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3 Things You MUST Know About the Hock Joint and How to Support It

Last updated on May 14, 2024

3 Things You MUST Know About the Hock Joint and How to Support It

A horse’s hock joint is one of the most complex, and important joints in the body. It’s responsible for giving thrust in runs and jumps, balancing during sudden stops, and turning precisely. Made up of numerous bones and ligaments, it’s no wonder this intricate joint is prone to injury in performance horses. So let’s talk about the hock: the mechanics of it, common injuries, and how to keep it stable and healthy. 


1. The Inner Workings of the Hock Joint

Located in the hind limb, the hock is a broad term that covers several small joints, bones, and soft tissues. Also known as the tarsal, the purpose of the hock joint is roughly equivalent to the ankle joint in humans. Western discipline horses depend on it for quick stops, sharp turns, and sudden bursts of speed, while English event horses need the hock for the propulsion to get over the jumps. 

The list of bones that make up the joint is extensive: the tibia, fibular tarsal (calcaneus),  tibial tarsal (astragalus), central tarsal, 3rd & 4th tarsals, lateral splint (4th metatarsal), and cannon (3rd metatarsal). [1] All of these bones meet at 4 different joints, with the tibiotarsal joint being the main one where almost all of the movement occurs. This is also the “pointy part” of the hock at the back of the leg. Other joints include the proximal intertarsal joint, the distal intertarsal joint, and the tarsometatarsal joint. These last 3 joints are “low-motion” and located further down in the joint. [2] For more in-depth information and detailed drawings of the joint, check out this article from the American Farriers Journal. It gets much more clinical than we could in this blog, but is fantastic stuff to be knowledgeable about. 

Multiple tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels weave in and out of the joint with very little room. Interestingly enough, there aren’t muscles around or below the hock joint, to allow for more room for the tendons to move. Because it’s such a compact joint, any bit of swelling or a tendon a smidge out of line can cause pain and lameness. All of those delicate moving pieces are vital to the horse’s movement, stability, and power so it’s imperative to keep the joint healthy and lubricated. 

2. Injuries Common in the Hock Joint

As with any major joints, the most common ailments in the tarsus are inflammation and osteoarthritis. Inflammation, or “bog spavin” in the synovial fluid membrane can be caused by genetic defect, traumatic injury, poor conformation, infection, or degenerative joint disease. It may or may not cause lameness, and can usually be seen on the backside of the hock. 


Bone spavin is essentially arthritis, or the gradual loss of bone and cartilage within a joint. It causes pain and can eventually lead to lameness. All joints within the hock can be affected, though it is most common in the distal joints or the lower smaller joints. It’s usually caused by repetitive motions, jarring injuries, or poor conformation of the hind legs. [3]

Osteochondritis dissecans- or OCD lesions- are abnormal cartilage growths within the joint. This can occur in several places within the hock, causing joint effusion, lameness, and pain. [5]

High-suspensory ligament injuries are a frequent complaint, especially in performance horses. These can range from tears to strains to swelling from being overused. Due to the location of the ligaments at the back of the hock, it can sometimes be confused with bone spavin. [4]

Poor Conformation Can Cause Injury or Lameness in the Hock Joint

Every breed of horse has a different ideal hock conformation, depending on the job it was intended to do. Despite these differences there are some common uniformities in the hock joint you should look for:

  • Stout, smooth, and symmetrical bones
  • Looks straight from behind, with no angles or bowing
  • Cannon bone should run perpendicular to the ground
  • The bones above and below the hock should meet at a good angle: not too straight (post-legged) or too sharp (sickle-hocked)
  • Cutting and reining horses should have shorter cannon bones [6]

3. Ways to Support The Hock

Although you can never 100% prevent injuries, or beat genetics, there are ways to support the health of the hock joint. Following these guidelines reduces the risk of inflammation and injury sidelining your horse’s career. 

Start with AE Supplements

Feeding your horse Foundation Daily Detox and NuTrack Digestive Support together is the best way to support your horse’s joints and overall health. These two supplements work together to reduce inflammation, flush toxin overload, and allow for maximum nutrient absorption. Inflammation is the number one culprit for hock joint issues, so supplements with high anti-inflammatory properties are a must.

Don’t Skip Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs

Just like humans, horses benefit greatly from warming up and cooling down after exercise or races. Low-intensity warm-up exercises reduce the risk of injury and increase mobility and flexibility in muscles, tendons, and joints.  A proper cool-down allows the muscles and tendons to slowly get back to their resting state without straining or cramping. 


Work With a Knowledgeable Farrier

We all know that the old saying “no hoof no horse” is true. However, every bit of care that you can give to your horse’s feet from correct shoeing to correct angles, will help ease the load on the hock joint. If a horse’s angles are wrong or the shoeing job incorrect, their body must make up for the error further up the leg. 

Pay Attention to the Ground and Footing

Though the clip-clop of a horse’s shoes on pavement makes for a fun sound, it is incredibly hard on their joints. Although walking a horse on hard ground is sometimes unavoidable at events, do everything possible to limit time on concrete or hard ground. Additionally, checking that ground conditions are safe and the footing is good (for both regular exercise and competitions) can go a long way in preventing hock injuries.

Pay Attention to Changes in Your Horse

Oftentimes, problems in the hock start off mild and can go unnoticed for a time. Pay close attention to how your horse moves, and any changes in the behavior or performance. Of course, this can mean lots of different things, so do a thorough examination, checking for inflammation and lameness in the hock joint. The sooner you can catch an issue, the better.

Big Joint=Big Problems


Externally, the hock is one big, pointy joint. But internally, it’s composed of dozens of bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage of all sizes. All of these moving parts can mean it’s more susceptible to injuries, especially considering what a vital joint it is to a horse’s movement and stability. Understanding the anatomy of the hock joint, the problems it is prone to, and the proper ways to support it can add considerable time to your performance horse’s career. Not to mention reducing time and money spent at the vet!
Order your FDD and NuTrack here to help keep your horse in peak condition. If you’re interested in becoming an authorized dealer in your area, please contact Mark Kaylor at (509) 301-1798.

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