Can You Ride a Horse with Dropped Fetlocks? Understanding the Condition and Its Implications

Considering the welfare of our equine companions is paramount when it comes to horseback riding. Among various factors to take into account, one crucial aspect is the condition of the horse’s fetlocks. Dropped fetlock, a condition that affects the lower leg of a horse, can significantly impact its suitability for riding.

In this article, we will explore the intricacies of dropped fetlock, its causes, diagnosis, and implications, and discuss management techniques and support options. By understanding this condition thoroughly, we can make informed decisions prioritizing the horse’s comfort and well-being.

Dropped Fetlocks in Horses

Dropped fetlock refers to a condition in which the fetlock joint appears to sag or drop lower than usual. The abnormal drooping of the fetlock is a clear indicator of weakened or compromised function in the suspensory apparatus of the hind limbs.

The fetlock joint in your horse serves as the crucial connection between the cannon bone and pastern. This vital joint is supported by various soft-tissue structures, including the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT), superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT), and the suspensory apparatus, all working in unison to cradle the back of the joint.

As your horse takes each step, the fetlock gently sinks toward the ground, playing a crucial role as a shock absorber. This sinking action causes a stretching effect on the supporting structures, which is essential for maintaining proper function and stability.

Can You Ride a Horse with Dropped Fetlocks Understanding the Condition and Its Implications

The suspensory ligaments are frequently associated with this subtle drop in the fetlock among the tendons involved. This can be visually observed when the horse is standing or moving. Several factors can contribute to this condition, ranging from natural conformational aspects to suspensory injury and genetic predisposition.

Natural Low Set Fetlocks:

In some cases, a horse may simply have naturally low-set fetlocks, which isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. However, it is crucial to differentiate between natural low-set fetlocks and abnormal drops, as the former may not affect the horse’s suitability for riding.

Injuries and Trauma:

Injuries to the tendons, ligaments, or bones in the lower leg can lead to dropped fetlocks. Traumatic incidents, such as falls, strains, or repetitive stress on the legs, may result in the joint losing its usual stability and alignment.

Genetic Predisposition:

Genetics can significantly influence a horse’s susceptibility to the dropped fetlock. Some breeds may have a predisposition to this condition due to their conformational characteristics.

Conformational Issues:

The horse’s overall confirmation, including the angles and alignment of bones and joints and other Suspensory Ligament injuries, can influence the likelihood of dropped fetlock. Poor conformation can stress the fetlock joint more, leading to the condition.

Identifying and Diagnosing Dropped Fetlocks

Recognizing dropped fetlocks is relatively straightforward, as the joint appears to be abnormally lower when compared to the horse’s normal stance. However, it is crucial not to rely solely on visual clues, as underlying issues might contribute to the condition.

Lameness and Mobility Issues:

Many horses with dropped fetlocks may exhibit lameness and mobility problems. Horses may be tentative to put weight on the affected limb or may show uneven movement, especially when ridden or exercised.

Importance of Veterinary Consultation for Diagnosis:

To accurately diagnose dropped fetlocks and rule out any other potential health issues, it is essential to seek the expertise of a skilled veterinarian. They can perform a thorough examination, possibly using X-rays or ultrasounds, to assess the extent of the condition and its impact on the horse’s well-being.

Implications of Riding with Dropped Fetlocks

Riding a horse with dropped fetlocks, especially one with poor conformation or previous leg injuries, can exacerbate the condition and cause further discomfort to the animal. It may lead to chronic lameness, making riding unsuitable for such horses.

A horse’s comfort is crucial for building a positive rider-horse relationship and ensuring their overall well-being. Riding a horse with dropped fetlocks can lead to pain, stress, and an unpleasant experience for both the horse and the rider.

Managing Horses with Fetlock Injuries

  • Veterinary Treatment Options: Proper management of horses with dropped fetlocks involves various aspects of care, starting with a thorough veterinary evaluation to rule out any serious underlying issues.
  • Ruling Out Serious Problems: Before formulating a management plan, the veterinarian will assess the horse’s overall health and confirm that dropped fetlocks are the primary concern.
  • Proper Trimming and Shoeing: Correct trimming and shoeing by a skilled farrier can help support the fetlock joint and alleviate discomfort.
  • Dietary Improvements for Joint Health: Nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining joint health. Supplementing the horse’s diet with joint-supporting nutrients, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, can be beneficial.
  • Regular Exercise for Muscle Strength: Engaging the horse in regular, low-impact exercise can help strengthen the muscles around the fetlock joint, offering additional support and stability.

