Fused hocks in horses.

Have you heard of fused hocks in horses? These can either develop at a young age (juvenile osteochondral disease, as shown in the second x-ray image below), through degenerative joint disease, or sometimes through other trauma. Fused hocks tend to occur in the distal intertarsal and tarsometatarsal joints (the lower two joints in the hock). These joints have relatively low mobility.

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A normal hock – note the space in the centre of the joint (the middle black line) compared to the image below.

How long does it take for hocks to fuse?

The process of bones fusing together is called ankylosis; in the hocks, the duration that this takes to complete can vary drastically between each individual horse.

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A fused hock – note the lack of space (no black line) in the centre of the joint.

Are fused hocks painful?

It is assumed that fused hocks are less painful, however the full fusion is a very slow progress. If hocks are not entirely fused, they have the potential to cause discomfort. Medication of the joints may enable the horse to continue to move without pain whilst the process is underway, however this should be monitored by the vet, including the use of diagnostic imaging, to determine progress. Once the hocks are fused, any discomfort or lameness tends to be eliminated, and the horse should usually be able to carry on in normal work.

There are some surgical options to fuse hocks, but they have to be considered very carefully.

Has your horse got a hoof bruise?

At this time of year, hooves can easily bruise on dry, hard ground. As living, flexible tissue, hooves are designed to expand and contract, withstanding concussion. However, too much force from an impact can cause damage. This may be from something as simple as treading on a stone! A hoof bruise may develop and become apparent afterwards. Also, the hard ground can affect the biomechanics of ligaments, joints and tendons, and some horses with certain problems (navicular and arthritis for example), could simply get worse.

So what are hoof bruises?

Bruises are small haemorrhages that occur when blood vessels rupture due to trauma. Similar to humans having a blood-filled blister (haematoma) under the fingernail, larger haematomas can also form between sensitive tissues and the sole of the hoof. The resulting internal pressure can be very painful!

What are the signs of a bruise?

Symptoms can include:

  • increased digital pulse
  • shortened stride or more obvious lameness
  • purple/red marks on the hoof.

How do I locate a bruise?

Even if there are no external marks, hoof testers can be used to test sensitivity of the soft tissue structures within the hoof capsule. This aids in locating the specific area of pain, which will help determine the cause of the problem and the best way to treat it.

How are bruises treated?

Treatment options may range depending on the specific case. It could involve paring the sole to relieve pressure, cold therapy, poulticing, protective bandaging or anti-inflammatories. Deep bruising can also trigger abscesses, so if in doubt, seek veterinary attention.

Emiliano Espinar, veterinary surgeon, checking a horse's hoof with hoof testers.

How to cool down after exercise

After working out in the sunshine, what’s the best way to cool a horse down after exercise?

What happens to the heat?

The 4 main ways that heat dissipates are:

  • radiation (heat between 2 objects that aren’t touching),
  • conduction (heat transfer between two objects that are touching)
  • convection (cold air moving across the skin, which forces heat away from the body)
  • evaporation (liquid i.e. sweat that vaporises, thereby dispersing the heat energy).

Sweating is not an effective method of cooling down in humid conditions, however.

What’s the best way to cool down?

Research has shown that the most effective way to cool a horse down is by spraying with cool water, then scraping that water off, before spraying again.

What about cold water and colic?

Despite rumours about hot horses drinking and getting colic, research also shows that horses can be offered cool (not ice-cold) water, as rehydration is most important.

Genetic testing… Can we predict winners?

Can genetic testing predict equine winners?

New research strongly suggests a correlation between genetics and good performance in eventing and dressage too. Can you imagine testing for what is the best racing distance for your horse? Or testing for a performance index?

Well, its all happening now and Genetic testing is here to stay! There are an increasing number of tests that can give us a fair answer from diseases to (more recently) performance.

As good as it sounds, could you imagine the earthquake that this could cause in the industry if we just rely on these tests? Where the art of breeding and racing would be unveiled in a blood sample?

What issues are there with genetic testing?

Most prestigious international breeders & associations of racing horses have seen several problems with these testings. They include issues such as the total validity, lack of agreement, the room for fraud, and also need for consent. Ultimately they only give you a strong probability. In other terms, they give you a predisposition but not predetermination!

The use of these tests by associations could actually damage the industry badly. Therefore they don’t get involved including or promoting genetic testing. As such, it would then be up to owners to decide what they want to test.

The breeders however have seen a benefit and they plan to gradually introduce these tests for disease and illness. For example, crippling industry diseases such as laryngeal haemaplegia.

What tests are on offer?

There are several laboratories that are offering tests. However, there is not overall agreement/validation of these increasing amounts of tests.

Some will offer disease screening: prediction of hoof problems in Connemaras, hyperkalemic paralysis in quarter horses, etc…

If you want to have a look at the menu, you could have a peek in these websites:

http://getgluck.ca.uky.edu/

https://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/

https://www.animalgenetics.eu/Equine/equine-index.html

These tests to date haven’t yet proven a total prediction of performance ability.

If you decide to request one, we are happy to help you. But just remember that these tests are statistics, and horses don’t do statistics, but they are smart enough to prove anyone a fool!