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


Foal or Newborn, Fetlock(s) Excessively Upright or Rolling Forward, Cocked Ankles


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 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.

If the fetlock is excessively upright it indicates a relative tightening or shortening of the tendons that run through the rear of the fetlock joint - either the superficial flexor tendon, suspensory ligament, deep digital flexor tendon, fetlock joint capsule, or more than one of these structures.

Genetics, nutrition and management all are factors in the development of this problem. Improper trimming and shoeing can make the problem worse.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the foal is not nursing or seems depressed, in addition to this sign.
    • If lameness is noticeable at the walk.
    • If the foal is walking on the fetlocks (ankles).
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the foal appears otherwise normal, i.e. is active and nursing normally.
    • If the hoof is contacting the ground when the foal walks.
    • If you do not notice lameness.

your role


What To Do

Assess your foal's general health, and compare the affected limb(s) to other more normal appearing limbs. Provide a photo to your vet to prepare them for managing the severity of the problem. Keep your mare and foal confined in a small corral until you speak to your vet, who can help you determine whether this condition requires immediate treatment, or possibly just monitoring and change in management.

Regarding nutrition, I encourage foal owners to feed the mare and foal less grain and concentrated feeds until the foal is examined by a vet and a more detailed treatment plan is established. Always ensure access to trace minerals and salt.

From a veterinary standpoint, earlier assessment is always better when it comes to these foals. Some foals will resolve on their own and some will not. The older the horse is at first examination and the longer the condition has existed, the fewer options for treatment are available.

For this reason, I recommend you talk to your vet immediately when you notice flexural deformities of the lower limb.

What Not To Do

Do not simply turn out to pasture assuming that the problem will resolve on its own. Do not try to forcefully straighten the limb manually, other than with gentle stretching exercises.

your vet's role

Vet diagnostics include physical and lameness evaluation and direct assessment of the affected limb(s). Radiographs may be used to provide additional information in some cases.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is your foal?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • How does the foal's health seem otherwise?
  • Is the foal active and nursing?
  • How severe do you think the problem is?
  • Do you notice any lameness?
  • How does the affected limb compare to the other more normal limbs?
  • Can you send a photo of the problem?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP