Horses are known for speed and agility, but the stresses of running and bearing weight can damage their legs, specifically the fetlock joints. While the term "broken fetlock" is common, the fetlock actually refers to a joint comprised of tendons and ligaments attached to bone. A broken fetlock can be an injury to the bone or soft tissue. Horse owners, trainers, and riders should be aware of any signs or symptoms of fetlock injury. Do not rely on outward appearances and symptoms when determining the nature of fetlock injury. X-rays and veterinarian care are necessary to formally diagnose. Horses with any symptoms of fetlock distress should immediately get veterinarian care to avoid further complications. Athletic Animals warns owners that the long-term prognosis of their horse can be affected by timely medical care.
When a veterinarian diagnoses a horse with a broken fetlock, it is generally one of the sesamoid bones, adjacent to the fetlock joint, which is actually broken. Fractured sesamoids often occur after long runs carrying heavy weight. A horse will usually suffer from immediately lameness upon fracturing the sesamoid. The fetlock joint will frequently be pulled downward because of lack of support following the fracture. The lowered fetlock causes more weight and pressure on the heel, which forces the toe to point up. The fetlock may also be hyperextended. The horse's leg may be swollen, hot and painful.
The ligaments and tendons of the fetlock joint are highly susceptible to injury. Pain and swelling of the joint area is indicative of a fetlock injury, according to Thoroughbred Times. There is often lameness, or in milder injury, a limp. Symptoms can suddenly occur or appear gradually over time. Inflammation is often the first sign of injury. Athletic Animals advises that injury to the fetlock joint is often recurring.
Another common injury to the fetlock is a dropped fetlock. Often occurring in older horses, dropped fetlocks cause pain and tenderness. The horse may suddenly become lame or may gradually develop lameness in the early stages. A dropped fetlock can cause difficulty standing and moving, severe inflammation, and changes in behaviour. A horse suffering from a dropped fetlock may lean against fences and walls and sit on buckets, seeking relief from the pain. They can be irritable from the pain.