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The musculoskeletal system

Gamme musculaire -

The musculoskeletal system

The musculoskeletal system is made up of muscles, tendons and joints; understanding it well is the key to helping and relieving your horse on a daily basis.


A horse's leg includes, to simplify: nerves, blood vessels, skin, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules. Muscles and tendons are there to move bones. A joint is a joint between two bones. These joints are named after their place in the body: elbow, crown, hoof, knee, hip etc.
To facilitate movement, the ends of the bones are covered with a layer of cartilage. The ends of the bones are linked by the joint capsule, reinforced by ligaments. The space between the ends of the bones, in the joint capsule, is filled with joint fluid or synovium.
The joint capsule has two layers. The outer layer (membrane), where there are many vessels and nerve endings, gives firmness to the joint. The internal layer (membrane) maintains the composition of the joint fluid. Besides this, the ligaments, muscles and tendons around the joint give it stability.

Cartilage and risks :
For them to function well, joints need nutrients and cartilage-protecting substances.
The role of cartilage is: to absorb shock, carry weight, transmit loads, be both flexible and elastic, while ensuring bone sliding within the joint. Joint wear is characterized at the cartilage level by a trophic deficit and a disruption of metabolism. Containing neither nerve nor blood or lymphatic vessel, cartilage is a special tissue. For these reasons, the supply of nutrients is barely sufficient. In addition, after each cartilage damage, the reserves of these substances are quickly exhausted. Unfortunately, it is impossible to protect a horse from any cause of joint damage, these can be, among others: continuous overload, repeated movements or even a lack of movements. The use of anti-inflammatory medications can sometimes damage cartilage.
These products can lead to an increase in free radicals which will oxidize the synovium and certain cartilage molecules. This results in a loss of cartilage substance and we then speak of joint degeneration, there is no longer a balance between destruction and restoration of the cartilage. If the destruction is greater than the restoration, this leads to wear and tear, joint disease and limitation of movement.

Important nutrients :
Cartilage is also made up of cells (chondrocytes) and an extracellular substance including collagen fibers which are an important factor in the cohesion of the cartilage. In this gelatinous substance, we also find proteoglycans (formerly called mucopolysaccharides), long protein molecules linked to glycosaminoglycans (GAG's) = polysaccharides, the most important of which are chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine and hyaluronic acid. The latter contributes to the lubrication of the joint and has an anti-inflammatory role. Synovial production is dependent on glucosamine which also plays a very important role in cartilage metabolism, its presence is essential to reform cartilage, it participates in the protection of the joint and the maintenance of its functional capacities.
Chondroitin sulfate ensures the elasticity of cartilage provided it is present in adequate quantities.
In order for chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine to work well, they need sulfur bonds. Sulfur is the essential element of cohesion in cartilage; joint flexibility depends largely on these connections. In addition, sulfur has an important anti-inflammatory action.
For the healing of cartilage damage, the body must also have vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. You can promote repair processes by providing sufficient quantities of cartilage constituents as well as vitamins and minerals and omega oils.

They play an important role in the elimination of joint toxins. Each joint problem causes significant production of toxins (free radicals). These damage healthy (cartilage) cells and cause even more damage. Antioxidants support tissue protection. They are found in Equi'drink Immunotonic , or Devils Relief Plus

Arthritis generally develops as a consequence of recurrent overload. Several causes can be mentioned: excessive stress on the joints, too early training in the foal, poor shoeing, poor balance, uneven ground. In this case, the internal joint membrane will produce more synovium. This will change its composition and lead to damage to the articular cartilage. The joint will swell, the joint capsule will be distended by excess synovial fluid and the horse will lame.
In case of acute arthritis, put your horse to rest and always consult the veterinarian. To support the treatment, you can give your horse MSM . External treatment is possible with clay, cream or gel(Equi'phytogel) .

