• horse;
  • tendon;
  • flexor;
  • extensor;
  • hypertrophy;
  • exercise


The equine superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) functions as an energy store during high-speed gaits reducing the energetic cost of locomotion. To enable the SDFT to function effectively, the appropriate mechanical properties are essential. We tested the hypothesis that the SDFT does not undergo gross hypertrophy in response to high-intensity exercise whereas tendons not involved in energy storage undergo adaptive hypertrophy. Two groups (n=6) of Thoroughbred fillies were trained at high-intensity on a highspeed equine treadmill for 5 months (short-term study) or 18 months (long-term study). Age-matched groups (n=6) of horses undertook low-intensity exercise only for the same time period. Throughout the short-term study the SDFT and deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) were ultrasonograpically scanned at mid-metacarpal level and cross-sectional area (CSA) calculated. At the end of the short-term study (horse age=2 years) and long-term study (horse age = 3 years) the left SDFT, DDFT, suspensory ligament (SL) and common digital extensor tendon (CDET) were harvested and CSA calculated. Comparison of the DDFT from 2- and 3-year-old horses revealed an age-related increase in CSA which was confirmed by ultrasonographs. Post mortem analysis showed a significant hypertrophy of the CDET with high-intensity training in the short-term study (younger horses). CSA did not differ significantly between training groups for any of the structures following long-term training. These results suggest a structure specific hypertrophic response to the imposed training regime.