There’s a huge chance you did not study horse conformation or bring along an expert with you while purchasing your horse. You, like me, saw a horse, fell in love and, disregarding everything else, bought it. Now you have a cow-hocked horse with poor conformation and people are saying there’s nothing you can do about it. Well, even though poor conformation has serious consequences, especially in horse performance, it’s something that can be corrected.
Some conformation issues can be minimal, however, others can cause severe pain and if ignored can grow to cause severe problems. Although cow-hocked horse limbs fall under the second category, we’ll discuss its symptoms, challenges, and explain how to solve this issue.
What is a Cow-Hocked Horse?
It is a type of poor conformation that occurs due to inward setting hocks in horses. This makes the legs splayed and can cause excess pressure on the side joints, which in turn can cause severe inflammation and also permanent lameness.
Majority of the horses are toe-in and this angle balances the hooves while maintaining an ideal pressure onto the limbs. However, some equines have toes that point towards an outward angle.
But, it’s not just the toes. The hocks of these horses are also externally located causing their points to be closer to each other than normal. This usually combines with a base-narrow deformity.
These horses will see a major effect on their gait. When running at a high speed, the gap between their limbs will be wider and, hence, there is a high chance of them suffering a major injury.
What’s the Problem with Cow-Hocked Horses?
Cow-hocked horses are not necessarily bad. However, their body structure may cause more problems in heavier breeds. Such as:
Extreme rotation of the hocks can cause excessive pressure on the equine’s limbs. When galloping at a hefty pace, the side joints will feel more strain and this can cause bone spavin. This means there will be severe inflammation and even new bone growth. The twisting action of the hocks will also cause further strain on the cannon and pastern. This exposes the fetlock joint to major stress-related injuries. As the distance between the hocks is lesser, the inner portion of the foot carries the majority of the body weight and this can lead to uneven wear and painful bruises.
The more significant the angular deformity, the more problems it causes. In fact, in old-aged horses, this can lead to osteoarthritis in the hocks. The protective cushions at the end of the bones start to wear out causing permanent lameness in certain cases.
In cow-hocked yearlings, one might notice the upward fixation of the patella which causes it to hop while dragging the toe. In any case, you should consult a vet upon noticing a conformation deformity in your horse.
Can Cow-Hocked Horses be Corrected?
Cow-hocked horses cannot be fully treated. The prognosis suggested by any vet will majorly focus upon strengthening the limbs in the hind legs to avoid serious injuries.
While we’ll get to evaluating the best exercises in our next section, let’s first discuss some major steps that can be undertaken after consulting a vet.
If a cow-hocked foal is experiencing severe pain due to bone spavin, the vet might identify osteoarthritis in the joints and suggest anti-inflammatory drugs. These are to be directly injected into the hocks and the results are most likely to be seen within weeks.
In other cases, the abnormal bone might be surgically removed. Recent studies have also suggested magnetic therapies using tendon or hoof boots that enhance the blood flow and, hence, cell repair within the joints. We recommend trying out Tough-1 Magnetic Tendon Boots since they are particularly designed for inflammation and soreness. Check them out here on Amazon.
In most cases where the horse isn’t experiencing a lot of pain, we would only recommend regular stretches and exercises that relax the semimembranosus muscles and build up core strength for injury avoidance.
Exercises for Cow-Hocked Horses
Here are discussed the three major types of exercises that can help build core strength in your pet’s limbs and minimize the effects of a cow-hock:
Firstly, make sure the equine is generally active. A lazy cow-hocked horse is more likely to suffer an injury while galloping as its weak limbs are not used to stressful activities. For starters you can spread out its hay while pasturing and slowly increase the activity levels.
Secondly, focus on stretching the limbs in a way that flexes its stifle and hip while pushing the hoof inwards and sideways. Initially, this exercise should range between 10 to 20 seconds with the reps gradually increasing. Stretching exercises focus upon leg balance and quadriceps strength to resist the push. This will help the muscles endure excessive pressure during a swift run.
Lastly, try out simple strengthening exercises that enhance the balance of your equine. One example could be a straight walk down a slightly reclined line. The downward slope helps build up the quadriceps and ligament strength while a straight walk helps improve balance coordination. You can also mount upon the foal and ensure that it has to bend while maintaining your weight instead of walking straight. This too puts pressure onto the inner quadriceps and helps avoid serious injuries in the future.
