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


Excessively Flexed, Upright Through Fetlock. Cocked Ankle (in Adult)


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.

Flexural deformities (abnormally steep angle of the fetlock) are fairly common in newborn foals (congenital form). The acquired form occurs in growing foals and youngsters up to 2 years of age, and in those cases relates to relatively rapid growth of the bones of the lower limb versus the rate of growth of the tendons running down the back of the limb, so called "contracted tendons".

Occasionally an adult horse will have an excessively flexed fetlock, appearing excessively straight through the fetlock or may even beginning to fold over forward, a so called "cocked ankle". This can be a result of an acquired problem from early life that was never treated. Mild cases can simply be attributed to the horse's conformation.

More rarely, this appearance can suddenly develop. When that happens, it is usually thought to be due to a painful condition somewhere in the limb causing reluctance to load the fetlock normally, neurologic abnormalities causing problems with postural reflexes, or as a consequence of very specific injuries of the lower limb. A more recently defined condition causing this in adult hind limbs is hind limb check ligament injury.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
    • If lameness is noticeable at the walk.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.

your role


What To Do

Perform the Whole Horse Exam, paying particular attention to rectal temperature, attitude and appetite, the presence or absence of lameness, and the appearance of this limb compared to the other ones. Look for wounds or swelling, check for digital pulse and heat in foot. Walk the horse forward and in circles.

Do they appear to walk normally other than this abnormality? Do you notice lameness? Are they resistant to walk forward? If you pull the horse into full weight-bearing, does the fetlock appear more normal or not? Does the horse resist this?

What Not To Do

Do not encourage your farrier to make shoeing or trimming changes to help solve this problem.

Changing hoof angles is unlikely to affect or improve this situation. Before making any of those changes, have your vet examine the horse.

your vet's role

With an initial examination, your vet attempts to rule out some of the more common causes of this sign. They assess general health, neurologic function and the presence or absence of lameness. They assess specific regions, like the check ligament region of the hind limb, for swelling or evidence of injury. They may discuss imaging or other diagnostics with you, or may recommend a course of conservative management prior to looking harder for a cause.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Does the horse show any signs of lameness or resistance to move?
  • How lame does the horse seem to you?
  • Does this horse have a history of lameness?
  • Is there digital pulse or heat in the foot of the lame limb?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
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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