Support Boots and Wraps for Dropped Fetlocks

To aid horses with dropped fetlocks, specialized support gear can provide additional stability and minimize strain on the joint during activities. Various types of supportive gear are available to address dropped fetlocks in horses.

  1. Fetlock Brace: Fetlock braces are designed to provide external support to the joint, limiting excessive movement and promoting better alignment.
  2. Fetlock Boot: Similar to fetlock braces, fetlock boots offer protection and support to the fetlock joint during riding and exercise.
  3. Fetlock Wrap: Fetlock wraps can be used to provide compression and help reduce swelling in the area, especially after intense workouts.

Dropped Fetlocks in Foals

Dropped fetlocks can also affect young foals, and it is essential to recognize and address the issue early on.

Importance of Early Veterinary Attention: Prompt veterinary evaluation and intervention are crucial for foals with dropped fetlocks to prevent potential complications as they grow.

Appropriate Treatment for Foals: The treatment for foals may differ from that of adult horses due to their developing physiology. A veterinarian will tailor a management plan suitable for the foal’s specific needs.

Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Disease (DSLD) in Horses

Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Disease (DSLD) or Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis is a progressive and painful condition that leads to the chronic breakdown of a horse’s suspensory ligaments and tendons.

While initially identified in Peruvian Paso Horses, any horse breed, such as Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds, and Standardbreds, can develop this disease. There seems to be a genetic component to DSLD as it can run in families and tends to affect older horses more severely, though early signs may appear in younger horses.

Management and Treatment Options:

Horses with Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis require careful management to maintain their comfort and well-being.

Equine Massage Therapy: Equine massage therapy can particularly benefit horses with DSLD. Massage can help decrease inflammation and lessen pain by targeting the affected ligaments and muscles. However, working with a qualified equine massage therapist who understands the specific needs of horses with DSLD is essential.

Supportive Measures for Comfort: Properly supporting horses with DSLD is crucial to minimize strain on the affected ligaments and joints. This support may involve using specialized braces, boots, or wraps to stabilize the fetlocks during riding and exercise. Additionally, ensuring the horse has a well-fitted saddle that doesn’t exacerbate the condition is essential.

Also Read: Discovering the Top 10 Best Horse Breeds for Trail Riding-Ultimate Guide


Understanding and addressing dropped fetlocks in horses is crucial for responsible horsemanship. When considering riding a horse with dropped fetlocks, it is essential to prioritize the horse’s comfort and well-being above all else. Identifying the causes, diagnosing the condition accurately, and seeking professional veterinary advice are essential steps in managing this condition.

As responsible horse owners and riders, our primary focus should always be on the health and happiness of our equine companions. By understanding dropped fetlocks and their implications, we can make informed decisions that prioritize the welfare of our beloved horses and foster a harmonious and fulfilling partnership between rider and horse.


Can Horses Heal from Fetlock Joint Injuries?

Fetlock injury, varying from mild strains to more severe fractures, is relatively common in horses. The good news is that, in most cases, fetlock injury can be effectively treated, leading to a complete recovery for the horse.

Can I Ride a Horse with DSLD?

While horses with DSLD should not be ridden, they can still benefit from regular and gentle exercise. Allowing them ample turnout time can be beneficial as movement helps reduce stiffness and alleviate lameness. However, it’s essential to recognize that DSLD is a degenerative and progressive condition, posing challenges to its management.

What are DSLD Horses Symptoms?

DSLD typically occurs bilaterally, affecting both sides, and can manifest simultaneously in the hind, front, or all four limbs. Common signs of DSLD or Suspensory Ligament Injuries include lameness, fetlock swelling, and an increased fetlock angle. These symptoms can vary in intensity as the disease progresses and the suspensory apparatus continue to deteriorate.

What are the Causes of Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis?

The exact cause of DSLD is not fully understood, but recent research indicates that multiple genes may be involved in disrupting the equilibrium of the cells in the suspensory apparatus. This could explain why certain breeds and lines are more susceptible to DSLD.

Leave a Comment