Critical conditions that can strike when you're at a competition, and how to handle them.
It’s what you’ve been building up to all year: show season. Your horse is in peak condition and ready to strut his stuff. Your truck and trailer are tuned up, loaded, and ready to haul halfway around the country. Usually, horses come and go to venues big and small and return home unscathed. Yet sometimes things go wrong, and you might be faced with an emergency on the road.
The possible horse show health scares are as varied as the injuries and ailments that can occur at home, but certain show-related hazards can amplify your horse’s chances of getting hurt. To summarize what you might want to look out for, two experienced sport horse veterinarians—Rob Boswell, DVM, of Equine Sports Medicine Group, in Wellington, Florida, and Peter Heidmann, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Montana Equine Medical and Surgical Center, in Three Forks—have weighed in on show horse emergencies veterinarians frequently see.
The Most Common Emergencies at Horse Shows
Orthopedic problems As athletes, horses are subject to the normal litany of wear-and-tear injuries as well as acute orthopedic problems from missteps or accidents. Fortunately, breakdown injuries or acute severe lamenesses from fractures are not as common at horse shows as they are in disciplines where horses compete at top speeds. Heidmann says he mostly sees orthopedic problems such as soft tissue injuries to tendons and ligaments, as well as muscle issues such as tying-up, acute muscular trauma, or chronic muscle injury flare-ups—many of which can be attributed to conditioning level.
“Unfit horses, just like unfit people, are more likely to develop muscle problems,” Heidmann says. “The excitement of competition—for both horse and rider—may cause horses to perform beyond their level of training and fitness. This can lead to muscle soreness and fatigue and, sometimes, obvious signs of tying-up. Muscle weakness also increases the risk of tendon or ligament injury.”
“Soft tissue injuries are relatively common and include bumps, bruises, and, more severely, injuries to the suspensory ligament apparatus and/or superficial and deep digital flexor tendonitis,” Boswell says. “Advanced diagnostic imaging, new treatments, and rehabilitation are improving the outcomes of horses with traumatic soft tissue injury.”
Ice is an excellent first-aid treatment for any acute lameness injury and/or swelling while awaiting veterinary attention.
Heidmann also recommends applying cotton wraps to injured legs while waiting for the vet. “Even a magazine or newspaper wrapped around the lower limb and secured with duct tape works as a temporary splint if bandage material isn’t available,” he says.
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