What is a capped hock, and what can you do about it?
A capped hock is basically bursitis of the hock. Bursitis is when the bursae (sac of fluid) of a joint becomes inflamed. In the case of a hock, this is due to an injury or trauma. Likely horse scenarios that create this trauma include a bang to the hock (fence, trailer, other horse) or even a kick inside a stall.
What you will see (and feel) is a hard swelling at the point of the hock. It may look like your horse’s hock is trying to grow up and out. Often, the swelling can be the size of a small piece of fruit, like a plum. (Hence the fruit photo of a plum and a kiwi....I have no shots of a capped hock, so just imagine a plum on the upward tip of the hock!) Capped hocks often recur, and the disfigurement becomes worse and worse with each bang. Luckily, a capped hock or capped hock pair is typically only a blemish and won’t result in lameness. If lameness does occur, it’s usually mild.
A somewhat capped hock on the left. It's cosmetic for this horse - no issues here!
What should you do if you discover a capped hock? As usual, early intervention is best. Delayed treatment can lead to the swollen area developing a permanent thickness. This may not be a true emergency, but chatting with your Veterinarian and setting an appointment is a good idea. If there is lameness, the situation could be a bit more serious.
You can, upon discovery, do your best to limit the inflammation. Cold therapy is best, although your Veterinarian may suggest alternating some heat therapy in there, too. A poultice can be applied, and for this area an epsom salt poultice may be your best bet.
Ice, Ice, baby!
When your Veterinarian arrives, he may inject the area directly with anti-inflammatory agents, and can give you an idea of what sort of limited exercise your horse should have over the next days or weeks.
It’s important to also try and figure out why this injury happened. It’s not uncommon for this injury to happen in a trailer, in which case you want your next trailer trips to have leg protection that covers the hock. Shipping boots may fit the bill for you. If you have a stall kicker, it’s time to deal with this. I have known stall kickers that have kicked their way into surgery. Sometimes it’s that one kick that causes injury, or it’s the repetitive motion of kicking. There are plenty of things that you can do to squash a kicker’s tendency to kick here.
This horse's capped hock is from a surgery. He's totally pain free, sound, and happy! It's cosmetic at this point for this horse.
If you suspect the capped hock on your horse came from hard ground as he lays down and gets up, invest in some good bedding and really pad it up where he sleeps! For outside sleepers, there are some great all weather beddings (I like the ones made from cedar) that you can pile up for him.
What have you done for your horse’s capped hocks?