Common Muscular Problems of the Hunt Horse (And how to Avoid Them)

Hello and welcome to my first blog post! I’m making it a goal to post at least once a week so keep checking back for updates and let me know if there is any specific topic you would like me to cover!

So – as hunting season is all most drawing to a close (and it is my name sake!) I’m dedicating the first blog to all the brilliant and hard working hunt horses out there.

Drag hunting places many demands on the muscular-skeletal system of the horse due to the unpredictable nature of the terrain they are asked to cross. The day could be spent trotting on tarmac, jumping on uneven ground and galloping in deep mud.

Fast work on hard surfaces puts strain on the lower limb which in turn causes tension to travel up the leg into the supporting muscles, which act as shock absorbers. Whilst treating a range of different hunt horses all have shown varying levels of tension in the brachial triceps (The shoulder) and ascending and descending pectorals.

Jumping and galloping in wet and muddy conditions can not only cause an early onset of fatigue due to the difficult nature of the task, but can also place the hind quarters under strain because of the pulling action the mud creates on the hindlimb. This  in turn can create at the least strain and stiffness, but also has the possibility to cause micro – tears in the muscle fibre. Anecdotal evidence in the hunt horses I have treated has shown the common muscles effected in the hind quarters to be the Femoral Biceps, Semi tendinosus and Superficial gluteals.

Another common problem that is often seen in the hunt horse is pain deriving from ill fitting tack. Due to the length of time the tack is worn, even minor fitting issues will become magnified. Sweating combined with muddy conditions can also make tack and boots to rub causing painful abrasions.

A more extreme muscular issue some horses can suffer from is tying up , also known as Azorturia, Exertional Rhabdomylosis or Monday morning syndrome. Tying up is not the same as specific muscle soreness. The horse will be very reluctant to move, increased respiratory and pulse rate and when palpated, the muscles will be severely contracted and spasmodic. It is generally thought that the basis of tying up stems from glycogen build up in the muscles from excessive exercise. Over work combined with under training. However it has since been proven that Azorturia is mainly a result of metabolic deformities within the muscle cells, with diet and exercise being a major contributing factor.

So .. with all of these problems that can effect the muscles of the horse – how can you make It through the hunting season in one piece?

1. Fitness is key! Design an appropriate fittening programme suited to you and your horse. So it is able to partake in the level of activity asked. Basic conditioning will involve weeks of walk and then trot work on hard surface, followed by intervals of canter and gallop work. There are lots of great examples of fitness programmes online if you need an example, or consult a riding instructor if you are unsure.

2. Check your tack before the season begins and during! The horses shape can and will change as they become fitter. Consult a registered saddle fitter to ensure the perfect fit.

3. Cool down is key! A good walk off after prolonged exercise will return all the levels back to normal, and lessen the chances of the muscles becoming stiff. It is important to not let the back become cold once you have finished a days hunting, when possible loosen but leave your saddle on for ten minutes to allow the muscles to relax. ;

4. Brushing off ‘vs’ Washing off – It is important to wash off all muddied and sweaty areas with warm water, how ever brushing the body off will not only begin the process of lactic acid drainage but will give you a chance to check for any cuts, abrasions or thorns.

5. Replace lost sweat with electrolytes – if you are unsure what to feed that is best suited to your horse and their job role consult a nutritionist or your veterinarian for advice.

6. Rest day – Days off are very important for muscle recovery, however it is very important to not leave the horse standing in their stable all day as this will lead to stiffness. Turn out where possible or a gentle hand walk out will be sufficient.


Massages role in recovery and increased performance – Gentle massage (efflaurage) can be performed one hour after exercise to soothe the muscles and begin toxin drainage.

A remedial treatment can be performed 3 days after heavy exercise (once the injury cycle is complete) to aid in injury recover. This is a great time to massage as it will make the horse feel so much better and stop any tense spots in the muscle becoming adhesion’s, which can cause lasting problems. This will particularly help if the horses has suffered a fall or had a especially hard day (you know yourself after a hard days exercise you are still feeling it days later!).

A maintenance massage mid way through the season is the perfect MOT to check the horse over and to keep them in peak condition for the coming months!


Refs – Horse and hound,, conformation for performance, Photo credits – Haydon Hunt.

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