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Old Bowed Tendon

16 August 2011 No Comment

Old Bowed Tendon
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

Question
Hi – I’m interested in a TB retired from racing that has a two-year old bowed ligament . Do you think he would make a good riding horse? He’s been sound since the incident.
Thanks!

Answer
Hi, I’ve acquired four or five thoroughbreds off-the-track over the past several years that have had bowed tendons. One really nice grey TB gelding even had a bow on each front leg and he stayed sound-as-sound-could-be! Any horse that sustains a bowed tendon is usually looking at a lay-up time of at least six months, if not closer to a year, after the injury occurs. This lay-up time might vary depending on if the owner is conscientious and concerned regarding the horse making a full recovery or whether they’re in a hurry to get back to riding. Some people don’t wait long enough and put the horse back into training too soon and the horse ends up with a chronic lameness from reoccurring pain in the previously injured tendon.

I usually steer-clear of horses that have a very high-bow or a low-bow if I intend to jump the horse because the higher or lower the bow, the more chance there is of joint involvement in the knee or the fetlock. Especially with a low-bow, where the tendon sheath passes into the fetlock joint, depending on the build-up of scar tissue around the tendon, rubbing can occur as the tendon funnels down into the fetlock joint. This rubbing can cause the horse pain or discomfort, causing them to be unsound. There is a surgery available where the veterinarian can shear the tendon where scar tissue build-up has occurred, but sometimes the scar tissue build-up re-occurs as a result of the shearing procedure and the horse becomes painful and thus unsound again because the rubbing occurs again. There may be more effective surgeries now available to help with making the horse that has had a bow that has led to unsoundness productive again, so I would check with a veterinarian regarding any procedures.

I’ve not had any problems with horses that have sustained what is called a mid-line bow. That is, a bowed tendon that is halfway between the knee and the fetlock joint. I have not used these particular Thoroughbreds for jumpers, but rather as hunters to maybe as high as 3′ 3″ fences or as dressage horses, but this is not to say that a horse with an old bow can’t do jumpers. I would very closely monitor the jumping that was to be done with any horse that has sustained a bowed tendon and begin treatment at the first signs of lameness. It may be as simple as resting the horse for a week or two and applying ice and then heat, but may involve more intensive treatment depending on what is happening with the tendon.

A bowed tendon might always be a weak spot on the horse’s leg, so special care may need to be exercised in order to maintain a horse that has sustained a bowed tendon in the past. Pay particular attention to the angle of the horse’s hooves and don’t let the heels get too low and the toes too long. The lower the heel, the more stress and strain that are placed on the horse’s ligaments and tendons during more rigorous activities such as jumping and galloping. Some horses that have sustained bows and who also have low heels may need to wear heel-wedge rim pads until they grow some heels to help alleviate stress to the tendons. Also be wary of too soft of footing in arenas. Once again, more stress and strain are placed on ligaments and tendons when worked on surfaces that are too deep and/or too soft.

Regarding the horse that you are interested in buying: have a thorough pre-purchase exam performed by a competent veterinarian that preferably is well versed in injuries such as bowed tendons. Explain concisely and in-depth to the veterinarian what your intended use and purpose is for this horse if you buy him and get the veterinarians expert opinion after the pre-purchase exam is performed on whether this particular horse will be up to the particular demands that you intend to place on him.

I definitely would not pass-over a horse that has a bowed tendon (or even two bows in the case of the grey TB gelding mentioned earlier), but I would have the horse thoroughly examined by the vet and perhaps also a competent farrier before deciding to purchase or not. If it’s at all possible, see if you might be able to do a short-term lease after the pre-purchase exam has been performed and the veterinarian and also the farrier have given you their expert opinions. Try the horse out for a while if possible before you make a definitive decision to purchase or not.

Good Luck!

Laura Phelps-Bell

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