as part of the body’s natural inflammatory response. The elevated temperature in the affected area can be detected by touch, often before any visible signs like swelling or lameness become apparent. Early detection of this heat can prompt a quicker response to the injury, potentially improving the outcome for the horse.

Sign 2 – Swelling

Swelling is also due to inflammation and an accumulation of fluid in the tissue surrounding the injured tendon. It often appears as a noticeable bulge or thickening in the leg, especially around the tendon area. Swelling can vary in severity, from slight to quite pronounced, and is typically a reaction to the internal damage within the tendon.

Sign 3 – Lameness

Lameness in horses often manifests as an abnormal gait or reluctance to put weight on the affected limb. The severity of lameness can vary, ranging from a slight limp to complete non-weight bearing in more serious cases. This symptom reflects the pain and discomfort caused by the tendon damage. Early recognition and treatment of lameness are crucial to prevent further injury and enhance recovery.

Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect a horse to have an injury in the tendon. A clinical examination can pinpoint the issue and allow you to come up with the best course of treatment.

A Closer Look At Equine Tendons

Prevent Tendon Injuries Before They Happen: Reduce the risk of tendon injuries in your horse with Carnogel. Its unique formula helps buffer lactic acid, reduce muscle fatigue and improve overall tendon health. 

What Are Tendons?

Tendons are strong, fibrous connective tissues that attach muscles to the bones. On the other hand, ligaments connect bones to bones. 

Tendons help horses move their limbs and prevent the impact of muscles when they jump, run, or do other movements. Meanwhile, ligaments help horses to hold things in place, just like the function of tendons in humans.

Although most equine tendons are short and rarely damaged, there are long tendons that are vulnerable to damage as a result of direct trauma or exercise. 

Photo Credit: Dr. Robin Peterson/Total Horse Channel

Cause Of Tendon Injuries In Horses

Injuries are typically caused by stress or trauma during physical activity. 

This can include overexertion during exercise, especially in unconditioned horses, or accidents such as slips and falls. Fast movements, uneven ground, and jumping can also contribute to these injuries.

Poor farriery, resulting in imbalanced hooves, can further increase the risk. Additionally, repetitive strain from regular high-impact activities can lead to wear and tear on the tendons over time, making them more susceptible to injury.

Which tendons are most often injured? Race horses often strain the superficial digital flexor tendon, while jumpers and eventers have more suspensory ligament or inferior check ligament problems. Wounds from penetrating wire, kicks, or stakes can also damage the protective tendon sheath and allow bacteria to enter the wound. [2]

What’s The Prognosis For A Tendon Injury?

Recovery from a tendon injury can take from 6 weeks to 12 months. A severe tear will take longer to heal than a moderate strain, and an older horse will probably heal more slowly than a younger one.

  • Acute tendinitis: Less than 6 weeks
  • Subacute tendinitis: 6-12 weeks
  • Chronic tendinitis: Longer than 12 weeks

Dr. Gillis, one of the world’s leading veterinarians in equine tendon and ligament pathophysiology, advises that “advancing too quickly often results in worsening of the lesion; advancing too slowly results in a loss of productive athletic use of the horse.” [1]

So, it’s important to give your horse the best chance of a full recovery with a good rehab program following a rest period. It should also be noted that fibers and scar tissue from a damaged tendon can be less elastic and, therefore, more prone to further injury

Here is a guide to recovery periods for specific tendon injuries:

  • Superficial (and deep) digital flexor tendon: Total time out of work: Up to 12 months
  • Suspensory Ligament: Total time out of work: 6-9 months
  • Accessory ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon: Total time out of work: 3-6 months

During both rest and rehabilitation, we can aid the horse in a successful recovery with the help of a powerful natural supplement, Carnosine.

Preventing & Recovery of Tendon Injuries With Carnosine

Carnosine, naturally found in high concentrations in skeletal muscles, is known for its ability to buffer lactic acid, which can reduce muscle fatigue and strain, potentially lowering the risk of tendon injuries. Its antioxidant properties also help combat oxidative stress, a contributing factor to tissue damage.

Why Carnosine Supplementation Is Important

If Carnosine is readily found in the horse’s body, why need supplementation? 

Horses engaged in demanding athletic activities, such as racing or jumping, experience higher levels of muscle strain and oxidative stress. The natural levels of carnosine might not be sufficient to counteract the increased metabolic demands and stress on the muscles and tendons during these intense activities.

In addition, prolonged periods of physical stress and the natural aging process can decrease the amount of Carnosine naturally produced. In order to get the full effects of this powerful amino acid, direct application to the target tendon is recommended. 

How To Use Carnogel 

Chemipower’s team, in cooperation with Tartu Pharmacology Institute, has developed a sports gel with Carnosine as the main ingredient. Regular use of Carnogel in this manner can significantly enhance your horse’s performance and prevent injuries, ensuring they remain in top athletic condition.

Begin by applying a small palmful of the gel directly onto the areas needing support, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints, approximately 60 minutes before your horse’s workout. This pre-workout application helps prepare the targeted areas for the physical activity ahead.

After the workout, reapply Carnogel to the same areas right away to accelerate recovery. The post-workout application aids tendon repair and supports faster healing of the tissues. 

Copyright Photo: Libby Law Photography


Most tendon injuries can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 months to heal. For this reason, it’s essential to do everything you can to prevent damage in the first place. Using a specially developed gel like Carnogel can assist and strengthen those all-important tendon muscles to perform at their optimum level.

Packed with the natural power of carnosine, it aids in combatting oxidative stress and supports overall tissue health. Learn more about the benefits of Carnogel and how it can be a vital part of your horse’s preventative care.

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