Suspensory ligament injuries are the most common injuries in dressage horses, and when it happens it’s heart-breaking. Injuries to the suspensory ligament generally require months of rehabilitation and expensive vet bills. Tight circles, pirouettes and changes of speed and direction all place additional strain on a dressage horse’s suspensory ligament. As riders, we do everything we can to minimise the risk to our horses. We take time to warm up properly, we’re fussy about which surfaces we ride on, and we protect those precious legs with boots and bandages.
An Overview of the Suspensory Ligament
The suspensory ligament – despite its name – actually contains some muscular tissue in the top part of the ligament. Officially known as the “interosseous muscle”, the suspensory ligament originates at the top of the cannon bone and extends down the leg before splitting into two branches. The medial and lateral (inside and outside) branches of the suspensory ligament attach to the sesamoid bones before joining the main extensor tendon at the front of the pastern.
The suspensory ligament works as part of the suspensory apparatus, which helps to prevent overextension of the fetlock joint. It also works like a tendon during movement. It stretches as the limb reaches the ground, storing energy which is then released to propel the horse forward.
Suspensory Ligament Injury in Horses
The main symptoms of a suspensory ligament injury are heat, swelling and lameness. If you suspect an injury involving the suspensory ligament, try to reduce the swelling using ice and compression and call your vet for advice.
Diagnosing a suspensory ligament injury may involve ultrasound, nerve blocks and x-rays. Treatment may include box rest, controlled exercise, shockwave therapy, PRP injections, surgery and corrective shoeing.
Poor conformation, particularly of the limb or foot, can increase the risk of a suspensory ligament injury. Horses participating in dressage or show jumping are also more at risk of injuring the suspensory ligament.
Injury tends to occur as a result of overloading, which places excessive strain on the fibres, as well as lower level repetitive strain (suspensory desmitis). Degenerative changes to the suspensory ligament can also occur as a result of PPID (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction / Cushing’s) or degenerative suspensory ligament disease (DSLD). PPID and DSLD are more common in older horses. DSLD is also associated with breeds such as thoroughbreds and arabs.
The prognosis for suspensory ligament injuries varies depending on which part of the ligament in which limb is affected.
Clearly, it makes sense to try to minimise the risk of a suspensory ligament injury! Whilst it is impossible to avoid the risk of injury completely, paying attention to your horse, warming up and cooling down properly and considering the surfaces you ride on can all help to minimise that risk.
Cryochaps Equine Ice Boots
Dressage horses are athletes too! Carefully planned warm-ups and use of protective tendon boots can help to minimise the chance of injury. However, a proper warm down and cool off is also important. Using Cryochaps equine ice boots after exercise cools the legs quickly. Using Cryochaps for just 10-15 minutes can reduce swelling, and kick start the healing process. Treat your dressage horse like the athlete they are and use Cryochaps equine ice boots after every ride.