Most cases of swollen hocks are due to a horse being "stocked up," a benign condition that is due to a lack of exercise. Also known as static congestion, it is a result of blood and lymph pooling within the hocks, causing swelling. It is not painful for the horse, and it usually disappears with movement or activity. Diagnosing this problem is easy, while treatments and prevention take little effort and can help manage this problem, which will usually be present throughout a horse's life.
Place your hand on the swollen hock to ensure that it is simply swollen and is not emitting heat. Heat within the hock signifies injury.
Inquire about the history of the horse. Has it not been exercised lately? Has the horse been spending most of its time within a stall without much movement? Was the horse ridden, then stalled for two or three days? If the answers to these questions are affirmative, the swelling is most likely stocking up.
Perform a lameness test. Have someone watch the horse's legs as you lead it away from and then toward the observer, first walking and then trotting. If the horse is lame, or it's moving as if in pain, then you need to contact a veterinarian. If the horse exhibits only mild stiffness and does not appear to be in pain, then it is stocked up.
Ask your vet to perform tests such as a radiograph, lameness examination, blood work or even a skin biopsy to rule out other possible diseases. If the horse is not lame and the biopsy and blood work comes back clean, the condition is most likely static congestion.
Observe the swelling for a week. If swelling persists for longer than five days, a secondary skin infection could arise. These conditions are caused by skin folds harbouring bacteria, leading to infections. Also, if swelling does not go down within the week even with treatment, notify your veterinarian.
Use a garden hose to apply cold water to the area for 20 to 30 minutes. The cold water on the hock will increase circulation within the area and could reduce swelling.
Take your horse out of its stall or enclosure to encourage mild exercise. This could be in the form of a turnout within an enclosed paddock or field, lungeing, or short, easy exercise such as being ridden. Swelling should decrease within 30 minutes to an hour for younger horses, but it could take several hours for swelling to go down in older horses.
Rub an astringent, such as rubbing alcohol or witch hazel, onto the hocks after exercise to increase circulation.
Apply a medicated poultice made with menthol and Epsom salts in order to increase circulation and pull fluids through the skin.
Place shipping wraps on the hind legs to provide support to the hock and apply pressure in order to minimise the collection of fluid within the hock. Do not leave these wraps on for longer than 12 hours at a time.
Maintain a schedule of regular exercise for your horse. This problem will most likely persist throughout its life, so it is essential to take steps toward prevention, and even mild exercise is beneficial.
Increase your horse's turnout time in a field or paddock. Just having time outside of the stall for free movement will decrease the possibility of stocking up. The more often you turn your horse out, the better.
Rub astringents, such as rubbing alcohol or witch hazel, on your horse's leg after every riding or exercise session. These astringents increase circulation and reduce the chances of the hocks swelling due to static congestion.
Place shipping wraps on your horse's hind legs for 12-hour intervals to provide support and pressure. The preferred schedule is to have the wraps on for 12 hours, then off for 12 hours.
Medicate your horse with acepromazine, corticosteroids or diuretics to prevent and manage swelling. These will need to be prescribed and purchased through a veterinarian.
- Do not use a mud-based poultice, especially if there are open flesh wounds on the hocks, as this type of poultice increases the odds of infection.
- If your horse appears lame or if there is heat within the hock, notify your veterinarian immediately, as these are signs of injury and could be serious.