Sweeney in Horses

Sweeney in Horses: What Is It?

Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price

Although “sweeney” is not a term that modern horse owners hear often, it was common in the past when horses were more frequently driven.

Sweeney is a hollowed area located just below the horse’s shoulder line. This is caused by muscle wasting due to damage to the suprascapular nervous. This nerve controls the shoulder muscles which allow horses to move their legs forward. A lack of exercise causes muscle tissue to deteriorate and depression can appear where there is no use.

Horses were often subject to nerve damage due to poorly fitted collars pressing against their shoulders. Sweeney, which was quite common in the age before horsepower, could limit or end a horse’s life expectancy. The injury is often caused by a kick from another horses or the horse hitting its shoulder against a fence post or tree. Radiographs may be used to diagnose a fractured shoulder blade.

Sweeney in Horses

Initial injuries can cause pain, inflammation and lameness. Horses may become hesitant to move and have difficulty taking a step if they are forced to. The goal of early treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation and encourage movement. The nerve may need to be fully functional again after a controlled exercise program, physical therapy and electrostimulation.

If horses don’t respond to this treatment, surgery may be an option. This involves removing a small amount bone and scar tissue and depressing the nerve to allow it to heal. The risk of scapular or shoulder blade fracture may increase due to the weakening of the bone. However, this risk will decrease as healing continues.

About 80% of horses who sustain injury to the suprascapular nervous system will experience improvement in their foreleg function. If there is significant atrophy, however, chances of regaining performance are limited.

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