Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Newborn Foal, Fetlocks Sagging Excessively

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

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

  • If the foal appears otherwise normal, i.e. is active and nursing normally.

Anatomically, the fetlock joint is not really the horse’s ankle at all. It is the metacarpo-phalangeal joint of the forelimb, the equivalent of your middle (upper) knuckle joint. (The hind limb fetlock is the equivalent of the middle metatarso-phalangeal joint at the front of your foot.)

The fetlock is an extremely dynamic and sensitive joint, a very high-motion, critical component of the intricate mechanism of the lower limb of the horse.

Some newborn foals have weak flexor tendons, most commonly on the hind limbs. This results in the fetlocks sagging, and the pasterns coming close to parallel to the ground. In many cases, the toe of the hoof lifts off the ground.

In more severe cases, the entire hoof raised off the ground and the foal appears to be “walking on their pasterns.”

Lax flexor tendons are common in premature and dysmature foals, who tend to suffer from other problems. But it can also be seen in foals that are full-term and otherwise seem normal and healthy. In most cases, this condition resolves over the first week of life. In more severe cases, however, some therapeutic treatment may be needed.


When in doubt, confine the mare and foal to a small stall or paddock (at most 20’x20′) and contact your vet.


Your vet will evaluate the foal’s general health and the severity of the condition to determine whether treatment is necessary.

What Not To Do

Do not bandage or splint the limbs without consulting your vet. Splinting and casting can actually inhibit the strengthening of the flexor tendons, prolonging the problem. In addition, poorly applied splints and casts can severely injure foals.

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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