All you need to know about SDFT Injury and your Horse

Horse tendons heal slowly as they have limited blood supply. For information on the recovery procedures for SDFT problems read this article.

Jeremy Ricketts
Jeremy Ricketts Posted on 9 January 2023
3 Min Read Horse Foot

There are two tendons running down the back of a horse’s lower leg and they are called flexor tendons. This article looks at injury to the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT).

SDFT Horse

Noticing the Injury

This horse’s SDFT is swollen so he will have localised heat and pain.

Knowing the causes of SDFT Lameness

The two causes of this condition are:


  • Tearing from over stretching
  • Impact trauma.


So we must look at these problems in more detail.

1. Tearing

The four reasons tearing happens are listed below:


  • Unfit horses working above their fitness level
  • Fit horses operating at extreme exertion levels
  • Horses doing activities they are not built for
  • Unsuitable surfaces underfoot.


A single event causes tearing when a horse is not fit enough or is not built for its intended use. An unlucky twist or an unsuitable surface also causes this single event injury.


However, with performance horses, lesions are frequently the results of long-term damage over a number of months.


Tearing ranges from minor damage up to a total rupture of the tendon, but Ultrasound Tissue Characterisation (UTC) scanning reveals the extent of the damage. and your vet advises a suitable rehab programme.


2. ImpactTrauma

Another limb or an external force causes impact trauma and the damage ranges from a minor bruise to a tendon rupture. However, puncture wounds to the tendon sheath are severe and always need veterinary intervention.

Signs my Horse has a Flexor Tendon problem


  • Inflammation and heat
  • External wound
  • Pain on palpitation
  • Lameness

Rehab from an SDFT Lesion

This is linked to the amount of damage and UTC scanning detects this 7 to 10 days after the initial inflammation has subsided.

Use these procedures while waiting for a UTC scan:


  • Box rest
  • Anti-inflammatory pain killers
  • Bandaging the limb and the opposite leg.


After your horse is scanned a number of invasive and/or non-invasive treatments are available.

1. Non-invasive Treatments

2. Invasive Treatments

Your horse must have Tendon Support

Your horse’s tendons must be supported to prevent overloading and more damage. So suitable and correctly adjusted boots will be required.

Equestride boots are ideal

Equestride boots support tendon and ligament lesions and they provide 4 adjustable settings for different stages of rehabilitation. Your horse will need ongoing UTC scans to monitor his recovery rate and the correct boot setting.


Your vet advises a suitable exercise regime and this starts with walking in hand.

A typical rehabilitation programme

  • Walking in hand
  • Walking out hacking
  • Mainly walking with a few quiet trots
  • Extending the periods of trotting but with plenty of walking
    • Introducing a little canter work
  • Extending the period of time cantering
  • Introducing galloping work


Two final considerations

  1. Chronic tendon problems go unnoticed until your horse is obviously lame.
  2. Mild acute strains go undetected, with significant injury developing weeks later.

The message this gives owners

For horse athletes, UTC scanning is extremely useful to spot emerging problems. This is best done just before a training schedule intensifies to more physical demands.

Front leg Conformation for better Strength, Stamina and Soundness

Article Suggestion

Front leg Conformation for better Strength, Stamina and Soundness
There is no such thing as a perfect horse but they must have serviceable conformation, enough to meet your needs and to keep the horse sound.
Find out more
Jeremy Ricketts

Share this article

Hello, I'm the resident writer here at The Rideout. I've been riding horses for the best part of... well my entire life! Over the years of owning, riding, competing and looking after horses I've built up a small wealth of information.

This site owes tribute to my many hours spent in and out of the saddle learning about the behaviours, needs, and quirks of these amazing animals. From basic care and grooming to advanced training techniques, I've honed my skills through years of hands-on experience.

sign off