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ROUND 35% of the veterinary research and education budget is spent on projects to understand musculoskeletal disorders, improve their treatment, and prevent and minimise injury to racehorses. A slightly larger proportion of the budget is aimed at control and prevention of infectious disease. The HBLB-funded research is targeted at racehorses but the new developments in treatment and prevention of injuries are often directly applicable to horses and ponies of all types. Throughout the last 50 years, HBLB researchers have amassed a huge body of work aimed at understanding why tendons lose function, how injuries can be prevented, and the best way to treat and rehabilitate horses that suffer from tendon and ligament injuries.

From the gene to the jockey HBLB research on musculoskeletal disease and injury prevention extends all the way from the gene to the jockey, looking at every level between. It also encompasses cuttingedge laboratory work through to studies conducted on the racecourse and training grounds.

Tendon and ligament injuries

The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) collects a statutory levy from the horseracing business of bookmakers, which it then distributes for the improvement of horseracing and breeds of horses and for the advancement of veterinary science and education. HBLB makes a substantial contribution to the UK’s total prize-money and supports racecourse integrity service. Did you know that the HBLB’s contribution to equine research is substantial, amounting to over £25 million in the last decade?

Trainers can probably all agree that tendon and ligament injuries are extremely common. With HBLB funding, Dr Kristien Verheyen from the Royal Veterinary College set out to establish how frequently these injuries occur and set a benchmark against which future developments and interventions can be judged. Tendon and ligament injuries represent the most common injury to UK National Hunt racehorses: they account for 46% of racecourse limb injuries and by studying over 1200 UK National Hunt horses and in total monitoring around 9,500 months of training records, Dr Verheyen found that on average, two of every 100 National Hunt racehorses sustain tendon or ligament injuries per month.

Which structure is most injury-prone? There are two structures of particular interest; 11% of these National Hunt horses injured their suspenory ligaments but 89% sustained injury to the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT). This important weight-bearing structure runs down the back of the leg from a muscle above the knee to the pastern. It is composed of collagen fibres arranged in organised bundles rather like a rope. These

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European Trainer - Issue 46 - Summer 2014