Suspensory Ligament Injury Prevention, The Easy Way

To start, she was confused.

Like that time around 3 pm, when you don’t know if to hit up on the wine or just have another cup of coffee.

I put Valiosa in a little Trot Pole Camp for 6 weeks.  Can’t call them cavalletti when they’re constructed the way I made them.  Starting out easy, with just 2-3 poles, increasing with one pole each time and eventually making it to 3 times/week with 6 poles.

raised trot poles

Didn’t take her long to figure it out. The pictures on the lunge is from week #3, ridden is during the last week.
making cavalettis

trot poles for better trot

6 weeks of carrying poles are up – once per week or less is enough now.  Next we’ll try some walk poles.  Maybe the dreaded canter poles.

young horse over six trot poles

So why did I choose to lug trot poles in and out of the arena in the extreme heat of August with my very young horse who is not exactly loading her hind end yet?  (Which we know increases the risk of a suspensory ligament injury.)  Read on!

trot poles for suspensory ligament injury prevention

This is from Diane E. Barber, sa dressage rider from L.A with a bit of extra coolness factor because not only does she have a thing for Spanish horses, she also travels regularly to Spain to train with Olympic medalist Rafael Soto.

She’s sharing insights from Dr. Sarah le Jeune, a boarded U.C. Davis surgeon, sports-medicine specialist, certified chiropractor and acupuncturist.

The university’s research confirms that the primary reason that dressage horses are predisposed to suspensory ligament injuries is because they are constantly asked to load the hind end to be light in the front end to perform dressage movements. “That takes a lot of core strength to be able to do that. I think many horses have not been able to develop that core strength sufficiently so they are just loading the hind limbs and the suspensory apparatus, which is always under tension when the legs are weight-bearing.

It is very important to make sure that the animal is able to do the work it is being asked to do. Otherwise, if they are not able to do it by engaging certain muscle groups that help support the back and the hind end then they are loading a structure in a supraphysiological way and the suspensory apparatus will be the first to go.”

Find and download the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Suspensory Ligament Injuries publication here:

Or check out these quick tips on Suspensory Ligament Injury Prevention.  (Because really, prevention is key – this ligament takes looong to heal, and usually means a stiffened tendon after healing.)

  • Work on good footing.  Doesn’t necessarily mean deep footing.  Firm is best, no slippage.  On balanced hooves.
  • Keep the horse at an ideal weight.  Too many horses are too heavy, putting unnecessary strain on the suspensory ligament.
  • Provide plenty of opportunity for working on different footings.  Trail walking in particular is very strengthening and “building” for the horse.  This was one of the main reasons I wanted to hit on the trot poles – we don’t have enough variety in our footing, trail rides are much too scarce, the property is small and doesn’t lend itself to riding, and the road is a death wish outside.
  • Build core muscles to make sure the horse can carry itself correctly before loading the hind end and working light in the front.
  • Keep short cycles with the farrier.  Heels that are not at the proper height can mean more load on the suspensory ligament, meaning the horse has to strain for several training rides toward the end of a farrier cycle.  Above 8 weeks is asking for trouble.

Phew, so informative today.  Probably missed a lot – feel free to chime in with more.!  Back to Pony Putter talk next time.

dressage over trot poles to strengthen core muscles

17 thoughts on “Suspensory Ligament Injury Prevention, The Easy Way

        1. Oh man, I’ve been very close to having that happen, long time ago. Dutch warmblood, tail like a draft. Religious about no earrings now, unless a show, ugh. Had a family member visit with a nose piercing once and I just about worried to death 😉
          Still love Sassypants’ tail!!

          Liked by 1 person

    1. On that I do not know, but if that’s what it says in the study you read, wow, we’ve got to make sure to keep those tendons healthy! 🙂
      The cavalletti work is to strengthen the CORE muscles which will help the horse carry itself correctly and not “sitting” too intensely on the hind in upper level work. Hopefully I can help prevent any injury with our little sticks 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. So happy to know you are trying to get her fit to avoid injury. So hard when you have limited terrain variety. Since I got Nyko I have been walking him up and down the trails next to Los Lagos. Since we are boarding there we may as well take advantage of the varied terrain in the area. I am so lucky to have trails right off the property and extremely lucky that he likes it and looks forward to his trail rides after every work session.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is just the best Christine! The options you have out there are just hands down the very best for this area – flat trails, gentle hills, steep hills, deep sand, and hard wet sand by the lake – it’s all just awesome!
      So glad Nyko is a good boy for you too – really makes a difference 🙂
      I’ll be lucky to trail ride at Sterling Point this week – 3rd time she picks me up for a trail ride and I’m thrilled. I just know that it’s not often enough for true physical development, so therefore the cavalletti…

      Hope to see you and Nyko at the Foothills show next month! 🙂


  2. Great article, Elinor! Such important information for everyone to have and apply! I’ve been through front suspensory strains before (NOT with Star, thank God), and I’m super careful about footing and conditioning, but stuff happens with horses, as we all know. Variety in training and in footing (if you can get it or make it, as you are doing), not asking them to do things they are not conditioned for, and paying attention all the time to their legs and how they are feeling is so important. I read that article by Diane Barber, too, and found it very helpful! Valiosa looks great going over the cavaletti, by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! This week, I’m lucky to get to head out for a trail ride, and last Friday we trailered out where I rode on both rubber mix footing and in a different sand mix. Still… It’s always looming above my head, that they need a LOT of variety, and especially walking straight forward on a firm surface… (I don’t have that)
      I think both of us are of to a fresh start with our young horses! 🙂
      I love her pictures you have up on her today by the way, just peeked in!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Exercises, always got to do them. Not only for the horse but the rider as well. It’s the thing that keeps you sharp regardless of skill level. My girls always do their grid exercises and circle exercises as part of their training regime.

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    1. I love it how your daughters are so disciplined! Now I know that they are older and much more mature of course but also know that for some teenagers they really just want to do the fun work not necessarily the hard stuff.
      I hope their work ethics and love for the sport will rub off on some of the younger Ones!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is how they learned to be good horsewomen. Their instructors, Mark and Trish, approach riding and the sport in this manner – stressing, and being sound in, riding fundamentals, and knowing horses. They only take applicants who are willing to learn all of this, and how to apply it to their sport (barrel racing or hunter/jumper). Yes, they are very selective and may have only 6-8 riders in their sports program. At present, its my three girls (the advanced riders), two juniors, three BN’s. Whenever my girls are at RRC facility, those five younger riders trail them watching every move and listening to every word.

        Also, Mark and Trish stresses to the younger riders, and to my girls as well, it is not about ribbons and being successful. When it is all comes together, the riding and the sport will flow naturally – and that’s when it becomes fun. Winning the ribbons and the success becomes the icing on top. It’s that feeling like when you and Miss Valiosa were at Camelot. Everything flowed naturally.

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        1. And what a rare moment it sometimes is, the flow… I hope to find it again, soon. October will be a fun and busy month, and I hope everything Valiosa is working on right now will all come together 🙂

          And, what excellent trainers, Mark and Trish!


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