If joint overload persists, arthritis becomes chronic. Damaged cartilage will be incurable. There will be new bone formation around the joint edges (osteophytes). The joint capsule will see its margins calcify, resulting in damaged vessels. We are now talking about osteoarthritis. Visible examples of osteoarthritis are: spavin, navicular disease and forms. At this stage it is incurable, but we can try to slow down the worsening. As support, we can give MSM sulfur, Equi'drink Immunotonic , Glucosamine 10,000 Plus or Devils Relief Plus .
The horse can also distend the joint capsule and ligaments by making a misstep. Rest and light walking are usually sufficient for recovery.
If the joint is often stretched, it loosens over time and can cause permanent damage, as above. Every working horse is subject to some form of joint wear and tear. Carefully progressive training, careful hoof care, good food and regular outings in the meadow can limit this wear and tear.


Over the millennia, the episode in the evolution of species which led to the horse is characterized in a remarkable way at the level of the limbs: transition from the plantigrade stage with several fingers to the soliped digitigrade stage with support on the end of a finger unique. On the other hand, adaptation to running, the ability to speed - in nature, to survive, the horse must be able to escape its predators - the limbs evolved by elongation of the bony segments, the extremities gain finesse, they only have long tendons, the muscle masses are located in the proximal zone.
Muscle forces are transmitted to the bones of the leg and foot through tendons. The length of the tendons and the fact that they are located immediately under the skin make them very susceptible to injury.
The work required of most horses places particular strain on the back and limbs.
The horse was first used as a draft animal and is not naturally suited to carrying man on its back. Some horses mature more quickly than others, but in general many horses are already overused at too early an age. At the age of three, muscle, tendon and bone development is not yet complete. In addition, up to a certain age, bone development lags behind muscle development. Until balance is achieved, the risk of injury is high. Nowadays, young horses are increasingly required to perform, without taking into account the fact that most sports horses are increasingly kept in stables, it is clear that careful attention must be paid to the condition of tendons and muscles and also to provide quality nutrients, necessary for optimal condition and good recovery capacity.

Reasonable conduct of work :
Many muscle pains will be prevented by ensuring that you strictly follow a progressive warm-up program and following the work with a sufficiently prolonged recovery period.
You must be perfectly aware of the importance for your horse of regular and well-conducted work.
Progressive training including step periods of sufficient length is essential. The muscles will be better irrigated and therefore less susceptible to injury.
15 to 30 minutes of warm-up will be necessary depending on the horse's level of training.
The recovery phase will allow the horse to return to a normal breathing rhythm and begin the elimination of muscle toxins.
After exercise, you can help your horse recover physically by ensuring the quality of its food intake and providing it with appropriate care. Particularly in winter, it is recommended for the coat and muscles to rinse your horse with lukewarm water. Then drying it under a solarium is a luxury that cannot be afforded to all horses. However, you can stimulate blood circulation in the skin and muscles by using a special product (Equi'phytogel ).
If your horse is subjected to additional effort, help him to ensure proper elimination of toxic waste. Besides good feed containing all the necessary basic substances, vitamin E, selenium and antioxidants are very useful, but muscle pain or stiffness can also be caused by an internal cause. A horse with back pain (spinal osteoarthritis, pelvic problems, “blocked” vertebrae, etc.) will always react with muscular tension, i.e. hard and stiff muscles.
Remember that a horse is very dexterous and will compensate by relieving the areas from which it suffers. This means an overload on another part of the body with, as a consequence, muscle pain...

Lactic acid :
The muscle needs energy when it works. Energy is produced by the use of glucose in the presence of oxygen. When the available glucose is completely consumed, the body will use its reserves: glycogen, which can be quickly “burned” in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic) to immediately provide the necessary energy. This use of glycogen is done through biochemical reactions which lead to the formation of “waste” which will accumulate in the muscles in the form of lactic acid. The longer the work is prolonged with a relative lack of oxygen at the muscular level, the more the muscles will become loaded with lactic acid, resulting in stiffness, pain and possibly considerable damage to the muscle fibers which can swell and burst.
The destruction of muscle fibers leads to the release of myoglobin (the component of muscle that binds oxygen). Myoglobin is a colored substance which, like other wastes, will be filtered by the kidneys and we will notice a red coloring of the urine. At this stage we speak of myoglobinuria or blood stroke.
If you doubt the origin of the muscle pain, do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian.

