Can You Ride a Horse With Fibrotic Myopathy?-Explained

Fibrotic myopathy is a condition that affects horses, leading to mechanical lameness due to the formation of abnormal scar tissue within the muscle. Unlike normal muscle fibers, scar tissue lacks elasticity, which alters the muscle’s function. This article aims to explore the implications of fibrotic myopathy on riding suitability, addressing its definition, impact on muscle function, and considerations for equestrians.

Unraveling Fibrotic Myopathy

Fibrotic myopathy occurs when horses experience tears in their semimembranosus and/or semitendinosus muscles in the hamstring, typically resulting from trauma. Over time, the injured muscle transitions into contracted fibrotic tissue scars, causing further dysfunction of the affected limb. Quarter horses are commonly affected due to their involvement in athletic maneuvers during competitions.

Can You Ride a Horse With Fibrotic Myopathy-Explained

Causes and Risk Factors

Several factors contribute to the development of fibrotic myopathy, including trauma from accidents, repetitive strain seen in Western performance horses, abrupt turns, sliding maneuvers, and muscle strain when a leg gets stuck. Intramuscular injections, particularly in the hamstring muscle, can also play a role. In some cases, the disease may be congenital, present at birth.

Most Affected Muscle Tissue and Common Age Groups

Fibrotic myopathy most frequently affects the hamstring muscles in the upper part of the hind limb, with the semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles being the primary targets. While the condition typically impacts one hind limb, both hind limbs may be involved in some cases. Horses of various age groups can experience fibrotic myopathy, and it is essential to recognize the signs early for proper management.

Recognizing the Signs

Identifying Early Symptoms of Fibrotic Myopathy

During the initial stages, horses may exhibit a sudden onset of warm and painful muscles. As the condition progresses, hardened areas of muscle become apparent. Being attentive to these early signs can aid in timely intervention and better outcomes.

Characteristic Gait Abnormalities

One of the telltale signs of fibrotic myopathy is the development of a distinct gait abnormality, particularly noticeable during walking. Affected horses experience an abrupt stop mid-stride, with their leg unable to continue its forward motion, resulting in a slapping or “goose-stepping” gait. Unlike lameness due to pain, this mechanical lameness is attributed to decreased muscle function.

Diagnosing Fibrotic Myopathy

Clinical Assessment and Patient History

Veterinarians rely on a thorough clinical examination and detailed patient history to evaluate the possibility of fibrotic myopathy. The presence of characteristic gait abnormalities, warm and painful muscles, and a history of relevant incidents aids in the diagnosis.

Utilizing Ultrasound Imaging for Accurate Diagnosis

Ultrasound imaging is a valuable tool in diagnosing fibrotic myopathy, allowing visualization of torn muscles and the extent of scar tissue formation. This non-invasive technique assists in determining the severity of the condition and guiding treatment decisions.

Potential Use of Nuclear Scintigraphy and Biopsy

In certain cases, additional diagnostic procedures such as nuclear scintigraphy or biopsy may be recommended to gain further insights into the presence of fibrotic tissue and monitor its changes over time.

Therapeutic Approaches to Prevent Ossification

Therapeutic interventions for fibrotic myopathy may include stretching exercises, hydrotherapy, and alternative therapies like ultrasound and electric or heat stimulation. Underwater treadmill therapy can be beneficial as the muscle starts to heal, aiding in restoring normal strength and elasticity.

Hydrotherapy, Ultrasound, and Heat Stimulation

Treatment plans for fibrotic myopathy may encompass a variety of effective modalities. These include hydrotherapy, where the affected area is cold-hosed, stretching exercises, and the implementation of alternative therapies such as deep ultrasound and heat or electric stimulation. Additionally, engaging in underwater treadmill exercises can be advantageous once the muscle has entered the healing phase.

In some cases, if a fibrotic band develops within the muscle, surgical intervention may become necessary to address the issue. However, it is essential to be aware that the prognosis for a complete return to normal mobility is generally discouraging in chronic cases.

There are two surgical options that are often discussed when dealing with fibrotic myopathy: a tenotomy, which involves cutting the semimembranosus tendon, or a myotomy, where the scar tissue is incised. Myotomies are typically performed on a standing horse with a little sedation, making them a feasible option for some cases of fibrotic myopathy.

Recovery and Care of Horses with Fibrotic Myopathy

During the recuperation phase, it is crucial to adhere closely to the rehabilitation and therapeutic strategies prescribed by your veterinarian. If your horse undergoes surgery, strict adherence to post-surgical therapy plans becomes paramount.

This will entail engaging in light and controlled exercises, with the difficulty level gradually increasing over several months. Such a regimen aims to facilitate muscle strengthening while safeguarding against additional fibrosis and loss of elasticity.

Some horses may return to normal function work with a normal gait if treatment is initiated early and diligently followed. However, for horses with severe cases of muscle fibrosis, retirement to pasture may be the most appropriate option. These horses will likely continue to exhibit the characteristic “goose-stepping” gait for the rest of their lives, although they can still lead fulfilling lives as pasture companions.

So, Can You Ride a Horse With Fibrotic Myopathy?

When it comes to riding a horse with fibrotic myopathy, responsible decision-making, and horse welfare should always be prioritized. Understanding fibrotic myopathy’s definition and impact on muscle function is crucial for assessing the suitability of riding. Recognizing the clinical signs, seeking timely diagnosis, and following recommended treatments are key to promoting a positive prognosis.


What types of hind leg gait abnormalities can occur in horses?

Horses may experience various hind leg conditions that result in unique and atypical lameness and gait abnormalities. These conditions encompass stringhalt, shivers, upward patella fixation, fibrotic myopathy, and rupture of the peroneus tertius muscle.

Does fibrotic myopathy cause pain in horses?

While typically affecting one hind limb, some instances may involve both hind limbs. Although fibrotic myopathy is not commonly associated with pain, it can significantly restrict or impede a horse’s performance.

How to Treat Fibrotic Myopathy?

In cases of acute injury, initiating therapy as soon as the horse is no longer in pain is crucial to prevent the hardening of the muscle. Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed during the early stages to reduce inflammation.

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