Consistency is key when it comes to exercises. Please remember that a strenuous exercise can prove to be harmful in the beginning. Therefore, start with simple movements and gradually increase the strain to see better and more effective results.
FAQs Regarding Cow Hocked Horses
Horse conformation is an important topic that can seem a bit difficult to grasp, especially for newer riders. Here are a few commonly asked questions regarding horse conformation and its defects that are sure to benefit you.
Paddling can be a symptom of a conformity issue within a horse’s front limbs. A normal equine will swing both its front feet at the same rate and its arc will swing right in front. However, when this arc swings wide and to the outside a horse is known to be paddling. The majority of the horses can paddle during a swift run. However, if excessive pressure is being applied on the fetlock, the issue is to be treated seriously. Severe paddling can lead to serious knee and fetlock related injuries.
Over the knee is one of the common types of deviations structural deviations in a horse’s knees. It is also known as the bucked knee. Over-the-knee and over such structural deviations in the knee are clearly visible when looking from a side angle.
The deviation is forward in nature as the knee is located on an outward angle when compared to the leg. Although the structure exerts excessive strain upon the knees during a run, this condition is not considered to be too serious in horses. In fact most foals will experience a losing in the back joint and, hence, overcome this problem.
Cold therapy is a tested and trusted method to treat any swelling in a horse’s limbs. If your equine has suffered a knee injury, simply buy a good ice pack. Gel packs are generally considered to be more convenient and effective. Make sure to apply the pack within 24 to 48 hours of the injury. However, do not expose the cold to any open wounds. Give a 5 minute after 15 minutes of applying the pack.
You’ll eventually see the swelling wear down. However, if no results are visible then consult a vet.
If your horse has a long neck, wide chest space, a balanced back with the neck to help adjust the weight balance, and the front legs move straight rather than opening wide, then your horse has good conformation. Also, the hocks should be in line with the front chestnut and slightly pointed inwards when looked at from behind. This structure would ideally point towards a horse with near perfect conformity.
The average breed’s knees close at 2 years of age. Most breeds will achieve maximum height by the age of 5 while some can grow for up to 7 years. Young ponies have a complex bone structure with cartilage tissue to protect each end. As the bone structure grows stronger a bond will be created. This bond within the knees is known as knee closure and trainers usually check for this before starting mounting upon the yearling. However, always consult an expert before you start riding upon a younger horse.
The term splay footed describes the toe structure of a horse. An equine’s toes can be pointing inward (pigeon feet) or outward (splayed foot). In the latter case it will swing the hoofs inwards while running. This style of run is known as winging and is the opposite of paddling. These horses are also likely to have narrow chests and will make contact with the back legs while running. This increases the chances of suffering fetlock related injuries.
Corrective trimming is a commonly used measure to counter conformity issues in horses. We can lay down some basic standards here, however, the ideal fit for your equine can only be suggested by a professional vet who checks it up. Cow-hocked foals are splay footed and, hence, the inside of their hooves have to be trimmed in order for the inside heel to land on the ground while the toe points straight. Hence, trim two-thirds of the outer hooves of a cow-hocked horse.
Pigeon-toed horses have inward-pointing toes and will swing the hoofs in an outward direction while running. Pigeon-toes when combined with a base-narrow deformity can prove to be very dangerous for older horses. In yearlings the bone structure will take some time to fuse, therefore, recovery is possible. However, foals suffering from this problem can only be helped by managing the nonconformity.
If not properly taken care of, these equines can suffer from joint diseases and ligament damages. In more serious cases tripping over will be common and permanent lameness also becomes a serious possibility. Hence, always consult a vet to help out foals suffering from this deformity.
Avoiding a problem is always better than ramifying it. Therefore, ask for an expert’s opinion before buying a horse. But, if you already have a cow-hocked horse, then visit a vet and make sure the problem isn’t too serious.
Take all the precautionary measures and conduct daily exercise sessions with your equine. Minor deformities can always be corrected through well-managed exercise plans.
Patience is the most important attribute here. Give your horse ample time and space to heal instead of straining it further. Follow all these guidelines and the mount will eventually show progress.