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Preventing and Managing Bowed Tendon Injuries in Horses

Bowed Tendon in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

As a horse owner or rider, there is nothing worse than seeing your equine companion in pain or discomfort. One of the most common injuries in horses is a bowed tendon, which occurs when there is an excessive amount of stress or strain on the tendon.

In this article, we will discuss what a bowed tendon is, its causes, and clinical signs. This is an essential topic for horse owners and riders to understand to prevent and manage this condition.

Definition of a Bow Tendon

A bowed tendon is a common condition in horses. It is a swelling or inflammation in the lower leg tendon, usually caused by overworking the horse or chronic stress.

The tendon is an elastic band of tissue that connects muscle to bone and helps to absorb the shock of movement. When the tendon is overstressed, it can result in damage to the fibers, leading to swelling and inflammation.

The term bowed comes from the bowed appearance of the leg when the tendon is swollen.

Common Causes of Bow Tendon

One of the leading causes of bowed tendon is overworking. Whether it’s from excessive training, racing, or jumping, the tendon is put under significant stress that can lead to inflammation.

Chronic stress is another common cause. This occurs when a horse performs the same movements repeatedly and without enough rest time.

The tendon becomes fatigued and more vulnerable to damage. Hyperextension of the fetlock joint is another cause of bowed tendon.

This occurs when the fetlock joint is forced into an unnatural position, leading to stress and strain on the tendon.

Symptoms of Bow Tendon

The most apparent symptom of bowed tendon is pain, limping or lameness. You may notice swelling in the lower leg and a change in the horse’s walk or gait.

The tendon may feel hot to the touch, indicating inflammation. In severe cases, the horse may not be able to walk at all.

It is essential to consult with a veterinarian as soon as you notice any of these symptoms.

Early Detection of Bow Tendon

Early detection of bowed tendon is crucial for successful treatment and recovery. An alert rider can usually recognize a slight increase in skin temperature on the affected leg before any apparent swelling occurs.

These early signs of inflammation can be detected with a handheld thermographic scanner, which can measure heat in the affected area. Ultrasound imaging is the most reliable diagnostic tool for bowed tendon, considering it can detect small changes in the tendon fibers.

Prevention and Management of Bow Tendon

Prevention is the best way to avoid bowed tendon. You should avoid overworking your horse and ensure they receive enough rest between training sessions.

Having regular vet check-ups and frequent ultrasound assessments can detect any early signs of stress and damage. Proper nutrition, such as providing enough protein for tendon repair, is essential to maintaining healthy tendons.

Treatments for bowed tendon depend on the severity of the injury. Mild cases may heal on their own with rest and ice therapy to reduce inflammation.

More severe cases may require shockwave therapy, which uses sound waves to promote healing. Surgery is rarely necessary and is usually reserved for severe cases where the horse cannot put weight on the affected leg.

Fatigue: A Common Cause

Fatigue is a significant factor contributing to bowed tendon injuries in horses. During high-speed activities, the horse’s muscles fatigue, leading to an uneven distribution of weight on the limbs.

The load-bearing tendons may snap under the weight, causing inflammation. Fatigue can also occur from overworking the horse or when the animals are returned to a rigorous routine without a gradual build-up phase after a period of inactivity.

Other Factors Causing Bow Tendon

  • Uneven footing
  • Poor conformation
  • Improper loading of the horse’s weight on their limbs

Early Veterinary Help Is Important

If you suspect your horse has a bowed tendon injury, seek medical help immediately. The sooner the injury is diagnosed, the more manageable it is to treat.

With early diagnosis and proper treatment, even severe bowed tendons can be curable. However, delaying treatment can result in permanent damage, which may require surgery and a longer recovery time.

Steps to Treat a Bow Tendon

  1. Quit working your horse immediately.
  2. Apply ice therapy to reduce inflammation and swelling.
  3. Administer pain-relief medication under veterinary advice.
  4. Consider complementary therapies such as LED and laser therapy.
  5. Provide adequate rest for recovery.
  6. Follow a gradual exercise routine prescribed by your vet.

Importance of Proper Hoof Care

The way a farrier trims a horse’s hooves plays a vital role in preventing bowed tendon injuries. Proper hoof trimming can help to distribute the horse’s weight evenly, reduce stress on the ligaments, and prevent lameness.

A poorly trimmed hoof can also lead to lameness, causing the horse to place extra weight on the other limbs, leading to undue stress on the ligaments. Therefore, it’s essential to work with a skilled farrier to ensure proper hoof care for a horse.

Factors to Avoid or Reduce

  • Inadequate workout routines
  • Uneven surfaces
  • Fatigue
  • Rocky or rough terrain
  • Speed work during hot parts of the day
  • Working your horse on slippery or uneven surfaces

How Bad is a Bowed Tendon Injury?

Bowed tendon injuries are not serious in their early stages and are easily treatable.

If you seek medical treatment and rest your horse, the condition is curable. However, if ignored, the fibers surrounding the tendon may rupture, which can cause permanent damage to the leg and surrounding tissues.

Therefore, it’s critical to observe caution and speed up the healing process.

Recovery from a Bowed Tendon

The recovery process from a bowed tendon injury depends on the severity of the injury. A mild injury may require rest, icing of the affected area, and no speed work for up to three months.

Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce pain and swelling. More severe injuries may require surgery, whereby the damaged tissue is replaced with healthy tissues surgically.

Rehabilitation is crucial in the recovery process from a bowed tendon injury. It includes monitoring the horse’s exercise routine, which must be done gradually, starting with slow and small steps.

Ultrasound therapy can help to stimulate cell growth and repair damaged tissue. Regular icing is also useful for reducing inflammation.

Assessing improvement can help determine if there are any further steps or interventions necessary to prevent a recurrence.


In conclusion, a bowed tendon injury is a common affliction that can cause severe discomfort in horses. Preventing bowed tendon injuries is crucial in ensuring the health of your horse.

Proper hoof care, reducing the workload, avoiding rocky and uneven surfaces, and fatigue are all essential steps to achieve this objective. If your horse sustains a bowed tendon injury, the severity determines the recovery process.

With early detection and proper management, a bowed tendon injury is curable, and your horse can continue to engage in regular activities with ease.


  • Q: How do I prevent a bowed tendon injury?
  • A: You can prevent bowed tendon injuries through proper hoof care, reducing workload to prevent fatigue, and avoiding rocky or uneven surfaces.
  • Q: How is a bowed tendon injury treated?
  • A: Treatment for bowed tendon injuries depends on the severity of the injury and may include icing, resting, anti-inflammatory medication, and, in some cases, surgery.
  • Q: Can a horse fully recover from a bowed tendon injury?
  • A: With early detection, proper management, and treatment, a bowed tendon injury is treatable, and your horse can fully recover and perform regular activities.
  • Q: How important is early detection of bowed tendon injuries?
  • A: Early detection of bowed tendon injuries is crucial for successful recovery. Delayed treatment can lead to permanent damage that may require surgery and a longer recovery time.
  • Q: What is the role of rehab in recovering from a bowed tendon injury?
  • A: Rehabilitation is an essential aspect of recovery from a bowed tendon and includes monitoring the horse’s exercise routine and ultrasound therapy to stimulate cell growth and repair damaged tissue.

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