Stocking Up or Swelling in Horse Legs

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Horse's Legs Swelling

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

Good Morning Cherry,

    I am concerned about my gelding's tendency to have swelling in his legs.  His front left slightly and his rear legs very noticeably.  He is in a stall most of the day and he does not move around much from what I have seen in spite of the large (12 x 14) space.  When I get to the barn each evening his legs are "stocked up" (that is what others in the barn called it) and he acts reluctant to walk out of his stall.  After he walks for a while, 10 or 15 minutes of light exercise, the swelling goes down.

    A couple of folks who have had horses for years have looked at him and mentioned that they thought his legs were a little warm around the cannon bone and in the fetlock.  I cannot feel it, so if they are it is a very slight difference from the rest of his leg.  After a good ride the swelling is completely gone and he does not act sore at all.

    I have had a lot of advice on this one but some of it conflicts and now I am getting pretty confused.  I have been told to do standing wraps, get him Sports Medicine Boots for when we ride, have him x-rayed, rub him down with liniment, run cold water on his legs for 15 minutes, one said before a ride one said after, and to give him bute.  I am wondering when I will actually find time to ride after all this.  I have placed a call to his vet who is an old country doctor type, but I was curious if you had any words of wisdom for a new horse owner.



Hello Steve:

    Stocking up is associated with stall confinement, lack of exercise and overfeeding, specifically grain.  Certain horses are predisposed to stock up, others next door are fine.  Once turned out for exercise, the swelling usually disappears.  The plain and simple cure for stocking up is more, regular exercise.  This does not mean harder or longer rides when you do ride but more opportunities for the horse to get exercise during the day, every day.  Many horses do not do well in stalls full time.

    It takes a lot of time, supplies, bandage washing, and expertise to apply and monitor standing bandages.  If that's the way you want to go, be sure to get competent coaching.  Generally a horse's legs will tend to become dependent on the regimen.  So for a chronic problem, do you want to commit to a lifetime of standing wraps?  When applied correctly, standing wraps can result in reduced swelling.  But if done incorrectly, they could result in tendon problems (from uneven pressure or abrasion), stall kicking (if bandages are uncomfortable or slip) etc.

    There is no need to use sport boots, because when you ride the stocking up problem is eliminated.  I've seen many problems occur with improperly applied sports boots.  Also neoprene concentrates heat against the skin - stocked up legs are already swollen and warm so you don't want to enclose and exacerbate the effect of the heat.

    Generally you don't want to increase heat to an area of swelling and since liniment increases heat to the skin superficially, it is not a good idea.

    Running cold water on stocked up legs is the best advice you received and will do the most good, next to providing regular exercise.

    Hosing with cold water either before or after a ride would be ok.  The thinking is, before a ride reduces the swelling the horse has when you take him out of the stall.

    Hosing after a ride:  when the swelling has disappeared from exercise but his legs are warm, if you run cold water on his legs before you put him away, it usually tends to decrease the tendency for fluids to pool in his legs as would happen if you "put him away warm".

    If you choose to hose your horse's legs with cold water after each ride, however, realize that just a few minutes won't do any good - you need to do about 10-15.  And daily periods of wetting his skin, hair and hooves can invite lots of new problems - like skin fungus or a weakening of the hooves from repeatedly wetting and drying.  Horses hooves are best when strong and hard, not soft and wet.  If you hose, be sure you dry the horse's legs and hooves very thoroughly before you put him back into the stall.

    Bute is an anti-inflammatory drug that is good for reducing swelling but if this is a chronic condition, you can't put the horse on bute for life, so don't consider it at this point.

    X-rays are not something that would even cross my mind for stocking up.

    Although I have shared my opinions with you, as you have found out you can get as many opinions as people you ask!  My disadvantage is not being able to see the horse, facilities, management, and his conformation and work in person.  Ultimately you and your vet will have to sort out what sounds the most logical to you since you know the horse, his environment, and your own situation the best.

    In summary, the number one "cure" is to provide more regular exercise.  If your horse could live in a turn-out pen with a roof at one end for shelter from sun, rain, etc. He might never stock up.  Do you have that sort of facility available?  Some stables include turn out (1-2 hours per day) as part of board and that might be enough exercise.  But standing for 22 hours or more per day in a stall just allows the fluids to pool in the lower extremities and certain horses just aren't equipped with the internal physical apparatus to pump the fluids out of the tissues without exercise.

    As far as therapy, cold water hosing is my pick.  It’s a good idea whenever you’re treating horses to always start conservatively.

  1999 Cherry Hill 

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