Stifle Injuries

… “but then she couldn’t lift her back hoof up and she was dragging it”…..

Hi there, my mare is heavy in foal and I rode her in a rodeo yesterday, she was fine all day! But when we got home I went too take her off the float and she wouldn’t move. Mum touched her leg and she kicked out. I finally got her off … but then she couldn’t lift her back hoof up and she was dragging it. And when I lifted it up it “clicked” and we put her out now she is moving her joints funny in the hip,/flank. I’m extremely worried about her having the foal and it locking up again.. but she can walk around on it now.. She’s only 3 y/o that’s why I’m worried.. Help with some advise please?

Dr Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


It sounds, from your description, that one of the possible causes of your mare’s problem is a locking stifle.  Has she had this problem before?  This is a condition where the patella gets hung up over a part of the femur and doesn’t easily let go; it prevents the leg from bending normally.  And when it does finally let go, it’s usually a ‘snap’ and then a sudden popping motion.  This may be because your mare overdid it during your last hard ride.  If she is heavy in foal, some light to medium exercise is ok, and good to keep her fit enough to make foaling easier.  But she shouldn’t be ridden very hard as the stress may cause her to go into early labor, possibly delivering early or aborting.  I think you should have your veterinarian out to examine her, make sure there’s not a bigger problem that needs to be addressed, and then medicate her accordingly.  Good luck.


“His back right let is dragging and seems unable to engage under him. “…


My question is about my 4 year old Arabian. His back right let is dragging and seems unable to engage under him. Sometimes he is able to bend at the knee but most of the time his recovery is unable to bend at the hock. Their is no sign of trauma, heat, swelling or pulse. Do you have any experience regarding this? Thank you so much for your help and information.

Dr. Jack Sales’ Answer:

Hi Stacy,

If the hind leg is being dragged and is not flexing at the stifle or hock and the toe of the hoof is dragging, it sounds as if he has locked up in the stifle (upward fixation of the patella). This condition is temporary yet recurrent. It is caused by a stifle ligament that gets stuck in a certain position and prevents the stifle and the hock from flexing, temporarily. Backing the horse up will usually release the ligament. There is a fairly simple standing surgery that can be done to correct the condition. You should have your Veterinarian look at him and explain the options to you. I hope this helps and good luck.


“The condition only showed up in one leg and suddenly….has gotten better after two days and only occuring in one back leg, “…

Hi Dr. Sales,

Thank you so much for your reply. My vet said that iodine injections would work, he knows how to do that. However, I read about slicing the ligament for a more permanent solution. I’d have to take the horse up to Barrie Grants’ to have it done. But, I’m wondering: The condition only showed up in one leg and suddenly. The day before I let the horse run in a large ring-which he always does, but he bucked just having fun, and then the next day the leg began to lock up. It locked up for two days, now I haven’t seen it. The leg since has seemed to get better w/o locking up for the last two days. Could this have been a trauma, which could/would get better? The horse is a Kellog Arabian and I thought bred nicely, but the vet says it is a conformational defect, but when I first got the four year old the same vet said he’s got good conformation. So now I’m confused. I know I’m not a vet, but the thinking that this came on so suddenly and gotten better after two days and only occuring in one back leg, I’m wondering if this could have been an injury instead of a chronic locking problem? I thank you so much for your time and input. I’m looking at this horse as an endurance prospect. I am just getting him started under saddle now.

Dr. Jack Sales’ Answer:

Hi Stacy,

I have to agree with you that this could have been brought on by a temporary injury that caused a little change in the way the horse used the hind leg and that it could very well go away permanently. I would continue to observe the horse and even start doing your normal work with him and I would not consider surgery unless the locking problem re appeared. Jogging exercise has been known to help this type of temporary locking problem by strengthening the muscles above the stifle. Your use of the horse would also be conducive to strengthening the muscular areas that would possibly prevent the locking problem. Excessive fatigue or over work would have a tendency to bring the problem on. I hope this helps and good luck.