Blood Stroke (Myoglobinuria):
Characteristic signs: sweating, stiffness, increased breathing rate, spastic and painful muscles, dark urine. The signs generally appear on the hind limbs and then spread to the entire body. The causes are multiple and can be concomitant: very irregular exercise, excess food, unbalanced diet (excess energy, vitamin deficiencies), poorly conducted training, poorly adapted to the horse's abilities, dehydration, etc.
At first glance, the signs may suggest colic. To distinguish, you can palpate the horse's abdomen; in case of bleeding, this will not cause a reaction, it is the opposite in case of colic.
By the time the horse displays these symptoms, it is almost too late.
If you feel muscle pain due to an overload of lactic acid you will rest, so if it is your horse who shows pain or stiffness which, for example, will prevent him from giving certain bends, be vigilant before forcing the movement! In the event of myoglobinuria, limit movements and displacements despite the controversies, so as not to accentuate the damage to the muscle fibers and not to aggravate the problem.
Call the veterinarian immediately, in the meantime keep the horse warm, possibly under a blanket.
You can assess your horse's susceptibility to lactic overload through a blood test taken just after work.
The veterinarian's treatment will aim to reduce pain (anti-inflammatories) and eliminate toxins. You can reinforce this treatment withSpirulina probiotics and liver and kidney drainage ( Equi'drink Drainage ), possibly supplementing with vitamins and minerals or Equi'drink Immunotonic.

Prevention is better than cure:
*when a horse is known to be susceptible to myoglobinuria, give it hay and fat as a priority and limit carbohydrate intake.
*Adjust your food during rest days;
*in hot weather, administer electrolytes sparingly when the horse is working, provided he is drinking well;
*it is better to work a little every day than irregularly;
*when you notice that the horse is not moving as usual, then stop immediately.
A horse that has had a blood attack easily relapses!!

A little stiffness is good :
You train a horse and the next day he's a little stiff. What does that mean? This means that, in the muscles, certain structures have been damaged. By recovering, the muscle strengthens and thus protects itself to better support the work required the next time.
When the horse shows these slight stiffnesses, do not put him to rest but do light work on the flat, until he is no longer stiff. This will stimulate blood circulation and remove toxins from the muscles.
Then you return to the job that caused the stiffness. After a while the horse will perform the work without stiffness and you can increase the intensity. This increases the horse's capabilities.
The problem is knowing how far we can go!
The day after work a little stiffness: yes, you then have to adapt the work.
But stiff as a board, hard to walk: no, you've gone too far.
Above all, don't think, when the horse is in such a state, that you have to make him work even more to 'get through', you will break him, he needs rest.
To train it correctly, you must constantly observe and listen to the horse.

*The tendons:

The tendons are, so to speak, the extensions of the muscle; they connect muscle to bone.
A tendon is made up of a number of connective fibers surrounded by a synovial sheath. These assemblies are aligned lengthwise, that is to say along the tension axis, which gives them a role as a shock absorber for the forces exerted. The blood supply to the tendons is relatively reduced and hence the volume of trophic inputs. This is one of the reasons explaining the slow recovery of tendons following damage to their structures.
The flexors, which are located on the posterior side of the limb, particularly those of the front limbs, are the most vulnerable. On the other hand, we see very few extensor disorders. These are most often the consequences of an accident.
Among the flexors, we distinguish: the superficial or “perforated” flexor (from the knee to the crown), the deep or “perforating” flexor (from the knee to the foot bone) and the suspensory ligament of the fetlock (against the cannon ).
During sporting activity, the horse's tendons work in a specific way depending on the exercise required: thus, at the obstacle and at the gallop the “perforate” and the suspensory ligament of the fetlock are particularly stressed while horses of carriage and trail horses will make the “piercer” work harder.

