Swollen horse legs – Are your horses legs swelling when standing in a stable?

Posted on December 15, 2023 by Categories: Cryochaps, Uncategorized Tags:

It is that time of year when horses are standing in the stable for longer as the nights draw in and the rain destroys the fields. We explore that causes this swelling and how you can help prevent the swelling.

What causes horses legs to swell if not moving around

When your horse has been standing for long periods or time, like when they are stabled or on a long journey, there is the risk that the legs may swell. This can be just the pastern area or it can be from the hock or knee down. It is more common that the hind legs will swell rather than the front legs but all are susceptible.

Swelling in the horses legs is often caused by a build-up of fluid, called oedema. Oedema or, more commonly known in the horse world, as stocking up, is caused by, standing in the same position for too long.

When standing for extended periods, gravity makes it more challenging for blood to flow upward from the horse legs to their heart. As a result, blood can pool in the veins of the legs. Additionally, prolonged standing can contribute to increased pressure on the blood vessels and tissues in the legs. This pressure may cause fluid to leak from the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues, leading to swelling, especially around the fetlocks and pasterns. Movement can help reduce this swelling by assisting blood circulation and preventing excessive fluid buildup and we see this when we exercise or walk the horse out, the legs lose their filling.

What can I do to stop my horses legs swelling?

Using stable bandages or stable wraps when stabled or travelling may help. They work like compression socks by applying gentle pressure to the legs, which helps improve blood circulation. This pressure assists the blood vessels in moving blood more efficiently, preventing it from pooling in the legs. When blood flows better, it reduces the chances of fluid leaking out into the surrounding tissues, which is one of the reasons legs may swell. Essentially, by bandaging or wrapping the horses legs it provides support to the blood vessels, promoting healthier blood circulation and minimizing swelling.

Can ice and compression help with legs swelling from being stabled?

Cryochaps provide ice and compression and when used after exercise, have been seen to help reduce the chance of leg swelling when stabled. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory effects of ice and compression and after hard exercise giving the legs a hit of cold and compression reduces the inflammatory response which creates swelling. Blood vessels are also constricted which helps return blood back up the leg. If your horses’ legs are regularly swelling whilst being stabled try icing after exercise to see if this makes a difference. This is in addition to wrapping then legs whilst stabled.

Are magnetic boots the answer to prevent horses legs swelling?

There is still no evidence in humans that magnets can provide any benefit to increase circulation and perhaps decrease blood flow and circulation. A selection of studies can be found in this case study:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6323575/

It is possibly the supportive effect of the magnetic boot, not the magnets that will decrease the swelling.

Why is it important to act if you have minor swelling in the horses legs when stabled

Horses legs may swell for no apparent reason and if no underlying trauma is present. It is advisable at this point to assist the legs with some support with either bandages or stable wraps. If the legs are not supported to stop the swelling, there is the possibility that due to the skin being stretched, it will be easier for bacteria to penetrate the protective skin barrier. This could cause infection and lead to a more serious case of lymphangitis.

Using stable wraps or bandages if your horse’s legs are prone to swelling is a posiitve way forward as well as using the beneficial effects of ice and compression boots after exercise.