“He appears to be sore when asked to do suppling exercises or if asked to put his weight on his hind foot to turn. He had OCD as a youngster and there is a bone chip in his stifle”…


Dear Doc:

My 9 y.o. all around performance gelding has trouble reaching up and under himself at the lope. This started about 5 weeks ago. He appears to be sore when asked to do suppleing exercises or if asked to put his weight on his hind foot to turn. He had OCD as a youngster and there is a bone chip in his stifle. The patella also shows a “scoop” from where the bone chip came off of. A vet has seen him here and has recommended rest with 10 mins. of handwalking, Adequan (1 dose every 4 days), Legend, a Bute maintenance dose, and injected with HA and steroid. He said that there is inflammation in the joint that is probably causing the soreness. After 15 days of treatment, my trainer rode him lightly to see if there was any improvement and none was noted. Surgery is a possibility but I am of the mind to give him an extended rest with moderate turnout (small pen) instead to give the Legend/Adequan a chance to work. I would rather treat it non-invasive first.

What is your opinion of the diagnosis, what would cause this to act up now after being a successful show horse for 5 years, and what treatment would you recommend.

Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


Depending upon where the bone chip is in the joint, and if that is indeed the problem, it may just now be causing a problem. Perhaps he has just been tolerating it until recently. It may have moved, and now is rubbing against new bone or ligamentous structures in the joint. Or, there may be more damage in the joint that warrants new x-rays. Your veterinarian has him on all the best stuff. However, I think there is nothing wrong with taking the more conservative approach to manage him. However, it that doesn’t work, you will likely be facing surgery to fully examine the joint. In surgery, an arthroscope is inserted into the joint, and it is examined for all possible pieces, chips, or other abnormalities. As much debris is removed as possible, and then your horse will have a lay-up time with increasing exercise as prescribed by the surgeon.

Also to consider is the possibility that it may not be the stifle joint causing the problems, but another part of his leg. At his age, he may have arthritis in other joint(s), and this may be worth investigating before going straight to surgery. I assume your veterinarian has done a thorough lameness work-up, including flexion tests, joint blocks, and/or x-rays. But if not, you may want to visit those things before surgery.


“When can we determine if there is more serious injury to the knee or joint?  “…

We purchased a 3-month-old PMU colt from Canada.  He arrived with an injury sustained to his knee from a puncture in the chute when they drew his coggins.  He rode for 5 days in a dirty truck with other horses – wound was not treated.  SO now, it is draining a yellow pus when I palpate his knee, he is on oral antibiotics 2 times daily, the swelling is decreasing, and he is much more alert and playful – so I am sure he is feeling much better. When can we determine if there is more serious injury to the knee or joint?  He has never been lame.


Dr. Jack Sales’ Answer:

Hi Kathy,

Since the colt has never been lame, it is very unlikely that the knee joint or any major areas were involved in the infection. Since it is improving with the treatment, it should be continued as well as proper wound treatment and the wound should heal without a problem. If it becomes a chronic draining wound (does not heal after at least a month), you would need to have a Veterinarian check it out.


“I have a harness race horse with a bad stifle…”
I have a harness race horse with a bad stifle, how bad can a stifle problem be and what would be the worst case scenario if that stifle got really bad?

Dr. Jack Sales’ Answer:
Hi Thomas. Harness race horses are more apt to have hind limb problems because of the type of racing they do. Stifle, hip and hock problems are common in the harness horse. Oftentimes these joint problems are referred to as degenerative joint disease. This simply means that the horse is putting a lot of stress on these joints and over time they begin to have wear and tear type of problems. This is usually associated with mild joint surface (cartilage) damage that can become worse over time. Ligaments and tendons associated with the stifle can also undergo strain or sprains, just as in the human athlete. The horse also has a cushioning cartilage between the stifle joint surfaces ( the meniscus) that can be damaged. This all sounds pretty bad I know, but race horses are just like human athletes, in that they can normally manage their aches and pains through exercise and medications, and continue to perform well for many years. The key is to work with a Veterinarian that is knowledgeable in Equine Sports medicine and can manage this horse’s stifle problem in such a way that pain and debility are minimal, and continued damage to the joints is prevented or at least minimized.

