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Hind end weakness in young horses

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  • Hind end weakness in young horses

    Hi breeders and riders, hoping to get your input on hind end weakness in young horses.

    What is your experience with cow hocked horses that exhibit hind end weakness? Did those horses go on to have full careers, or did the conformation fault cause long term issues that affected their career? Any suggestions on managing cow hocked performance horses?

    Separately, does anyone have experience with extreme windswept at birth young horses, that grew up to be straight, but cow hocked? Are these two related in any way? Ie, can being windswept at birth cause long-term conformation issues?

    Last question I promise. Does anyone have experience with hind end weakness that was attributed all to conformation (ie neck / spine nerve problems were ruled out)?

    Thanks for your input.

  • #2
    In my experience, hind end weakness and cow hocks are two unrelated issues. Cow hocks (by themselves) don't cause a horse to have hind end weakness--though such weakness may (or may not) cause hocks to wobble inward. I wouldn't worry much about a horse with cow hocks. I would worry a great deal about one with hind end weakness.

    I've seen several windswept foals grow up to be perfectly normal adult horses (conformation-wise). They were all well-managed until the condition had resolved, However, it's easy to imagine that might not always be the case.
    www.laurienberenson.com

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    • #3
      My lovely mare is cow hocked behind. She's 14 years old and it doesn't appear to bother her in the least. I've met some horses with bad conformation that stay sound and some with great conformation that go lame. There's more to soundness then conformation alone

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      • #4
        Can we make sure we're on the same page for "cow hocked"?

        Cow hocked is when the hocks are closer together than the fetlocks, with the cannon bones (obviously) angling outward on the way down. This a major fault and really takes power and soundness away from the horse.

        That is not the same as turned out. Excessive turning out makes the whole leg angle out, but the cannon bones are still vertical. This can be conformation, it can be general weakness which improves with work and age, it can be due to discomfort.

        Some small turn out of the hind legs is desirable - helps allow the stifle to clear the barrel when the leg moves forward.

        It's also not base narrow, where everything is still vertical, but too close together. This can also be conformation, or stance related to discomfort.
        ______________________________
        The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

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        • Original Poster

          #5
          JB - both cow hocked and turned out behind.

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          • #6
            Well -- what do you mean by weak behind? Unable to hold a canter? Not swapping leads? Listing to one side? I see foals from time to time be a bit weak when it comes to cantering, but I expect them to grow out of it by the time they're a year old. If they don't, I assume it may be the way they move permanently, an injury, or it may be management (not enough controlled exercise + turnout).

            I've seen and taken care of foals that were born windswept that, with proper care & nutrition, grew up to be perfectly healthy straight legged adults without any sort of relation to being cow-hocked. I am with others that neither of these things bother me on a general scale as long as they are managed appropriately - I wouldn't pick a cow-hocked horse for FEI dressage, but if I had one in my barn that was good in every other way, I wouldn't kick them out either. Every horse, to some degree, will have a bit of turning out -- it's just the way they're made. I do see a bit more of it in the more extravagant movers, likely correlating with being able to move cleanly without interfering -- since many of those extravagant movers have a massive overtrack.

            My anecdotal opinion, which is not scientific in any way, is that I see more windswept foals in WBs than others.. and I've wondered if it's because they also tend to be larger, leggier/have longer legs (especially at birth) than other breeds. Total opinion, I have no idea if it is factual, it is just my experience.
            AETERNUM VALE, INVICTUS - 7/10/2012

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            • #7
              I read an article not too long ago where a big name jumper said he felt that being cow hocked wasn’t even a conformation fault as long as it wasn’t too severe. And I know of many slightly cow hocked horses who compete just fine, so I don’t attribute weakness to that.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by StormyDay View Post
                I read an article not too long ago where a big name jumper said he felt that being cow hocked wasn’t even a conformation fault as long as it wasn’t too severe. And I know of many slightly cow hocked horses who compete just fine, so I don’t attribute weakness to that.
                JMHO, anyone who says cow hocks aren't a conformation fault isn't using the term correctly. Or, doesn't understand what "fault" means.

                Cow hocks are 100% a fault, no matter how slight, just like being slightly sickle-hocked is still a fault.

