The horse’s hock is one of the more distinctive anatomical structures. Often referred to as a joint, the hock is actually comprised of four joints, 10 bones and several tendons and ligaments. This blog article outlines some common hock problems in horses and how we as riders can help care for our horses’ hocks.
Basic Anatomy of the Horse’s Hock
The hock is in many ways akin to the human ankle – the calcaneus is similar to the human heel, and the bones below the hock (commonly referred to as the cannon bone, splint bone, pasterns and pedal bone) are akin to the metatarsals in the human foot. Above the hock is the tibia, which leads to the patella (kneecap) and femur (thigh bone).
There are four joints in the hock, the largest of which is the tibiotarsal joint. This joint is where the talus and tibia meet, and it allows the greatest degree of movement (around 90%). The three smaller joints – the proximal intertarsal joint (PIT), distal intertarsal joint (DIT) and tarsometatarsal joint (TMT) – are all shock absorbing joints with a much smaller range of movement (around 10%).
It is these smaller joints – particularly the DIT and TMT – that are most vulnerable to injury.
The tendons that support the hock are key to supporting the horse’s weight and allowing movement. The DDFT and SDFT pass through and along the back of the hock, whilst the achilles tendon connects the calcaneus to the upper leg. These soft tissues are vital to the functioning of the hock and indeed the entire lower leg, so it is important that they are looked after.
Common Hock Problems in Horses
Hock problems in horses tend to involve either the bone and / or cartilage (e.g. Arthritis) or the soft tissues.
Bone-related issues often found in the hocks include osteochondritis dessecans (OCD) and osteoarthritis (OA). OCD tends to occur in younger horses and may be associated with rapid growth, nutritional or hormonal issues or after exercise-related trauma. OA is often found in high performance horse that undergo intense, repetitive exercise.
The soft tissues in the hocks are also prone to damage and injury. The suspensory ligament, deep digital flexor tendon and superficial digital flexor tendon are all prone to injury through excessive, repetitive or sudden stretching. Injuries to the soft tissues are often a culmination of micro damage that has occurred over time without being allowed to heal properly. This is why it is important to allow your horse to warm up and cool down properly – the soft tissues need to be allowed to adapt to the demands of exercise and recover fully after each session.
Hocks are also prone to injury as a result of slips and kicks. Horses can knock their hocks in the stable or horse box, and kicks from other horses out in the field can also result in an injury to the hock.
Symptoms of Hock Injuries in Horses
Hock injuries are not always obvious – whilst there may be lameness accompanied with heat and / or swelling, hock problems can also present as very mild lameness, or the lameness may appear to be in a different part of the leg. Horses with hock problems may present with back soreness as a result of having to over-compensate for restricted movement or pain in the hocks.
You should always contact your vet if you suspect lameness or any damage or injury to the hocks. They will be able to carry out a thorough lameness investigation and provide the necessary advice and treatment.
Caring for the Hocks
Looking after your horse’s hocks is key to reducing the chance of injury occurring, minimising the severity of any issues and prolonging the working life of the horse. Allowing your horse to warm up properly before exercise and cooling the hocks effectively after exercise are both key. Furthermore, allowing your horse to work on a variety of surfaces and varying the type of work can also help to preserve their hocks.
Icing the Hocks With Cryochaps Ice Wraps for Horses
Icing the hocks after injury or exercise is simple with the Cryochaps Absolute Wrap. Our ice wraps for horses are designed to fit joints such as the hock, knee and fetlock, making them highly versatile. Use as part of your horse’s everyday cool down routine, and keep them handy as part of your equine first aid kit. Order the Cryochaps Absolute Wrap today and give your horse’s hocks the care they deserve.