Showjumping is the competitive sport of riding horses over a course of fences and other obstacles in an arena, with penalty points awarded for any poles or jumps missed or knocked over.
Due to the nature of the sport, high speed and tight turns, horses can develop a variety of injuries which owners need to be aware of.
In this article we look at some of the more common injuries experienced within the showjumping discipline and treatments that are often applied.
Injuries often associated with show jumping horses
Watching showjumping horses close up allows you to see the power through their hind limbs on take-off and the extraordinary way that the forelimbs deal with the forces of their landing.
Sports horses who compete at any level in show jumping will be subjected to these incredible forces and as such many will sometimes experience some form of pain or lameness at some point.
Managing and maintaining your showjumping horse on a regular and consistent basis is key.
Ligament and tendon injuries in showjumping horses
Many showjumping horses experience issues with their suspensory ligaments.
The stresses placed on the hindlimb suspensory apparatus (on take-off) and the forelimb suspensory apparatus (on landing) put enormous strain on these important ligaments. The hind limbs provide the majority of the force for takeoff, and the head and neck position changes to ensure optimal force generation.
On landing the front coffin and fetlock joints are overextended (hyperextended) which places strain on the flexor tendons and the suspensory ligaments in these limbs.
It is not therefore surprising that damage to these ligaments and tendons can be commonly found in showjumping horses which will lead to lameness and a period of rest and recuperation, including splint injuries.
In many cases horses will require an extensive warming up and cooling down process to stay in tiptop shape and this will continue throughout their career to avoid issues such as DDFT issues (Deep Digital Flexor Tendon).
Treating Suspensory ligament injuries in showjumping horses
Treating suspensory ligaments in showjumping horses can be complicated. Rest is the foundation of treatment for suspensory ligament injuries, regardless of their location and severity.
The pain associated with suspensory ligament injuries is often transient and short-lived. It is common in short term injuries that the horse may “look and feel better” and may be returned to work only to have the lameness return. A rest period of three to four months would be typical for relatively moderate injuries.
Horses with more chronic or severe injuries may require longer periods of time off, in some cases approximately a year. In cases of acute injury where there are no definite ultrasonographic abnormalities of the ligament, the horse may respond reasonably well to anti-inflammatory medications, with the purpose to reduce inflammation or swelling of the ligament.
Shock wave therapy can be used to treat ligament issues with a view to reducing the recovery period. Horses affected with proximal suspensory ligament injuries in the hind limb appear to have the worst prognosis, often suffering from chronic lameness or re-injury after returning to work. The prognosis remains poor even with other forms of treatment. This challenge has led to the development of surgical operations.
A new form of therapy now gathering a strong reputation within the equestrian community is the advancement of magnetic therapy for horses - advanced magnetism. Unlike traditional magnetism, advanced magnetism introduces horizontally focussed magnetic fields which create no thermal reaction in the horses legs and are thus ideal to aid horses with ligament or tendon injuries. As no heat is created the bands can be fitted to the legs and left on for long periods of time and specifically when recovering from a tendon or ligament injury when avoiding heat is vital.
Joint injuries in showjumping horses
There is immense pressure placed on a showjumping horses joints when making quick turns in and out of the jumps and throughout the course. These movements create the potential for subclinical lamenesses, causing low-grade intermittent or continuous pain, often compromising the horse’s performance without resulting in overt lameness. Nonetheless, some horses are able to perform very successfully despite low-grade lameness.
Showjumping horses are particularly prone to joint problems in their hocks, stifles and fetlocks. Equine arthritis and other equine joint conditions can also develop in a joint that is under repetitive stresses - show jumpers must be aware of this and as such should provide ongoing joint care to their showjumping partner.
Stifle injuries are also commonly found in showjumping horses; the joint in the horses body which helps them propel forward.
In many cases an overworked joint will show signs of inflammation, which can often be found after a horses has been jumping excessively. Some horses may show signs of ‘fetlock filling’ and various other forms of inflammation.
When watching a horse jump it is easy to see why the hock is a common site of lameness. This is particularly true in horses with poor hock confirmation. As additional stress is subjected to the hock inflammation, and associated pain, can be experienced. Diagnosis is most commonly made by hock flexion tests, injecting local anaesthetic into the hock joint to confirm that there is pain from this region and using radiographs to asses for bony changes.