The causes of tendon injury are numerous:
*training too hard, fatigue;
*poor shoeing/trimming;
*poor reception after a jump;
*gallop at high speed on uneven terrain;
*damage: trauma to the tendon of a front leg caused by the impact of a hind leg;
*compensation for a problem elsewhere, for example the back;
*acute elongation and its consequences of tearing of tendon fibers;
*overheating under bandages, see below;
*permanent overload causing frequent minimal tears of the tendon fibers.
These small tears can, in principle, recover but if the overload persists, more significant damage will occur with the consequence of hemorrhages and effusions of inflammatory fluids, you will notice swelling of the affected tendon area. We then speak of tendinitis.
The engorged region is hot to the touch and a more or less marked lameness will appear. The tendon injury has a less favorable prognosis when it is located in the lower or upper 1/3 of the tendon, rather than in the middle area.
In the event of tendinitis, it is essential to put the horse to rest, refresh the injured tissues and possibly have a suitable shoe fitted. Always consult the veterinarian when a tendon condition occurs.

A strain occurs most of the time by overload and chronic wear of the tendon fibers, sometimes by over-elongation or laceration. Destroyed tendon fibers will not be replaced by identical fibers but by connective tissue which does not have the elasticity. Furthermore, the connective tissue is not ordered into longitudinal but amorphous structures; there is not only loss of elasticity but also increased susceptibility to injury. Healing in poor conditions predisposes to recurrence.
As long as the tendon is hot, the only possible intervention is to cool it. Next, it will be important to eliminate the edema and toxins as quickly as possible.
After this phase, it will be necessary to try to restructure the newly formed connective tissue, that is to say, to order it longitudinally. The ideal is to use a specialized physiotherapist (massage, ultrasound). If this intervention is not possible, you can try to increase the flexibility of the tendon through massages followed by applications to stimulate blood circulation(Equi'phytogel ).
At this stage you can resume light exercise (steps, in hand, on hard ground) gradually, in consultation with your veterinarian.
From the start of tendon problems it is important to have your feet checked every 5 to 6 weeks. Each change in the plumbness of the foot will overload the tendon.
You can support therapy by administering MSM for its anti-inflammatory properties and supply of sulfur necessary as a constituent of connective tissue and essential for the repair of damaged tissues. In the case of a breakdown, we will count on average a minimum of one year of evolution considering that good structural recovery is very important.

Better to warn...
Functional recovery depends on the complete restoration of anatomical structures, this requires time and skills but is essential for the resumption of sporting activity. The risk of tendon injuries can be reduced if the quality of the shoeing is regularly monitored, if the training is well conducted and if the horse is made to work on good ground. Be sure to only ask your horse to do work for which he has anatomical aptitude, monitor the quality of his diet and last but not least important advice: try to trace the origin of an injury. Tendon problems almost never happen from one day to the next, there is always a 'before' period. Be very vigilant; Don't miss small swellings, tenderness to the touch, etc., even if the horse is not (yet!) lame. This way you can avoid bigger problems.
At least have your horse consulted by an osteopathic veterinarian, because tendon disorders are often the consequence of other disorders.

Use of bandages, under-bandages and strips: less innocent than you might think.
Maybe nice to see... but bandages do not really protect a horse's legs, on the contrary, they rather increase the risk of a tendon injury.
The tendons do not cope well with an increase in their core temperature.
At rest, the temperature of a tendon is approximately 34°C, measured at skin level. The temperature in the center of the structure is approximately 5°C higher. In the tendons and even at their periphery there is practically no blood circulation, which means that the tendon can only eliminate the accumulated heat by convection.
Fortunately nature is well done: the more a horse runs, the more the temperature in the tendon increases, but also the more air movement there is which cools the leg, the more we maintain the temperature close to 34°C!
Under bandage the temperature does not increase much when walking, but when trotting and galloping it easily rises to 38-39°C. = a central temperature of 43-44°C.
At 44-45°C, (with each intense effort therefore) the tendon, made up mainly of proteins, begins to be seriously endangered and risks (micro) injuries and irreversible lesions.

Against damage, a bandage does little to protect the leg; it is better to use very good quality open gaiters, made from the most natural material possible. Neoprene, for example, makes it easier to increase temperature.
It is illusory to think that a bandage supports joints or anything on an animal weighing 500 or 600 kg, so the best would be to completely forget about these bandages and leave the horse to its natural state and you will be surprised to see how careful the horse is and avoids injury.

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