Bowed Tendon

A simple mis-step caused my horse Annapolis to re-bow the tendon that ended his racing career.

It could have happened any time. I knew when I bought Annapolis ten years ago that he had an old tendon injury that had ended his career. However, his recuperation had gone well and, at that time (three years after the injury) he was in work and going well. My veterinarian doing the pre-purchase exam advised me that although there was the possibility of a re-injury (as, indeed, there is always a chance of tendon injury in a working horse) he did not think I should strike the horse off my list of prospects just because of it.

And, as it happened, the tendon didn't cause any problems for years. I trained Annapolis and we entered Dressage tests and Combined Training events at the lower levels (my limit, not his) for many years until he contracted Equine Protozoal Myeleoencephalitis several years ago.

He made a full recovery from the EPM, but one day as I was riding him at the walk from the barn to the pasture to do a little schooling, he tripped. I think what happened was that he caught the toe of his right foreleg (we could see where it had dug into the soft ground) and then tried to save himself with his left foreleg, hyper-extending the tendon as he did so. He took a couple of lame-ish strides and then seemed fine. I commenced my warm-up exercises at the walk and could feel no lameness or stiffness.

It wasn't until I asked Annapolis to trot that I noticed anything was wrong. With the very first stride I could tell he was lame - it felt like he had a flat tire. I immediately dismounted and ran my hands down both forelegs. Sure enough, there was heat and swelling at the back the left fore, just below the knee. I walked him back to the barn and untacked him.

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Wrap and Rest
What I probably should have done was to call the vet immediately. However, looking back, I think I didn't want to know what I thought that the vet was going to tell me. I hoped that Annapolis had simply pulled something and that with a week of stall rest and support wrap, things would right themselves. At least that way, I reasoned, he couldn't do any more damage and if it did not improve, then I could call the vet.

Each evening I was going to the barn and walking Annapolis along to the wash rack for 30 minutes of hydro-therapy before re-wrapping the leg and putting him back in his stall.

After a few days, as I could see no sign on lameness at the walk and the heat and swelling seemed to be gone, I took him into the round pen to let him loose for a roll in the sand and to have a little stretch after being stall-bound for days. Everything went well, although he still favored the left fore in trot, until something started rustling through the leaves on the ground outside the round pen. Annapolis snorted and bucked and basically went ballistic for about ten minutes until we could catch him again. Needless to say - the next night he was noticably more lame and the heat and swelling were back. It was time to call the vet.

Dr. Wooten came out the next day and examined Annapolis. I was at work at the time and he called me from the barn and asked about Annapolis. Although he was from the same clinic that had originally done the pre-purchase exam, I would not have expected him to be aware of the old bowed tendon, which he asked about. He told me what I had dreaded hearing, that he believed that Annapolis had re-bowed the tendon, either in the same place as before or very close to it. He wanted me to bring Annapolis in for an ultrasound to be sure. I made arrangements to take Annapolis to the clinic two days later, on the Saturday, and in the meantime he put a sweat and support wrap on the leg.

Follow-Up Treatment
The follow-up treatment consisted of daily hydro-therapy, followed by drying the leg and applying the sweat, which contains DMSO. Then the leg is wrapped with plastic wrap and supported with a field wrap, kept in place by a roll of gauze and topped of with a stable bandage to keep the whole thing clean. At the top and bottom I use vet rap to seal each end and to help it stay in place.

After the first few days I noticed that the leg was getting scabby at the fetlock - caused, I think, by the movement of the wrap over the shaved skin as Annapolis paced round his stall. So I discontinued the sweat and took steps to get the scabby area healing - applying an antibiotic gel and covering it with gauze kept in place by Vet Rap so that the movement of the field support wrap doesn't irritate it.

My reading on the subject indicates that the sweat is only effective while there is puffiness and swelling and, since that had subsided, I felt that discontinuing the sweat would not have an adverse effect.

I would also like to thank those of you who emailed me with messages of encouragement and information about the different therapies available for bowed tendons. It lifted my spirits in what might have been a very depressing week.

Virtual Ultrasound Exam
I made sure to take my trusty camera with me to the Veterinary Clinic, in order to capture the events for posterity.

By clicking on the link below you can see what is involved in having an ultrasound done on a tendon, see what the ultrasound pictures looked like in this case, and see a support wrap.

Virtual Ultrasound, Pt 1

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