Study reveals new technology to significantly reduce wastage in racehorses

The racing industry is under constant pressure for excellence in both performance and athlete longevity. Along with being the biggest contributor to horse welfare and research they are also on the permanent quest to make better athletes last longer. Because they are high profile and much money is (literally) at stake, they are uniquely motivated to prevent (and rehabilitate) injuries to their athletes.


The ultimate goal for a team – Justify winning the Preakness 2018, becoming the 13th Triple Crown Winner.
Sound athletes are happy athletes, and happy athletes win!

Injuries of the superficial flexor in the front limb are the most common musculoskeletal injuries in the thoroughbred industry, especially in juvenile race horses. Some studies found up to 30% of juvenile racehorses suffer from Superficial Flexor Tendon (SDF) disease. 

Obstacles in curing SFD:
– Treatments are expensive
– Long term loss of training
– No guarantee of success.
Thus prevention and improved success rate of treatments are key to improve
health and economics of this group of equine athletes.

Optimal visualisation of the tendon is imperative, but conventional ultrasounds are not capable of delivering the required detail and information – the extent of damage, or level of healing, for example.  The use of MRI also doesn’t generate the required information, besides being too expensive and immobile, thus unsustainable or impossible to implement in routine screening protocols.

How UTC is valuable:

A study carried out by S. Plevin et al in 2018 questioned if it would be possible to validate UTC for use in juvenile race horses for both prediction of injury and guided rehabilitation.

1. The study found that pre-training a normal juvenile tendon consists of;
    – 85% or more type I (green) aligned fibres
    – 15% or less type II (blue) wavy, swollen
    – No fibrillar tissue

2. The second scan was carried out when the horses were 3 months in training; all horses in full training with at least one speed work session anticlockwise carried out.
It was found that there is a significant increase in normal type I fibres (green) in upper part of left and right tendons during the period.

3. The third scan when horses in 3-6 months in training; a decrease in type I and increase type II fibres was found. This change of pattern represents a normal adaptation process to the changing work load carried out.  


Conclusion after using the UTC technology for monitoring juvenile thoroughbred tendons:

  1. UTC has been able to set a reference range for 4 fibre types in normal juvenile tendons
  2. UTC has the ability to be a non-invasive monitoring device to follow physiological changes in a juvenile maturing thoroughbred tendon
  3. There are differences shown between dominant versus non-dominant limbs 
  4. UTC will show adaptation of loading on the tendon during the training period 
  5. There is no significant difference between different operators
  6. UTC is easy to use in a field setting

Practical use:

For the first time in equine-structured research it was shown that the tendon can adapt to loading and that UTC is capable of registering and visualising these changes.
UTC enables monitoring of these responses and this allows;

  • total prevention or early diagnosis of tendon disease
  • creation of a guided rehabilitation programme 
  • monitoring of maturing juvenile tendons…
  • …thus guiding necessary adaptation of training intensity to achieve optimal tendon health in individual horses
  • reflection on the effects of different training regimes with hard data

By Dr Henk Offereins is currently setting up programmes in Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Canada and South Africa, aimed at reducing injury rate and related animal welfare and economic implications.

If you are a trainer or owner interested in participating, please contact us.