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A Simple Explanation - Tight Muscles & Compromised Tendons

Updated: May 5, 2023


If you’ve been a part of the horse world for a while, you’ve probably been here or know someone who has. If you’re relatively new to horses, I hope this isn’t something you have to experience - a bowed tendon. After you’ve panicked a little bit, called the vet, started the proper treatment plan, and your horse is on their way to recovery, it's time to start asking how did this happen? How do we prevent it from happening again? Deep footing, playing too hard in the turnout, a misstep? These are amongst many external factors that could have contributed to the injury. What about internal factors? Was my horse predisposed based on conformation, past injuries, etc?

While all of the above concerns are absolutely valid, we must not overlook one important fact: Tendons connect MUSCLE to bone. The muscular system is approximately 60% of the horses body weight and is the system most responsible for movement. Muscle tissue is the part of the body where the contractual process (movement) occurs. Without the tendon, there is no attachment point to mobilize the skeletal structure, but without the muscle there is no movement whatsoever. The tendon is an extension of the muscle, it is through the tendon that the muscle action is transmitted to the joints.

The body works as a unit, when one area cannot perform its intended function, another area must work harder. This is called compensation. When we say a muscle is “tight” we mean that the muscle is in a contracted state, meaning it is shorter, smaller, and lacks its natural elasticity. When the muscle fibers are in this unnatural state, it causes added strain on the tendon that it is not designed to handle. According to “Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses“ by Jack Meagher, approximately 90% of elasticity comes from the muscles. Tendons have a much lower elasticity - approximately 10%. This lack of pliability within the contracted muscle fibers creates a dangerous environment for the tendons, usually resulting in injury.

Consider this- if the muscle is supposed to give 90% and it only gives 80% due to tension, the tendon must give 20% or the movement will not be fully executed. The tendon is not designed to give 20%, so either the tendinous fibers strain, or the horse cannot perform this movement. Many times this 10% decline in the muscle goes unnoticed until the tendon itself is injured.

It is most common that horsemen & women take meticulous care of their horses legs with ice, protective boots, and different types of wraps. We must also make it a habitual practice to take care of our horses muscular system, as this will have nothing but a positive effect on the delicate connective tissues of their legs.

Meagher, Jack, and Anna P. Haley. Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses. Cloudcraft, 1998.

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