SPOTTING TROUBLED HOCKS
“His hocks hurt” is a common explanation for a why a horse, particularly an older one, isn’t moving well. But it’s not always easy to tell if hock pain is the cause of gait troubles.
Painful hocks, unless related to an injury or specific pathology, typically cause symmetrical or nearly symmetrical changes in the gait, with the horse taking shorter strides than normal with his hind legs. Hock pain can also cause a consistent “hitch” in a horse’s stride; instead of the cannon bone smoothly arcing down toward the ground at the end of the stride, it will pause abruptly
at the same place in each step. This is more noticeable on the inside hind leg when the horse is working on a circle.
Another way to detect hock pain is to look at the rest of the horse’s body. Hock trouble is often accompanied by soreness in the lumbar area of the spine and at the top of the croup. This is caused by the back muscles working differently to accommodate pain in the
hocks. The two areas are related: Back pain accelerates hock issues, and hock issues can give a horse a sore back.
Noticing these signs takes practice. Start watching various horses to see if you can spot sore hocks. But don’t get paranoid. Some mild hock stiffness is normal in older horses and is rarely a limiting issue in those not working at the highest level of competition.