Treating joint conditions or injuries in showjumping horses
Preventing joint conditions in a highly active sports horses is almost impossible, so managing the reaction to this repetitive action is the key. Preventive measure are important to help the horse through their later years.
Many owners look towards supplements to help manage their horses ongoing joint condition with a plethora of companies offering a concoction of ingredients specifically developed to support the horses joints; including glucosamine and Hyaluronic acid.
Homeopathy and other natural forms of treatment are also widely used within the equine community; including the use of turmeric and boswellia extract in feeds and supplements.
In essence, managing the inflammation within the horses joint is the key to reducing lameness and pain and as with tendon and ligaments avoiding an increase in heat is important when treating inflammatory conditions.
Owners commonly use wraps and bandages to try and support this reaction, along with adopting forms of cold therapy such as hosing down the horse legs after exercise.
Tack such as advanced magnetic bands are ideal in supporting the horses joints both as a preventive measure and to treat a specific injury and are now widely endorsed amongst some of the top showjumping stars around the world.
Foot issues with showjumping horses (such as navicular)
Common lameness from the structures within the foot is an extremely common source of lameness in all performance horses. This pain may come from simple causes such as tearing/bruising of the sensitive laminae or hoof wall cracking, or may be related to injuries to the bones/ligaments in the foot such as the navicular bone.
Jumping horses, in particular, are prone to injuries in the most distal parts of the deep digital flexor tendon as it passes over the back of the navicular bone and where it inserts onto the coffin/pedal bone. When diagnosed with navicular in most cases MRI scans may be needed to distinguish the navicular disease from other forms of foot pain.
Despite intensive treatment, in many cases, this disease is progressive so can limit the longevity of a competition career.
Treating foot conditions or injuries in showjumping horses
Treatments for navicular syndrome is varied and ranges from conservative to more aggressive treatments.
Theses treatments can involve therapeutic shoeing, various medications or supplements, and in some cases surgery.
The response to therapy can be unpredictable and does not always correlate to the degree of lameness or radiographic abnormalities. Therefore, it is generally best to make gradual changes, working from conservative to more drastic treatments. Many horses will respond best to shoeing changes and prescribed medications.
Back issues in showjumping horses (such as Kissing Spine)
The spine or backbone of a horse has large spines extending vertically within its back.
Through the extensive jumping motion, these can occasionally impinge on each other causing inflammation and pain. The use of local anaesthetic to find an area of pain, radiographs and scintigraphy can all be used in the diagnosis of kissing spine. Often all three are required as ligament pain, muscle damage and arthritis can occur in the same area making diagnosis extremely difficult.
Treatment of kissing spine will vary, depending on the horse’s condition and health history. In most cases, treatment will range from modifying the horse’s activity and fitness regime, providing injections to relieve the inflammation and associated pain, shockwave therapy, laser treatments and medications.
Looking after a showjumping horse naturally heightens certain health risks which horses owners in other disciplines may not look be so wary of.
This article hopefully sheds a little light on a few of the most common injuries a showjumping horse can develop.
The vast majority of issues found in show jumping horses are treated using medications, wraps and bandages.
Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) are often used as a reactive response when owners notice an injury, although many of these medications should be avoided when treating a horse who competes as many are banned from competitive horses. Competing horses often need to be administered more natural and non-invasive medications which are not on the banned substances list.
Long term medication is also not advised for long term administration as this has proven to lead to gastric issues such as ulcers.
In all cases, treatment and time away from jumping can be a long (and expensive!) process with a strong emphasis on recovery and rehabilitation.
Magnet therapy is becoming increasingly popular within showjumping horses and has produced positive (yet mixed) effects for decades. Traditional magnetic products have shown to help relieve symptoms of equine arthritis and help reduce inflammation in the fetlocks and hocks after competing. Many traditionally applied products are each designed to target specific areas of the horse by applying standard magnets within the product; magnetic rugs, magnetic boots, magnetic wraps, magnetic poll bands, magnetic browbands, magnetic fetlock boots, magnetic hock boots, magnetic knee boots, and varying other magnetic applications. The unfortunate thing with traditional magnetism is how the body reacts to magnetic fields and creates a thermal increase (heat) - this should be avoided when treating any ligament or muscle injury. New advancements in the technology is opening up even more benefits to the equine community with advanced magnetism proving no thermal reaction in the living system - a key advancement in magnetic therapy for horses.