They may sound alarming, but periodic pops or clicks coming from the joints of a comfortable, sound horse are nothing to fret about. Noisy joints in horses are caused by the same physiological process that allows you to “crack” your knuckles: Stretching of the joint capsule releases gas within the fluid rapidly. After a period of time, the gases return and you can crack the same joint again.
The equine joints you are most likely to hear crack are the highly mobile ones closest to your perch in the saddle: knees, hocks and stifles. Occasionally you may hear a pop from a joint in the back or neck.
Regardless of its location, cracking does not mean a joint is “tight,” “loose” or in any way misaligned. In fact, if your horse is otherwise sound and comfortable, there is no reason to worry about clicking joints, even if you’ve never noticed it before.
Some injuries and orthopedic conditions can cause structures of the joint to rub against each other in a noisy manner, but in those situations, the horse will nearly always be obviously lame.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #466, July 2016.