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


Wound, Sore, Crust or Scab on Front of Fetlock

Fetlock Joint Wound & Infected Fetlock Joint Treated with Joint Flushing


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.

Scabs or sores on the front of more than one fetlock are common in horses kept in a dry lot situation. They are caused by chronic abrasion from hard, dry ground and lack of soft bedding. They are usually minor and (not associated with lameness or swelling) and resolve with changes in management or protection with bandages or boots. However, in rare cases, bed sores here break open into the joint causing a life-threatening infection.

An open wound limited to only one fetlock is more likely to be the result of traumatic injury, such as a kick from another horse. Open wounds at the fetlock necessitate aggressive action and early vet involvement.

(Keep in mind that the ergot is a normal growth on the rear of the fetlock. Do not confuse this with a scab or growth.)

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you notice significant swelling or pain at the site.
    • If you notice lameness in addition to this sign.
  • 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.
    • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.

your role


What To Do

Assess the area for swelling and pain. Flex the lower limb and see if you get a pain response. Assess the horse for lameness at the walk. Check the other fetlocks and other limbs for similar wounds.

If these wounds are severe, worsening, growing larger, non-healing, swollen, or if your horse is lame, contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not ignore the problem until it becomes severe. Putting sticky ointments on these wounds may worsen the problem.

your vet's role

Your vet assesses and treats the wound and may want to assess the horse for lameness. They also assesses your horse's environment and management and can gives you recommendations for protecting this area.

Since this is a very high motion area, wounds may take a long time to heal and require extra treatment.

Rarely, underlying conditions (especially certain neurologic diseases) may cause horses to traumatize this area repeatedly, causing wounds. In these cases, thorough vet evaluation and diagnosis is necessary to find the underlying disorder and treat it.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Can you describe the stabling and footing?
  • How large are the scabs?
  • Can you send a photo?
  • Do you notice any swelling or lameness?
  • Do the wounds seem to be healing normally?
  • Are the wounds open?
  • Have you tried protective bandages or boots?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP