Mick is a “gentle giant”, a 17.2hand thoroughbred gelding who has retired from racing and now leads a gentler life hacking through woods and doing local competitions. It was whilst he was hacking through the woods near his home with his owner one afternoon that Mick suffered a small skin wound on the outside of his fetlock joint, which his owner cleaned and applied first aid.
Although seemingly a very small wound, Micks leg soon became swollen and sore. On examination, it was immediately obvious that the wound had become infected. However, of more serious concern to us was the position of the wound, very close to the fetlock joint. Potentially, Mick’s wound could be a lot more serious than it appeared from the outside, so further investigations were recommended. X-rays confirmed our thoughts, a metal probe inserted into the wound was within millimetres of the fetlock joint.
Joint and tendon sheath infections in horses can be very serious, leading to career ending lameness or even euthanasia if they are not treated promptly and aggressively. So, it was a trip to hospital for Mick, for an assessment of whether his joint was infected. In this case Mick was lucky, the joint pouch had not been penetrated, so he did not require surgery.
Antibiotics, wound dressings and careful observation of the wound healing meant that Mick was soon back to full fitness and able to go out riding again.
So, even small wounds can be life threatening in horses if they are in the wrong place! We recommend that you always seek veterinary advice regarding wounds or injuries on your horse, even if they are very small. Telling us the exact location of the wound can help us to advise you if it is potentially near to a synovial structure or not. Most of your horse’s joints and tendons lie very close to the skin surface, which provides little protection form injury, so the potential for synovial structure infections is huge. Mick’s wound provides an excellent example of the importance of insuring your horse for vets fees – horses are accident prone so wounds are common, and joint surgery could lead to a bill of several thousand pounds.