How Do Sport Horses Perform After Check Ligament Surgery?

Cutting the accessory (check) ligament of the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) is a treatment commonly used for horses with stage 1 club feet (contracture of the distal interphalangeal joint) that do not respond to conservative therapy and for stage 2 club feet in yearlings and older horses.

While widely regarded as successful for treating the flexural deformity itself, it has been reported that racing performance of horses following this surgery is lower compared with their peers. This multi-center cohort study, conducted by researchers in Denmark, examined the long-term performance of 74 sport (dressage, show jumping, eventing) horses following DDFT check ligament surgery compared with 194 of their siblings who did not receive surgery.

The majority (88%) of the horses were Dutch warmbloods, males and females were equally represented and about half (57%) had unilateral surgery. Only 28% of the operated horses ever entered a registered competition compared with 38% of the matched controls. Neither age nor unilateral vs. bilateral surgery affected the likelihood of an operated horse entering competition. Among horses that entered competition, operated horses competed in significantly fewer lifetime events (average of 10 events following unilateral surgery, six following bilateral surgery) compared with controls (16 events).

While this type of study cannot be used to predict career success for individual sport horses, it does suggest sport horses treated surgically for club feet do not compete as well as their unaffected peers.

— Wismann ES et al. EVJ 2021;in press

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Albert Kane

Albert J. Kane, DVM, MPVM, Ph.D.

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