A Horse,
of Course
with Don Blazer



Maybe itšs my imagination--it probably is--but it seems to me there are more horses with stifle problems today than yesterday.

I suspect it is no great mystery. I suspect it is simply that the horse industry is growing, and we know more about stifle problems, and we are using our horses in a different manner.

A stifled horse has always been pretty common at race tracks. Today, it seems to me, a stifled horse is also pretty common around show horse barns and is seen now and then among backyard horses.

A stifled horse is one which has a hind leg "locked" in a fully extended position. All the joints of the leg, except the fetlock, are incapable of movement.

The first time you see a stifled horse you think his leg is broken and youšll have to shoot him. Donšt!

While the problem can be serious, it very frequently is not.

The most common causes are stress to immature joints, tearing of ligaments, and faulty conformation--excessively straight hind legs.

The horsešs stifle is a hinge joint which corresponds to the human knee. As the human knee, it too has a knee cap; the patella.

The stifle joint connects the lower end of the femur and the upper end of the tibia. Across this joint rides the patella which is held in place by three ligaments--one on each side, one in the middle.

Stifling occurs when the medial ligament (the one on the inside of the leg) is stretched or loses its "tone" and can no longer hold the patella in place. The whole joint becomes stuck because the knee cap can no longer slide over the joint properly.

To relieve a stifled horse, you can back him a few steps slowly, or you can extend the leg behind him as far as possible, then carefully move it forward. Usually the knee cap will pop back into place. Sometimes rocking the stifle joint from side to side will allow the knee cap to slip back into place.

A horse which is stifled will often as not unstifle himself. In many cases the horse owner does not know for sometime that the horse has a problem.

But when it is discovered, it is a good idea to keep an eye on the horse. With some time, some moderate exercise and some liniment massage, the horse may be perfectly okay.

Many horses which stifle do so after having been "fit" and worked hard for a long period of time, then given a long period of time off. The ligaments are simply not ready to go back to work, and are lazy about their job. If the horse is slowly brought back into condition, the problem usually disappears.

However, if the problem persists, veterinary help may be needed. The longer the problem remains uncorrected the more danger of serious complications.

Relatively simple surgery, which is successful in about 80 per cent of the cases, will usually have the horse back at normal work within 60 days.

A local anesthetic is used, and an incision about three-eights of an inch long is made. A special knife is inserted, the medial ligament is cut near the tibia, and the incision is closed. The horse is given 30 days of rest, followed by several weeks of free exercise, and is then normally put back into regular work.

More stifle problems are seen at the race track because there are so many young horses being trained in one area.

Išm guessing, but I believe there are more stifle problems among show horses and horses being used in team events--penning, roping, sorting--today because more and more riders and trainers are understanding the necessity for supple horses capable of lateral work.

Lateral work increases a horsešs ability to perform smoothly and quickly. But lateral exercises need to be practiced in small increments and over a period of time. The more supple a horse, (the better his lateral work) the greater his chances of performing at high levels of excellence.

Great performances are built on solid foundations.

Push a horse into lateral work too soon and too hard, and "pop" goes the stifle.


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