6 Responses to "Stifle Injuries"
  1. Kim says:

    I recently purchased a 4 yo 17h OTTB gelding. When standing in cross ties, I noticed that after standing for a period of time, if he went to step forward, instead of stepping forward normally in his right hind leg, he would swing it out and forward rather stiffly to take the step in that leg instead of bending it. He also rests on his toe in that leg alot. When you pick up that foot to pick it, he will bend the leg and lifts it real high and kind of outward and it shakes. If you just tell him to relax and just hold the leg quietly, he will relax it and put it down to a normal level and let you pick it. Also noticed at the trot that he does not extend as nicely as he does in the left hind. On the left, he actually has a huge step and will step on his front heel alot, so he definitely has extension! But not in the right hind. His stride is definitely shorter and he seems to break over a bit early. Stifle? Hock? Both? There is no soreness or heat anywhere when palpated all over in the hind end/legs/back. He moves beautifully otherwise and is a willing partner under saddle and when being lunged. Thank you for any advice you can give me! His prior owner says he was completely sound and that he had no issue like that, as I asked her about it immediately because I noticed it as soon as he came off the trailer.

  2. Billy roberts says:

    My 6 mo old colt was playing and kicked up and hind leg came down and has been lame ever since. On stall rest for 4weeks. Not much better

  3. Patience says:

    My mare has a locking stifle, we ended up getting a treatment done to tighten up the ligaments and I am going to be working her over the winter to build up her muscle. My question is, what is the outlook on her show career? She is barrel and gaming horse, but is she going to be okay to be shown next season? I don’t want her to hurt herself or develop any serious issues. I just want whats best for her, I read that maybe shoeing a certain way will help. What are your thoughts on that? Please help.

  4. Amanda says:

    Hi Dr, I bought a horse back in Feb. A five year old paint gelding. He was happy running around and a bit full of himself.He was in perfect health and had no lameness issues. I lent him to a friend. She kept him in a stall for a few months and he lost a lot of weight and muscle in his hind end. He 15.3hh and probably around 850 pounds. When I went to go see him I was mad and took him home to get him back up to weight. I had his feet done and the farrier could not pick up one of his hind legs. He was so sore on it that when he went to put it down he would only stand on his toe which leads me to believe a stifle problem. I backed him up to see if he would come out of it but he was three legged lame. After a few minutes he could put full pressure on it but as soon as I tried to lift it up again he went three legged lame. It has been like this for a couple weeks now. I have him on good feed and he is out to pasture not running around. Vet came the other day and said both hind legs are lame and suspects a stifle issue. She said all he will ever be is a pasture pet. This is hard to believe because a few months ago he was completely fine. I feel that poor conformation and a weak hind end is the culprit. He is built like a western pleasure horse. With the right feed and exercise regimen do you think he might come out of it?

    • edward says:


      We would need to know exactly what is wrong with both stifles and if surgery was prescribed as an option. Also the age of the horse and any other pertinent history would be needed to discuss his injuries.

      Recovery may be possible but in some circumstances only if you follow the vet recommended protocols.

  5. Natalie says:

    my boyfriend and I recently purchased an OTTB. when we got him he was short strided on his back left leg. the previous owner told us this had been a long term issue but did not have a reasoning for it. once we got him home we noticed that he continuously “plays” with is back left leg. he lifts it up towards his belly and then kicks it down. he does this over and over almost all the time. he always has had a slight lameness to him but with exercise it normally get much better. when we got him he was severely underweight. we are finally starting to get the weight back on him and now his stifle is severely acting up. the last time we tacked him up we lifted his front leg to stretch it out and he almost fell over. we narrowed the problem to his back left stifle. we put a liniment on it and when we were moving him in the stall we felt and herd his stifle grinding. after about five minutes of the liniment being on and him moving him his stall the grinding and the noise get better. when we turned him out he cantered three legged. our original thought was that he has a popped stifle. but with more research i am unsure of what the problem actually is. i m concerned if i try to fix the popped stifle and it is not a popped stifle that i could do more harm then good. Does it sound like a popped stifle? Im just unsure what to do at this point.


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