Fully loaded
Horse & Hound|September 17, 2020
Fully loaded
The suspensory ligaments play a vital supporting role in athletic movement, so what’s the prognosis when damage occurs? Dr Rachel Murray MRCVS discusses outcomes
Dr Rachel Murray

RUNNING down the back of each cannon bone is the suspensory ligament, the tough, fibrous structure that supports the fetlock when the limb is loaded. The ligament starts just below the hock or knee and splits into two branches closer to the fetlock.

With the advanced imaging modalities now available, such as magnetic resonance imaging, we are more aware that not all suspensory ligament injuries are the same. Pain can come from the ligament and the bone where the ligament attaches – the cannon bone at the top and the proximal sesamoid bones at the bottom.


DR RACHEL MURRAY is a veterinary specialist with particular expertise in advanced diagnostic imaging, poor performance and rehabilitation of sport horses. Rachel is based at Rossdales Equine Hospital and Diagnostic Centre in Newmarket, working in a team of sport horse clinicians. This world-renowned hospital sees horses and ponies from throughout the UK for diagnostic, medical, surgical and reproductive referrals. 01638 577754, rossdales.com

Suspensory ligament injuries may be caused by a sudden-onset single incident or repetitive overload. Damage at the top, or “origin”, of the ligament (proximal suspensory desmitis) is a risk in the hindlimb of the dressage horse, but possible in any sport. Damage in the middle, or “body”, usually occurs as an extension of injury at the origin or branches. Branch injuries may be caused by a twisting hyperextension of the fetlock or by direct trauma.

Certain conformational features and movement patterns may be associated with suspensory injury. A horse with a tendency to repeatedly and excessively extend his fetlock joints is at increased risk, which is related to his natural conformation and movement, the sport he does or his training.

Research shows that horses with straight hock conformation are more likely to have suspensory ligament injuries, due to hyperextension of the fetlock during locomotion. This places greater strain on the suspensory ligament, increasing risk of injury or reducing chances of recovery.


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September 17, 2020