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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • superficial flexor tendon;
  • tendon injury

Summary

Most skeletal tissues are thought to adapt to the mechanical environment they experience. While this has been demonstrated for muscle and bone, previous studies in the mature horse have failed to demonstrate adaptation in the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT), which suffers a high frequency of injury. This study tested the hypothesis that imposed exercise during growth would result in an increase in SDFT cross-sectional area (CSA). Fourteen Thoroughbred foals were divided into 2 sex-matched groups. A control group received 4 h pasture exercise and an exercise group had the same amount of pasture exercise with an additional short period of treadmill exercise daily from age 2–15 months. Activity at pasture was assessed objectively using a visual system. There was no significant difference in pasture activity between groups, although males were more active than females. The exercise programme resulted in a significantly larger tendon CSA in the exercise group at several, but not all, timepoints, which may be attributed to levels of variance. However, there was a significantly greater rate of increase in tendon CSA as a function of time in the exercised compared to the control group. This is the first evidence to suggest that tendon development can be modulated by exercise during growth in the horse, potentially increasing the ability of tendon to withstand the rigours of later athletic activity.