                Having feet wider than hocks means every step puts some level of horizontal/cross-sectional force on the cannon bones. For sure, being slightly cow-hocked is much less of an issue than a more severe degree, just like any fault. But, it's still a fault.

                Here is cow hocks. That is not conformationally sound



                Normal turning out would have cannon bones aligned vertically, as they should be, and of course you can be turned out to a conformational fault extreme, such as what is too-commonly bred for in certain draft breeds, where the hocks and fetlocks are nearly touching, legs turned out, but still with vertical cannons
                ______________________________
                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

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                • #9
                  Ugggghhh, danged unapproved post! Let me try again:

                  Originally posted by StormyDay View Post
                  I read an article not too long ago where a big name jumper said he felt that being cow hocked wasn’t even a conformation fault as long as it wasn’t too severe. And I know of many slightly cow hocked horses who compete just fine, so I don’t attribute weakness to that.
                  IMHO, anyone who says cow hocks aren't a confo fault, either doesn't understand what cow hocks are, or understand the definition of fault. It is 100% a fault for cannon bones to not be vertical when viewed from behind, whether the hocks are farther apart than the fetlocks (bow legged), or closer (cow hocks).

                  Any vertical deviation there means every step is putting some cross-sectional force on the cannon bones - not how they are designed to exist.



                  hind legs should turn out a little, yes. That's conformationally correct, where perfectly forward-pointing hocks/feet is a fault. But the turn out can go beyond what's correct, all the way to the extreme that's too-often bred for in some draft breeds. Even while the hocks and fetlocks are touching, the cannons are still vertical


                  ______________________________
                  The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by JB View Post
                    Ugggghhh, danged unapproved post! Let me try again:



                    IMHO, anyone who says cow hocks aren't a confo fault, either doesn't understand what cow hocks are, or understand the definition of fault. It is 100% a fault for cannon bones to not be vertical when viewed from behind, whether the hocks are farther apart than the fetlocks (bow legged), or closer (cow hocks).

                    Any vertical deviation there means every step is putting some cross-sectional force on the cannon bones - not how they are designed to exist.



                    hind legs should turn out a little, yes. That's conformationally correct, where perfectly forward-pointing hocks/feet is a fault. But the turn out can go beyond what's correct, all the way to the extreme that's too-often bred for in some draft breeds. Even while the hocks and fetlocks are touching, the cannons are still vertical

                    Those examples are both more extreme than they were talking about. A slight cow hock/turned out (these are often used interchangeably, though depending on who you talk to they are either separate things or the same thing) does not affect performance, so while it may not be traditionally correct, it is functionally correct and should not be a reason to pass over a horse.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by StormyDay View Post

                      Those examples are both more extreme than they were talking about.
                      Most are (less extreme, that is), it's just that the more extreme examples make it more obvious what the differences are

                      A slight cow hock/turned out (these are often used interchangeably, though depending on who you talk to they are either separate things or the same thing)
                      But this is the problem - they are not the same things.

                      You can get more turned out hind legs before you start running into soundness issues, than you can cow hocks. I'd take more extreme turn out, over milder cow hocks, any day, all else equal.

                      Structurally, they are different, which is why they need to be viewed differently. I do realize that a LOT of people would say the draft picture is cow hocks, but it's not. If the cannons are vertical, no matter where the toes point, it's not cow hocked.

                      does not affect performance, so while it may not be traditionally correct, it is functionally correct and should not be a reason to pass over a horse.
                      Cow hocks of any degree, and a too large of a turn out of the hind legs, are faults. Always. Neither are functionally correct. The worse the cow hocks, and the more work you're asking the horse to do, the more likely he is to run into soundness issues, and earlier rather than later.

                      There's a reason there are conformation standards for breeds which have breed approvals. They are based largely on what is known about what makes the horse most likely to be sounder, for longer, doing athletic work. That doesn't mean horses can't still do high level work, for years, and stay sound (as much as a high level athlete can), but they are the outliers, not the norms. Outliers should never be used to justify treating their faults as normal or ok, let alone desirable.

