Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Back at the Knee, Calf-Knee

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

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.

This is a serious conformational fault of the front limb, wherein the cannon bone angles backwards causing the carpus (incorrectly referred to as the knee) to be positioned too far rearward. When viewed from the side, the limb does not appear straight but is bowed backwards at the carpus.

This conformation puts stress on the front of the carpus and may contribute to the development of fractures of the small carpal bones and carpal arthritis. It is considered highly undesirable in horses expected to perform, especially race horses. However, mild calf-knee may be tolerated in pleasure horses.


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, you may need to lessen work and reduce your expectations in order to reduce wear and tear and the chance for injury. You should regularly monitor this area for reduction in range of motion, swelling and heat. Be on the lookout for lameness. Take a photo and send it to your vet for discussion.


As with any conformational abnormality, your vet assesses this in light of many factors, especially the horse’s use and presence or absence of lameness. Vet’s consider this conformation a “red flag”.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


Bennett D. Principles of Conformation Analysis, Volume 1. Gaithersburg: Fleet Street, 1988.


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