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Equine Health Resource

Passive Stretching Exercises for Foals with Contracted Tendons

Flexural deformities (contracted tendons) are common in baby foals and require very early assessment by your vet. They usually appear as either a fetlock that is too vertical or buckling forward, or a hoof that is very vertical (even with the heel not touching the ground). Each problem results from a specific tendon in the back of the limb that is relatively too short to allow normal function of the respective joint.

There is a small window of opportunity for a newborn foal in which passive stretching exercises may be of help. In my experience, this procedure is only of significant help in the first 36 hours of life. This procedure is often used in combination with oxytetracycline, which helps to relax the muscles and lengthen the tendons.

Supplies Needed

Procedure

With the foal lying on its side and an assistant behind the foal's back to keep it down, perform the following procedure to the affected limb. One hand should press and hold the cannon toward the rear of the foal, while the other brings the toe of the foot forward. Maintain up to 20 lbs tension between these two hands for 20-30 seconds at a time.

Release to allow the foal to rest, and repeat. A minimum of 5 repetitions should be performed. Do this 2-3 times per day, in combination with other treatments prescribed by your vet.

Tips for safety & Success

Ask your vet if they have a preferred method for this procedure. The precise approach chosen will relate to the specific problem and its severity.

Do not perform this procedure if it is a struggle or you are not confident in performing this skill. Do not risk hurting the foal or yourself. Have an assistant cradle and protect the baby foal's head and neck while keeping it on it's side. Place your body and legs out of the way of the foal's limbs. Even newborn foals can easily kick a handler, causing injury. Have another assistant handle the mare, to ensure that she is properly restrained at all times.

If your vet suggests splinting of the limb as an alternative to this approach, you will not be able to perform this procedure.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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