Horses are capable of standing with limited muscle activity as a result of the so-called passive stay apparatus in the forelimbs and hind limbs.1–4 This is an important energy-saving mechanism for animals that stand for prolonged periods. The distal joints of the forelimb (carpal, metacarpophalangeal [fetlock], proximal interphalangeal [pastern], and distal interphalangeal [coffin] joints) and hind limb (fetlock, pastern, and coffin joints) are stabilized during standing by tendinous structures on the palmar and plantar sides of the limbs (Figure 1).2–6 The main structures contributing to the distal part of the passive stay apparatus are the SDFT, DDFT, TI (suspensory ligament), and associated distal ligaments of the proximal sesamoid bones (ie, the sesamoid ligaments). The sesamoid ligaments in combination with the TI prevent hyperextension of the metacarpophalangeal and metatarsophalangeal (fetlock) joints. The combination of the proximal accessory ligaments and the SDFT bridges the carpus, fetlock joint, and pastern joint and passively prevents overextension of these joints. The distal accessory ligament in combination with the DDFT forms a tendinous bridge that passively protects the fetlock, pastern, and coffin joints from overextension.
Although the passive stay apparatus is a well-known structure and is described in textbooks,2–4 little is known about its physical limitations or requirements for proper functioning. One reason for this lack of knowledge is that the distal tendons not only are elements of the passive stay apparatus, but also act as an energy-storage mechanism and contribute to vibration reduction during locomotion.7–9
Apart from trauma, only 2 types of clinical dysfunction of the passive stay apparatus are observed, and these are the result of muscle weakness10 or do not affect all the limbs equally.11 These clinical dysfunctions cannot be linked directly to changes in the passive stay apparatus and therefore provide no useful additional functional information on this apparatus.
In Friesians, a disorder (most likely genetic) resulting in dwarfism is characterized by reduced limb length and overextension of the distal limb joints, indicating a failing passive stay apparatus.12 These dwarf Friesians could therefore provide a good model to study the functional demands of the equine passive stay apparatus.
Overextension of the distal limb joints can be explained by 2 hypotheses based on differences in structural and mechanical properties of the tendons. The first hypothesis suggests that the tendons in dwarf Friesians are relatively longer, compared with the length of the bones, than those in clinically normal (nondwarf) horses. Because the tendons limit extension, longer tendons will result in greater extension of the distal limb joints. Obviously, long tendons (relative to the limb length) can result from elongation of the tendon or a reduction of the limb length.
A second hypothesis suggests that the tendons have the same proportions (equal resting length and cross-sectional area), but the stiffness of the tendons are different. When the tendon material is less stiff, loading of the tendon will result in greater elongation and therefore overextension of the joint.
The purpose of the study reported here was to determine differences in structural and mechanical tendon properties that are associated with changes in functionality of the passive stay apparatus in horses by examining clinically normal Friesians, dwarf Friesians, and ponies.
Deep digital flexor tendon
General linear model
Superficial digital flexor tendon
TCLP-2B, TML Sokki Kenkyujo Co Ltd, Tokyo, Japan.
LabView, National Instruments, Austin, Tex.
SPSS 15, SPSS Inc, Chicago, Ill.
QWin, Leica, Cambridge, England.
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