Help! My Horse's Wound is Near a Joint

Common mistakes well-intentioned owners make when handling these injuries, and steps for on-farm and in-clinic care

Black Beauty was worried about his knees, and rightfully so. The beloved equine protagonist from Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel had fallen on them “violently.” And because horses have few protective soft tissue structures in their limbs, the steed was at risk of serious—even ­deadly—infection if the injuries compromised the carpal joint capsules.

Beauty got lucky: He survived. Many horses with joint wounds, however, aren’t so fortunate. Death rates in horses with joint capsule damage are high, and permanent poor performance rates are even higher. That’s why we’ve asked the experts what to do when your horse turns up with knee, hock, fetlock, or other leg joint wounds, and why.

Horses Leg Wounds Are Special

Evolutionarily speaking, horses’ legs are like our fingers and toes. Long and bony, with no muscle in the lower limb, their joints are at particular risk of complex injuries, says Philip D. van Harreveld, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, owner of Vermont Large Animal Clinic & Equine Hospital, in Milton. “Below the knees and hocks, you basically have skin covering bone, tendons, joints, and tendon sheaths,” he says.

For escaping predators and winning speed classes, it’s a great design. But not when it comes to damage. “I compare horses to race cars,” van Harreveld says. “They have amazing performance, but they break down all the time.”

Poorly protected, with critical structures literally millimeters below the surface, horses’ limbs require regular attention—and quick action when problems occur, says Rolf Becker Modesto, VMD, Dipl. ACVS-LA, owner of Becker Equine, in College Station, Texas.

That’s particularly true for lower limb joints: knees, hocks, fetlocks, and joints within the hoof, as well as tendon sheaths and

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