As the last of the leaves fall in the decreasing autumn temperatures, the prettier the picture becomes of that open pasture of horses with their winter warmer rugs on, maybe the snow about the hill tops and the stables swept clean after the morning turnout is done!

Equine Muscle Injuries in WinterHowever, without the correct care and attention to the freezing and sub-zero conditions, our equine counterparts can become prone to many and varied injuries! While many horse owners pay attention to rugging their horses to keep a coat or for comfort, there also needs to be special consideration given to the muscles and tendons underneath!

Keeping a horses muscles warm is essential for those who have daily exercise or are in prep as a performance horse. A warm muscle on a horse is a much more responsive muscle and is less likely to strain or tear, over against a cold muscle. This is due to the muscle fibres not cycling as quickly as they would in a warm muscle and effectively their range of motion is decreased. With this range of motion decreased comes a greater chance of a muscle or tendon tearing due to riders performing the same exercises as they would have in the summer months and expecting the same outcomes as they achieve with the same exercise in the winter months.

Warming your horse up before strenuous work and also giving the horse time to ‘cool down’ after exercise is essential in these colder months, as both these pre and post exercise periods give the muscles and tendons within the horse enough time to respond and every chance to stretch and prepare their full range of motion before their work, whilst post workout cool down will allow the muscles and tendons to relax and gradually retract whilst still under some form of work load. Those horses who are finished their work abruptly and sent back to their paddocks/stables without an effective cooling down period are at a much higher risk of muscle or tendon damage as the freezing temperatures cause the muscles and tendons to retract too quickly which can lead to further tightening of these areas which requires more and more warmth and care to get these muscles back to normality. Doing this also inhibits the muscles to repair themselves like they should after exercise.

An equally important factor to note here is that these cold conditions affect the way our horses muscle groups work together. As each of the muscles on a horse expand and retract, there is a separate muscle performing the opposite action which is commonly described as the ‘Antagonist’ muscle. This muscle plays two important roles – one being that it stabilises the limb and also controls fast and rapid movements within the main muscle. These antagonist muscles are equally as important as the main muscles in keeping the range of motion and action as smooth and even as possible within the daily exercise of the horse.

Allowing our horses time to adjust to the cold months and seasons is imperative to decreasing the risks of muscular and tendon injuries associated incorrect care of these areas in adverse conditions.

Keeping all the above in mind, there is not one simple blanket rule that will work for each and every horse during these cold periods. Many horses respond differently to others and effectively our teams of horses require a customised plan to suit their own individual needs to allow us to bring the best out in them, whether than be on a trail ride, race course, dressage arena or the polo field! However, there is the one end goal in mind here and that is to allow our equine counterparts to feel and perform at their best in the colder months so that they come back better and stronger as the spring and summer months edge closer!

There is no doubt that these colder periods come with their challenges, although with a positive and proactive mindset in looking after the insides of our horses, this period can also be a very enjoyable and equally productive time for each and every equestrian and their teams.

Animal Rehab Australia has many items that we can assist you with to enhance the performance and recovery of your horses and we are always happy to assist you with any enquiries you may have. Feel free to contact us today via email, phone or facebook to chat with us about how we can help you out.