Eventing is the triathlon of the equine world – it tests the horses athletic ability but also the riders and both need to be super fit!

It consists of three disciplines – dressage, show jumping and cross-country. The need for the event horse to be fit and perform well in all three disciplines rather than excelling in one, creates a characteristic array of injuries seen in these equine athletes.

Foot pain is a common problem in the event horse. Bruising of the sole is commonly diagnosed as the source of foot pain following the cross-country phase, especially in Thoroughbred, or Thoroughbred cross horses with flat and/or thin-soled feet.

Shoe loss often occurs in eventers, more so than in other sports horses and this can often lead to the hoof wall breaking up, and further problems at the time of subsequent re-shoeing.

Foot imbalance often contributes to foot pain. Regular, high-quality farriery is vitally important in maintaining the soundness of an event horse. Getting some baseline X-rays of your horses’ feet can assist the farrier too.


Eventing consists of two jumping phases, which puts a lot of pressure though the lower limbs.

The lower limb joints of horses, in particular the coffin and fetlock joints, are commonly affected by osteoarthritis (OA) in the forelimbs of the event horse.

Signs to look out for are swelling of a joint with increased lameness, especially following flexion of that joint. This can then be diagnosed by observing any changes within the joint on X-rays but also by performing an intra-articular joint block using local anaesthetic to see if there is an improvement in the horse’s lameness.

There are options to treat OA but it depends on the stage of the disease. If there are only early signs of OA then we are able to treat with anti-inflammatory injections into the joint (intra-articular medication). This treatment often has good results.

In terms of OA, the hind legs of event horses are also susceptible, the hock joint being most commonly effected. Hock OA can show up as lameness, but it can also show up as poor performance in event horses such as starting to have poles down show jumping or refusing jumps. This can be managed with intra-articular medication.

Soft tissue injuries

In horses’ lower limbs, there is no muscle but many ligaments and tendons.

These are incredibly strong but are prone to injuries in event horses. Sometimes these injuries are caused but consistent wear and tear due to the high demands for fitness in event horses or sometimes they are caused by a specific incident, such as a trip or fall.

Tendon injuries (tendonitis) are common although less common than OA. The two main tendons that are affected are the superficial digital flexor (SDFT) tendon in the cannon area or the deep digital flexor tendon in the pastern.

SDFT tendonitis shows up as swelling and heat around the back of the leg below the knee and above the fetlock, although the swelling can be quite diffuse initially. Your vet will recommend a period of box rest and cold hosing before performing an ultrasound scan to diagnosis and determine the severity of the injury.

The damage seen on the scan will then dictate the rehabilitation program. The optimum timing for scanning is about 7-10 days after the initial injury, when a lot of the swelling will have reduced.

The initial treatment for tendonitis is based around limiting inflammation and preventing any further damage. This usually involves box rest with oral anti-inflammatories (Bute or Danilon), cold hosing or ice application to the affected limb, as well as stable bandaging.

Following the box rest, a controlled exercise program is then then started to encourage appropriate and organised healing of the tendon fibres. This usually consists of increasing periods of in hand walking over a period of weeks or months depending on the severity of the injury.

Repeat ultrasound scans are used to judge the progress of healing and before starting the next steps in the exercise program.

There are also a number of other treatments which may speed up healing of tendons, such as stem cell therapy. The options can all be discussed with the treating vet.

DDFT lesions occur in the pastern or foot usually and may require an MRI to detect them.

External trauma

Event horses are prone to traumatic lacerations during competition, with the most common injury being overreach injuries to the heel bulbs, as well as abrasions and lacerations to the stifle and carpus (knee), usually as a result of direct trauma from jumping solid cross-country fences.

As with any wound which occurs during the competition season, there is usually pressure and the wound healed to get the horse back into training and out competing as soon as possible.

Therefore, aggressive early management of lower limb wounds with a Robert Jones bandage. or a cast, over a period of weeks, depending on the severity and location of the wound and the decision of the vet.

Box rest prevents excessive movement from delayed healing or worse, encouraging the growth of proud flesh. Thorn penetrations from brush or hedge fences may complicate things further if they manage to penetrate a joint, leading to infected arthritis, which will need to be managed with surgical flushing of the joint.

Occasionally, direct trauma to the surface of a bone can lead to the horse being severely lame as the result of bruising to the bone. This lameness often resolves quickly following a few days of rest and anti-inflammatory therapy.

Eventing is a test of horse and rider fitness, athletic ability and strength, injuries can be very varied as there is so many factors involved.

Keeping a close eye on your horse before competing and after competing will help you pick up injuries quickly before they become too severe.