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Bowed Leg Tendons In Horses: Signs, Repair and Care

Have you noticed your horse is in pain? Is it favoring one leg? Is the back of the leg swollen, and perhaps hot and tender to the touch? If so, your horse quite possible has a bowed tendon. When viewed from the side, the cannon bone area may actually resemble an archer’s bow instead of being straight. The good news is the fact that the injury will heal. The bad news is that the healing process is slow and – depending on the severity of the injury - the risk of re-injury is high.
Many times, a tendon will become injured when the horse puts more force onto its leg than the tendon can bear. This may be due to accidentally positioning its leg improperly with respect to the fluidity of the horse’s movement in connection with its weight. Or, it may be due to improper shoeing. Uneven footing is often cited when discussing bowed tendons.

As the incident occurs, some of the material that comprises the tendon will rip and cause a buildup of damaged cell fluid inside the tendon. If blood vessels

were torn as well, then blood will be added to the fluid mixture. Veterinarians are able to diagnose torn tendons with the help of an ultrasound, where the fluid buildup presents as a hole. In veterinary medicine this condition is referred to as a core lesion. With the help of the ultrasound, the veterinarian is actually able to survey the fiber patterns of the harmed tendons, and steps for resting the horse can be taken before more damage is done. Additionally, the healing process is measurable, and the horse owner no longer has to rely on her or his sense of touch to ascertain the level of healing. In the past, such guesswork led to re-injury and quite often required even more extensive care and rest than before.

The body will seek to heal itself quickly by causing fibroblasts to produce cells – tenocytes - that will repair the torn tendon. Yet because these cells differ from the torn cells in flexibility and elasticity, a different kind of collagen becomes the new support substance. The healing process actually causes stiffness in the animal as well as a shortened tendon, and the end-result is a less flexible, thickened tendon. It only makes sense that such a tendon is more susceptible to re-injury than a tendon that was never torn.

The advance of veterinary medicine has seen the introduction of a new drug, referred to simply as BAPN-f, which has been used successfully in humans to treat scarring. Distilled from the seeds of the sweet pea plant, an injection of this drug is able to prevent the formation of scar tissue. In conjunction with this injection, a concise exercise program must be followed to help the horse heal gradually. Your veterinarian will use ultrasound exams to keep an eye on the healing process. Yet even so, the road to well being will most likely take ten months or more, and as you may imagine, it does involve not only an investment of time, but also of money.

It should be stated that an ounce of prevention is more desirable than a pound of cure. You can greatly decrease your horse’s odds of falling victim to this injury by demanding good trimming and shoeing, keeping an eye on the overall health of the hooves, properly conditioning the animal prior to strenuous work or exercise, and learning to see the signs that denote that your animal has reached its peak, and is beginning to tire.

Read the next horse health tips article on Equine Broken Bones.
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