How Do Horses Hurt Their Hocks?

How Do Horses Hurt Their Hocks?

by Karen S. Johnson, Demand Media

Your horse’s hocks are an essential part of his hind end, which is akin to a vehicle’s engine. He pushes off it to jump and go forward, and turns on it to spin. Each hock – or tarsus – needs to bend and flex accordingly. Hocks are a complex collection of joints, bones and ligaments, and their workload and prominence on the backs of your horse’s legs leave them vulnerable to injury.

Purpose of Hocks

Think of how you rely on your ankles to support your weight and perform simple, physical tasks — from walking to your car to putting on your socks. When your ankle is damaged, it affects the way you move. Your horse’s hocks are the equivalent of the human ankle. Without healthy hocks he can’t run, jump or even walk comfortably. He may try to compensate, often resulting in back discomfort; in fact, many times back problems are treated without giving adequate consideration to the hocks.
Overall, if your horse has good conformation that is suited for his sport, he’ll have fewer problems than one with conformation flaws.


Your horse will succumb to normal wear and tear associated with joint use and old age, just as you will. This is particularly true if he competes — launching himself over jumps and turning hard and fast on his haunches will wear the hocks down much faster than the occasional lope through a grassy field.

When degeneration occurs, the spaces between the hock joints decrease. Typically your horse will feel some pain during this process; look for shortened strides or overall performance decrease. An oral or injectable joint supplement may prolong the process and ease his pain. In more advanced cases, your vet may inject the joint directly.

Some early indications of degeneration, such as swelling, are referred to as bone spavin.
Over time, the hock joints fuse. Oddly enough, this typically relieves pain and your horse may even return to full or near-full soundness. In some cases, your vet can surgically or chemically fuse some hock joints.


Tendons and Ligaments

The bones and joints in the hocks are joined by tendons and ligaments. The good news is that rear ligament damage is not as common as joint wear, but if they tear and your horse is not properly treated, he may not recover.



If you notice a small laceration or sore on the outside of your horse’s hock, he may be injuring himself when he gets up. This typically happens on hard ground, or if there is not enough bedding in his stall.

These sores aren’t serious, but they can be painful and need to be treated with ointment and a protective covering. You can’t do much about him lying down and getting up when he’s outside, but you can put down more stall bedding.

Other, more serious cuts can occur from pasture fencing, or even tree branches. Cuts near the hock joints should always be seen and properly treated by a veterinarian, particularly if there is heat and swelling; if your horse gets an infection in the hock joint it could cause permanent lameness.



OCD is the abbreviation for osteochondrosis dissecans. Often swelling on the upper portion of the hock, known as a bog spavin, is an indication of OCD.

The condition is fairly prevalent in large, young horses, such as warmbloods. Some owners try to facilitate growth by over-feeding their youngsters. This can create a nutritional imbalance that interferes with bone and cartilage development. It’s typically not noticed until the horse starts work, and may require surgical intervention to remove detached bone.



Homeopathy and Bowen Therapy can help maintain your horse’s health. If you have a horse that is unwell and you would like to manage it in a more natural way please contact me.


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The information contained in this website is not intended to replace guidance from your veterinarian. Bowen Therapy and Homeopathy are complementary to veterinary treatment and the general care of the animal.