While you may prefer to hear that your horse needs a boost in his training regime, hock problems don't mean the end to you and your horse's success. When noticed earlier enough, there are steps you can take to prolong your horse's career.
What is the Hock?
The hock joint isn't just one thing, rather an area.
The hock links the lower leg bones to the tibia in a horse's upper leg. It consists of four basic joints and multiple bones and ligaments.
The upper joint (the tibiotarsal joint) is responsible for extensions and the majority of the hock mobility. The bottom three joints handle the remaining movement (about 10%).
With so many working parts, wear and tear is typical and expected —especially in working horses. No one breed is more prone to hock problems. Instead, breeds that are taken out of their historical use (like asking a draft horse to be a jumper) are more susceptible to hock injuries and problems.
Signs of Hock Problems in Horses
With hock problems ailing all breeds, it's important to keep an eye for signs. What is lameness shouldn't be mistaken for laziness. While not preventable, when noticed and treated early enough hock problems won't stop your horse in their tracks.
Here are a few common signs of hock problems in horses.
Or rather stiffness at the start of a ride that eventually goes away. When a horse is suffering from a hock problem, all of the ligaments in the joint tense up and become tighter, trying to protect the joints and bones.
This tightness will eventually be worked out as your horse stretches and moves.
Shifting Their Weight
Not all hocks are created equal — even in one horse.
With hock problems, your horse wants the weight off of their bad hock even when standing.
Shifting weight while standing isn't always a sign of hock problems as it's natural to change weight on and off a leg while standing. However, if you notice your horse always takes the pressure off a particular leg, it's worth checking out.
Changes in Gait
Pain alters the movement of any animal. With pain in the back legs, horses will shorten their gait to take weight off their back. If the pain is severe, they may even shift more weight onto their forelegs, ending up in a hunched position.
Less Spring in Their Jump
When approaching a fence, horses shift their weight into their hind in, allowing them to spring off of the ground and clear the fence.
Horses with hock problems are reluctant to do that. In developing injuries, they may still jump, but with less spring. Keep an eye out if your horse gradually begins hanging their back legs and catching rails.
With horses in severe pain from a hock injury, they may start refusing. If your horse wasn't in the habit of stopping before fences and you cannot figure out why they are starting too, take a look at their hocks.
Changes in the Appearance of Their Hock Joint
One of the apparent signs of hock problems is a change in the hock's appearance.
The hock joint has a particular, recognizable anatomy. If you notice any deviations from this or notice swelling, tenderness or heat at the hock, it's time to call your vet.
Treating Hock Problems
While it always breaks your heart when your horse is in pain, the good news is that hock injuries can be addressed.
While not 100% treatable, there are different injections and exercises that will reduce pain and tenderness. With working horses, hock injections are relatively common. Using naturally-occurring injections that act as anti-inflammatories, vets can reduce swelling and discomfort, allowing you and your horse back in the ring.
Hock problems are common in horses — especially working horses. Knowing the signs of hock problems can give you the time to address them with your vet before they take over your horse's career.
Have questions? Think your horse is suffering from a hock injury? Give PHD Veterinary Services a call at 352-258-3571.