The Horse’s Fetlock Joint: Injury, Disease, and Repair

Learn about the normal functions of bones, cartilage, soft tissues, and fluids within the fetlock joint.
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The normal functions of bones, cartilage, soft tissues, and fluids within the fetlock joint—and joint disease

“The fetlock joint is, arguably, the joint that makes a horse a horse,” said Larry Bramlage, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, a partner at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., during the 2009 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas, Nev. “Its unique anatomy and physiology allow the high-speed, medium-distance activity that has led to the unique place for the horse in society, historically and currently … The fetlock is a joint, a shock absorber, an energy storage system, and a stabilizer of the distal limb.”

During each AAEP convention, one veterinarian is singled out for the honor of giving the Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture on a topic of importance to the veterinary profession. In 2009 Bramlage was selected to discuss the orthopedics of the fetlock joint, from disease and injury to surgical repair.

His is a familiar face inside and outside the equine veterinary profession, based on his history as an internationally recognized equine orthopedic surgeon, past president of both the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the AAEP, numerous awards for his work, more than 100 published scientific articles, and his prominent participation in the AAEP’s On-Call program (which keeps veterinarians “on-call” to speak with the media in cases of equine injury at live-broadcast U.S. racing events and some arena events).

Bramlage began his 2009 Milne Lecture by reporting that the fetlock joint is the joint on which he most commonly operates in his practice. “In the last 10 years, I’ve operated on almost 11,000 horses, and almost 40% of those were fetlock cases,” he said. “This was a diverse population of foals, yearlings, and adults. Many horses stay in our practice their entire lives, so we not only see the follow-up, but also the horse’s racing career. For the last 19 years, I’ve mostly worked on (Thoroughbred) racehorses, so their influence on my understanding of injury to the fetlock joint is quite large

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Written by:

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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