Horse Leg

The fetlock joint is often found to be a seat of lameness, this joint is put under great strain when the horse jumps, canters fast, or gallops. In such work, there are regular periods when the entire weight of both horse and rider is supported on one leg. Hard going increases the effects of concussion and deep, wet going increases the wrenching effect on the joint. This may result in the training of the fetlock joint, where heat, pain, and swelling may present, or where puffy enlargements, known as ‘wind galls’, may appear.

A mild strain of the fetlock joint usually responds to rest, cold hosing, or poulticing. Persistent or severe lameness in this area requires veterinary attention.

Damage to the sesamoid bones or the sheathes surrounding them (sesamoiditis), the suspensory ligament, or the tendons in this area, requires rest and veterinary treatment.

Splints These are small, hard lumps of bone appearing on the splint hones, which are the vestigial remains of two toes that lie on either side of the cannon bone. Splints do not necessarily cause lameness, and once they are hardened, whilst unsightly, they do not usually cause any trouble, especially when they are on the side of the cannon bone. If, however, they form at the back of the cannon bone and interfere with the hack tendons, surgery may necessary to remove them. Rest is usually sufficient to overcome this problem in most cases, and a mild, working blister may assist the healing process.

The most common cause of splints is the galloping and jumping of young horses before they are capable of coping with strenuous work.

Tendons and ligaments The suspension and locomotion of the horse depend upon a series of tendons and ligaments. In the horse’s natural state, this suspensory system is very efficient. When the horse is domesticated and put under the strains of competition riding or hunting the system frequently breaks down.

Tendons are the strong bands of sinew that operate the joints by the action of the muscles. Ligaments are strong bands of fiber that hold the joints together. Both these types of fibrous bands can be strained with various degrees of severity. Such strains always require veterinary attention. There are many sophisticated veterinary techniques for the repair of strained tendons and ligaments, but there is only one effective remedy and that is rest.

One year’s rest in the case of a severe strain may show some improvement but two years is far more likely to give lasting results. Prevention is much better than cure, and the possibility of tendon strain can be reduced to the minimum by careful preparation and training and the avoidance of very hard or very deep going.

The knee This is a complicated joint and whilst it is prone to the effects of concussion most knees are caused by falls. The condition known as ‘chipped knees’ arises from the horse slipping or stumbling onto his knees causing injury and unsightly, lasting scars. These scars may mean that the animal is prone to stu m1,1 lug, which is a fault in some horses. Any injury to a joint that involves the loss of ‘joint oil’ is serious and requires veterinary attention. Puncture wounds to the knee can be serious and require professional treatment.

Elbow Lameness in the elbow is rare and is usually caused by direct, external injury. An unsightly condition known as ‘capped elbow’ occurs at times. This is a bursa! enlargement around the point of the elbow caused by insufficient stable bedding or by the heels of the fore shoe coming in contact with the elbow when the horse lies down. The fitting of a ‘sausage boot’ around the pastern night may help to prevent this injury.

Shoulders Lameness in this area is rare but may occur if a muscle involved in the articulation of the shoulder is damaged. Rest is probably the best remedy but veterinary advice should be sought.

The stifle joint The stifle is equivalent to the human knee joint and has a patella or knee cap. The condition known as a `slipped stifle’ is not uncommon and occurs when the horse’s hind leg is fully extended behind. It causes the locking of the patella and prevents the horse from returning his hind leg to its normal position. The condition can be rectified with veterinary help but repeated slipping of the stifle can result in permanent damage.

The hock This large, complicated, and important joint is put great strain on the competition horse when he is jumping, galloping, or making turns at speed. The hock is prone to arthritic changes, the best known being the so-called `spavins’. These are either ‘hone’ or ‘hog’ spavins. The bone spavin is a hard swelling on the inside of the front of the hock caused by the growth of a new home. The bog spavin is the result of an inflamed joint producing more joint oil which causes bulges at three different places: one on the inside of the front of the hock and the other two, on either side, higher up the joint. These are serious causes of lameness and seldom respond well to treatment.

The capped hock is an unsightly bursa) enlargement at the point of the hock. It is caused by insufficient or unsuitable stable bedding. It is unlikely to cause lameness.

The curb This is an unsoundness that shows as a swelling on the back of the cannon about a hand’s breadth below the point of the hock. It is caused by overwork, particularly in young horses where the tendon that runs down the back of the cannon bone from the point of the hock has been strained. At first, the horse may be lame but after about two to three weeks he should be sound, and very light work can resume. Cold hosing helps but blistering should be avoided. Normal work can be resumed in about three months but strain should always be avoided. A curb is a sign of weak hocks and horses showing a tendency towards curbs should be avoided for competition work.

Thoroughpin This is an unsightly blemish in the hock joint. Whilst it is unlikely to cause lameness it may indicate a weakness in the hock. It is a distention of the sheath of the deep flexor tendon where it passes over the arch of the hock. It shows swellings on both sides of the joint about level with the point of the hock. Pressure on one swelling will push the synovial fluid causing the swelling to move from one side of the joint to the other. Various treatments are available but are not as a rule lasting.

Cracked heels and grease These two separate conditions result in insure patches forming in the hollow of the heel and at the back of the pastern. Usually caused by the horse standing in damp cold conditions or by careless washing of the legs, the affected areas become chapped and sore, causing lameness in severe cases. The affected areas should be kept clean and dry. Veterinary advice should be sought.

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