Arthritis of the hocks is common and may involve either the lower joint or the joint between the rows of tarsal bones. Advanced cases of hock arthritis may develop fusion, a bridge of bone that connects adjacent rows of tarsal bones and prevents movement.
Early cases of arthritis are treated with a combination of joint nutraceuticals (glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, oral hyaluronic acid), local injection and sane exercise. In advanced cases, it often becomes a balancing act between keeping the horse comfortable to exercise and encouraging enough inflammation to result in fusion/bridging.
Hock fusion is desirable in these cases, since the involved joints normally have limited movement anyway and fusion keeps further irritation to a minimum. Although you’ll often hear that once it fuses the joint will be sound, this rarely happens.
Frankly, once your horse develops hock arthritis, you’re going to have to deal with it for the rest of the horse’s life. But, with proper management many horses continue to work and compete.
Your vet may suggest that an intra-articular injection will benefit the horse. Joint injections performed under appropriate sterile conditions have a low risk of adverse reactions and effectively control inflammation and pain.
Some veterinarians prefer corticosteroids, others hyaluronic acid (HA), and others use both. When combined, usually it’s corticosteroids in the lower joint and HA in the upper joint, where there is more movement. Not all horses require intra-articular therapy, though, and we believe you can get better results if you stretch out the intervals between needed injections with proper management.
Use anti-inflammatories, like bute, sparingly, only when the horse is having an obvious flare-up (heat, swelling, with increased pain) and only for a few days at a time. For long-term pain control, consider devil’s claw (illegal in competition), such as B-L Solution (www.equineamerica.com, 800-838-7524).
• Rely on aggressive cooling as the primary method of inflammation and pain control during acute flare-ups.
• Avoid activities that overstress the hock during periods of acute flare-ups.
• Maximize turn out and minimize stall confinement.
• Use neoprene or magnetic hock wraps overnight for horses that obviously have early morning stiffness.
• Use a joint nutraceutical (Grand Flex www.grandmeadows.com, 800-255-2962, and Corta-Flx www.corta-flx.com, 888-294-1100 are top choices).
• Apply brisk massage, with a liniment (we like Sore No More, www.equilite.com, 800-942-5483), a thorough warm-up on the flat when beginning exercise, and the regular use of cooling wraps post-exercise.