                      That's not the same as saying either one is an automatic dismissal of a horse for athletic use. I'd take a mildly cow-hocked sound 15yo over a very obvious turned out 5yo any day.
                      ______________________________
                      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by JB View Post
                        Most are (less extreme, that is), it's just that the more extreme examples make it more obvious what the differences are


                        But this is the problem - they are not the same things.

                        You can get more turned out hind legs before you start running into soundness issues, than you can cow hocks. I'd take more extreme turn out, over milder cow hocks, any day, all else equal.

                        Structurally, they are different, which is why they need to be viewed differently. I do realize that a LOT of people would say the draft picture is cow hocks, but it's not. If the cannons are vertical, no matter where the toes point, it's not cow hocked.



                        Cow hocks of any degree, and a too large of a turn out of the hind legs, are faults. Always. Neither are functionally correct. The worse the cow hocks, and the more work you're asking the horse to do, the more likely he is to run into soundness issues, and earlier rather than later.

                        There's a reason there are conformation standards for breeds which have breed approvals. They are based largely on what is known about what makes the horse most likely to be sounder, for longer, doing athletic work. That doesn't mean horses can't still do high level work, for years, and stay sound (as much as a high level athlete can), but they are the outliers, not the norms. Outliers should never be used to justify treating their faults as normal or ok, let alone desirable.

                        That's not the same as saying either one is an automatic dismissal of a horse for athletic use. I'd take a mildly cow-hocked sound 15yo over a very obvious turned out 5yo any day.
                        Eh, agree to disagree. While I would never say a severe cow hock is good, I’ve worked around quite a few upper level horses who were cow hocked and were doing just fine.
                        But, we are off topic. Sorry, OP.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by StormyDay View Post

                          Eh, agree to disagree.
                          The conformational differences between the 2 are clear.

                          It's also clear that a bone and associated joints that are designed for vertical forces are not going to fare as well if they are subjected to lateral forces as a matter of just living

                          While I would never say a severe cow hock is good, I’ve worked around quite a few upper level horses who were cow hocked and were doing just fine.
                          And my point still remains - cow hocks are just 1 aspect of conformation. No fault exists in a vacuum. There are some upper level Jumpers whose legs look like they couldn't hold up to beginner lessons, but there they are. There are some upper level Jumpers whose conformation makes them have dangerous jumping form, knees hanging, but they are athletic enough they do just fine (even if it does cost them some time from having to over-jump everything).

                          I'd never CHOOSE cow hocks for upper level work, but if you presented a horse who's old enough, doing the work, with whatever fault he has, I'd take him
                          ______________________________
                          The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

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                          • Original Poster

                            #14
                            So going back to one of my original questions, does anyone have experience with a horse that is cowhocked, and because of it, weaker behind than your average non cowhocked horse?

                            Maybe if you want to discuss whether cow hocked is a conformation fault or not etc, you could start a different thread? Just trying to stay on topic here

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Cow hocks are inherently weaker than non. Leverage down the angled hocks is laterally dispersed, and energy returned is also laterally dispersed, instead of directly up or forward.

                              beyond that - weaker than what? Compared to what? There's just so much more to the power from behind than the hocks. All else equal, cow hocks make a weaker hind end. Always.

                              The horse with a really poor LS gap and good hocks may be weaker than the horse with a good LS gap and mild cow hocks. There's gaskin length and muscling, sickle hocks and camped out (which could co-exist with cow hocks), and more.
                              ______________________________
                              The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

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                              • #16
                                When talking about young horses, is this something they can grow out of - like being really narrow in front gradually getting wider as their chest broadens with age? Just wondering.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Maaaayyyybe. You'd have to evaluate the youngster. It's possible for a young foal to appear cow hocked simply due to not having strength, or even being finished unfolding. But if you're talking about a yearling? No, not really, not unless there's a reasonably good reason to thin it's truly growth related (and he'd likely be really butt-high too), or an injury which is still resolving.
                                  ______________________________
                                  The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET

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                                  • #18
                                    Good comments and illustrations JB. I never have seen a young horse outgrow, straighten his cow hocks. With exercise, you can strengthen a correctly built hindquarter. You can't change a poorly built weak hindquarter into being correct with exercise or trimming, shoeing.

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