What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Front Limb or Limbs appear Bow-Legged


A bow-legged appearance usually means that the knees (carpi) deviate outward (carpus varus) and the lower limbs deviate inward. Many horses with bow-legged forelimbs are also pigeon-toed.

This may be a conformational defect or result from a collapsed joint on the inside of the carpus due to lost cartilage resulting from arthritis. Carpal arthritis is especially common in retired race horses and older horses. In older horses, carpal collapse is a progressive problem that can ultimately be crippling.

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your role


What To Do

Feel the knees (carpi) and compare them to one another. Do you notice swelling or heat? Consider the appearance of the hoof and how it is growing. Is it out of balance? Assess lameness at the walk and trot. Flex the limb to assess for pain response and range of motion.

Take a photo of the limbs from the front, and send it to your vet for discussion.

What Not To Do

Do not ignore a bow-legged front limb conformation, because it tends to worsen. Do not purchase a horse of questionable conformation (or any horse) without a veterinary pre-purchase exam.

your vet's role

Your vet assess the severity and cause of the problem with physical and lameness exams. Radiographs may be an important test to gather more information. If this problem is not conformational in nature, your vet may provide treatment options.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When was the last time this seemed normal to you?
  • Is there swelling of the carpus (knee)?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • Does the horse seem to be limping or lame?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Does the horse have a history of having been on the race track?
  • Does this horse have a history of lameness?
  • How does this reduced range of motion compare to the other limb?

Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP