Strain-induced tendinopathy is a common injury in both human and equine athletes, with increasing incidence associated with greater involvement in sport and an increasingly aged population. This paper reviews our studies on the abundant non-collagenous protein, cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP), in equine tendons. Its variation between tendon type and site, age and exercise has provided an insight into how age and exercise influence tendon growth and maturation. Tendons can be broadly divided into two types, reflecting their different matrix composition and function: the energy-storing tendons used for weight-bearing and locomotion, which suffer a high incidence of strain-induced tendinopathy, and positional tendons involved in limb placement or manipulative skills. It would appear that while energy-storing tendon can respond to the mechanical forces applied to it during growth, there is no evidence that it can do so after skeletal maturity. Instead, cumulative fatigue damage causes degeneration at the molecular level, potentially weakening it and increasing the risk of clinical injury. Appropriate exercise regimes early in life may help to improve the quality of growing tendon, thereby reducing the incidence of injury during ageing or subsequent athletic career.