Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Cow Hocks

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the horse is a young foal.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If you are considering purchase, be sure to have a purchase exam performed.
  • If you want information on how to manage horses of this conformation to reduce the likelihood of lameness.
  • If you wonder whether limitations on your horse's performance could relate to lameness.

A horse with “cow hocks” has hind limb conformation in which there is inward (medial) deviation of the hock (tarsus). In most cases, when viewed from behind, the lower limb angles outward from the hocks, placing the feet wide apart and making the horse appear “splayfooted”.

Cow hocks are frequently seen in combination with “sickle hocks”, excessive angulation of the hocks when viewed from the side.

This conformation is common in certain breeds. Generally, mildly affected horses are not lame and most horses get along fine with this conformation.

More severe conformational defects add torsional and crushing forces to the joints of the hock and lower limb and may contribute to the development of lameness, notably Distal Hock Arthrosis (Hock Arthritis or Bone Spavin).

This conformation can be seen in foals with underdeveloped tarsal bones (crushed tarsal bones), and may require rapid diagnosis and treatment for the best outcome.

WHAT TO DO

Generally, only buy and breed horses with the most “correct” conformation possible. Talk to your farrier about proper hoof care for horses with conformation deviations in order to minimize or prevent problems.

For foals with this conformation, seek out a veterinary evaluation early. There may be ways to manage the foal to improve their conformation as it grows.

Do not purchase a horse with this conformation without having a purchase exam performed. Talk to your vet about whether your expectations are reasonable given the conformation of the horse. It is vital to select horses of good conformation for your intended use.

For a horse you already own, consider this conformation in light of your expectations and the horse’s work load. Regularly monitor this area for reduction in range of motion, swelling and heat. Watch for hind limb lameness. Take a photo of the conformation, from rear and side, and send to your vet for discussion.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

As with any conformational abnormality, your vet considers this in light of many factors, especially the horse’s use and the presence or absence of lameness.

For the growing foal, your vet can advise you about treatment options that can potentially improve the outcome.

During a purchase exam, vets consider whether this conformation may predispose to lameness or impact a horse’s intended use. Your vet can help you determine if this conformation will interfere with your expectations.

For a horse you already own, your vet and farrier can help you manage the horse to minimize consequences of this conformation.

What Not To Do

Do not attempt to straighten a horse's conformation through shoeing or trimming, without expert guidance.

Do not take a "wait and see" approach with young foals. Although a foal's conformation may improve over time, there may only be a small window of opportunity in which treatment can improve the outcome.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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