What can I do about my horse’s legs stocking up? And really what causes it, and what can I do about it?
Stocking up is the term that horse peeps use to describe the swelling that can occur between the fetlocks and the coronary band, sometimes even higher. It can change your horse’s legs into stovepipes. Stocking up is more common in the hind legs, and is caused by lack of movement.
As your horse’s heart pumps blood away from the heart, the arteries and arterioles get smaller and smaller. As the blood travels through the capillaries, oxygen and nutrients are leaked from the bloodstream into the surrounding cells. Waste products that are not used by the cells are moved out of the tissues via the lymph system. This is an uphill battle from the legs to the body. However, horses have muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, digital cushion mechanism and the like that can move the lymph fluid out of the legs when the horse is in motion. In the hind legs (very far from the heart), it’s the most difficult to pump the lymph system.
This is a mild stocking up - the pastern area is fuller than the other hind leg.
The key to this entire system is movement. And, as many of us know, movement is limited when a horse is stabled for part of the day. Stocking up is most common in older horses, horses that are in stalls for long stretches of the day, and horse on stall rest.
The solution for stocking up? Movement. Horses are designed to move around for about 20 hours a day. Exercise, hand walking, turnout, pasture time, and general movement can alleviate a stocked up horse, often in 15 minutes or so, although this will vary from horse to horse. You may also notice that in warmer weather, your horse may stock up easier. Generally speaking, stocking up is not painful for your horse, but can morph into secondary problems if it persists for long periods. Secondary skin infections can happen as the skin is stretched and compromised. You may also notice a stiffness in your horse that accompanies stocking up.
How can you tell if it’s plain ol’ stocking up? Well, stocking up is bilateral, meaning that both legs are affected and typically won’t cause lameness. Pain, fever, and heat indicate injury instead of stocking up. (Check temps!) You should be aware that some diseases and conditions also cause stocking up, from an abscess to EVA to rickettsial disease to name a few. Bottom line here - don’t assume, ask your Veterinarian.
Movement is key to preventing stocking up!
So what can you do?
- Move your horse! More exercise, more turnout, more handwalks. When my senior citizen lived in a stall for part of the day, I would do a short hand walk at the beginning and end of his stall time. Not all horses have the luxury of moving freely for 24/7, so move him around. Bonus - a better relationship.
- Cool or cold water. You can use this as a supplement to movement.
- Standing wraps. The jury is out on this one. Many believe that using standing wraps can actually create a dependence on them and weaken the lymph system. Some horses also develop skin issues due to the warmth, trapped moisture, and possible dirt, sweat, pressure rubs that can develop. If you are considering this option, your Veterinarian is the place to turn for a specific suggestion for your horse and his way of life.
- Generally speaking, NO poultice, sweats, or liniments. These all can create heat, which will simply worsen the stocking up. Again, your Veterinarian can help you decide what is best for your horse’s situation.
What works for you??