Leg abnormalities in new born foals

Not all foals come out with perfectly straight legs, sometimes even though we think our new foal is the most perfect horse ever born, things just aren’t quite right. What can be done when your new foal’s legs aren’t straight and what does all this mean? Below we explain some of the terms used to diagnose these conditions and the treatments used, helping to set your mind at ease that things can be fixed.

Common terms used to describe the different conditions you might be faced with, causes and treatments.

Angular Limb Deformity/Limb Deviation – most commonly involving the knee and fetlock joints but can sometimes be seen in the hock joints as well, it generally affects both limbs, however often one leg may be worse than the other. If the limbs are pointing out (knock-knees) this is referred to as “Valgus”, if your foals’ legs are toeing in this is called “Varus.”

  • Causes – There are numerous possible causes. Unequal growth and development of bone, uneven changes to joint growth plates, poor nutrition, trauma, excessive exercise, premature birth and inherited conformation.
  • Treatment – Early detection is important so a treatment program can be devised quickly, many of these conditions need early intervention whilst growth plates are still open to ensure a good outcome. Foals should be monitored closely during the first few days, most of these conditions can be easily diagnosed by your vet during your post foal check. Types of treatment depend a lot on age, location and severity of the deviation. In mild to moderate cases treatment is reality noninvasive involving confinement/stall rest, monitored exercise, corrective trimming and the possible placement of hoof extensions. In more severe cases surgery maybe required and depending on location there are two main surgery options, periosteal stripping or transphyseal bridging, your vet will be able to go thorough all these options for you and explain them in greater detail.

Flexural Limb abnormalities – Contracted tendons (hyperflexion) and Tendon laxity (hyperextension), usually involves the flexor tendon. It can also present as weak pasterns and fetlocks where the foals’ toes can be pointing upwards.

  • Causes – The causes are not well known but may involve poor nutrition, trauma or illness.
  • Treatment – A lot of these types of abnormalities improve quickly with confinement and regulated/controlled exercise, however if intervention is required this could include bandaging/splints or casts, special glue on shoes with heel extensions, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, oxytetracycline treatment or in severe cases surgery.

It is very important to monitor and watch your foal carefully during their first week, many of these limb abnormalities can be easily diagnosed and in a lot of cases can be corrected conservatively with minimal intervention if caught early. Best practice is to start assessing your foal early, walking them up and down to look for any deviations, together with a good hoof management plan from as early as 3 weeks of age. If you have any concerns about your foal always contact you vet, they can provide you with a diagnosis, work out a treatment plan ensuring you have the best outcome possible.  Having a good relationship with a farrier experienced with trimming and correcting foals is also a helpful tool. Nutrition for growing and breeding horses is also of upmost importance – you can visit our nutrition hub for more information or to submit your horses diet for a free evaluation!


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