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Did you know that your horse’s hock, or tibiotarsal joint, consists of ten bones and four joints?  The structure of the hock is similar to that of a human ankle, but is located on the horse’s hind limb.  When looking at a horse from the side, the hock is midway down the back legs – it’s the downward pointed area. The hock is often a site of horse aliments.

Equine athletes, such as show jumping and barrel racing horses, often face chronic health conditions involving their joints. Arthritis, or more accurately, osteoarthritis (OA), occurs when the joints deteriorate. Once deterioration of the joint starts, arthritis will continue to worsen.  Like in humans, arthritis in horses is a degenerative joint disease.  Arthritis affects the entire joint including the underlying bone, ligaments, synovial fluid, and tissues. This disease typically affects the joint where two cartilage-covered bones meet and link the skeletal system. Over time, arthritis may cause irreversible damage to your horse’s joint, causing the horse to become lame.  Severe arthritis can occur in aging horses; however, arthritis can affect horses of all ages, breeds, and disciplines.

What are some of the symptoms of arthritis in horses?

Traumatic arthritis typically occurs quickly after an experienced injury.  Symptoms of arthritis may include heat and swelling from increased joint fluid, pain, tenderness lameness, decreased movement due to joint stiffness after a period of inactivity, uneven gait, deformation caused by changes in bone, shortened stride, and even popping or grinding sounds coming from the affected joint(s).  A behavioral change may also be indicative of arthritis – your horse may be unwilling or unable to keep up with your requests; racing horses may no longer want to race and jumpers may no longer want to jump.  Other injuries or conditions may present similarly to arthritis so a veterinary assessment is vital for proper diagnosis.

Is there a cure for arthritis?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis in horses and this long-term condition never goes away, but there are a number of treatments that can help relieve the horse’s symptoms and pain.

If you suspect your horse has arthritis it may be time to call your vet.  Your vet can perform a physical exam to diagnose changes in joint soft tissues and to confirm that their state is not due to another condition with similar symptoms.  Diagnostic techniques to gain additional information on your horse’s joint health may include radiography, ultrasonography, computer tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

How can I help manage my horse’s arthritis?

Treatment includes the management of pain and inflammation. One of the typical courses of action, after maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular, non-strenuous, regular exercise, is to inject non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) directly into the affected joint(s).  Other treatments include systemic therapy, supplements, intra-articular medication, biological therapies, along with rest and rehabilitation.

Are arthritic horses still rideable?

It depends on the stage of the arthritis.  Horses who have early stages of arthritis generally may continue to be ridden, but at modified, low-impact levels. Horses suffering from advanced arthritis may not be able to tolerate being ridden.  Unfortunately, some horses have such progressive arthritis that euthanasia may be the most humane option. Seek veterinary advice for the most appropriate solution for your horse’s condition.

Join our newsletter today for more information on horse health.

Osteoarthritis: a common disease that should be avoided in the athletic horse’s life

Baccarin et al.

Management of OA in the Equine Athlete


The horse as a model of naturally occurring osteoarthritis

McIlwraith et al.

What to Know About Equine Osteoarthritis


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