Getting older isn’t for the weak, whether you’re human or horse, things start to break down, start to ache, and everything just seems to want to work slower. When it comes to horses, one of the common areas that begins to give problems with age is the hock. The hock, for those not in the know, is the middle joint on a horse’s rear leg that looks like a backwards knee to the non-horse person. It’s a joint that gets a lot of stress in performance fields, especially jumping. Phenylbutazone (Bute) helps treat the inflammation of the hock but getting the right dosage of bute in older horses is as important as getting it right as in your younger horse! Arthritis doesn’t mean an end to work and play for your horse, accepting it and working with your horse’s gathering age is easy to do.
Throughout the years, problems that occur in the hock area that have been observed by horse owners have been given various names that include, but aren’t limited to, “bog spavin,” “thoroughpin,” and “capped hock.” Typically they refer to which structure is swelling in the hock. Historically known as “bone spavin” swelling and lameness the most common problem is arthritis and pain in the lower joints of the hock; this is most common in horses who are using their hindquarters. The more deviation from a “normal” hock your horse has, the more likely they are to develop problems as they age into their senior years.
Lots of performance horses are routinely treated for the pain in the lower hock joints. Standard treatments include injection of a steroid, with or without an anti-inflammatory, into the joint. A less invasive therapy is oral anti-inflammatories, such as phenylbutazone. While some joint supplements like glucosamine, MSM, or chondroitin sulfate may help with joint health overall, they don’t do much for hock lameness from arthritis. Warm wraps and massage can also help treat the symptoms and help your horse continue to do the things you both love.
Recommended dosage of bute in older horses of phenylbutazone is two to four grams per day for a 1000lb ( 454kg) horse. Dose (never intramuscular!) should be limited to five days, and then any further Bute should be discussed with your Vet.
As with all things medical and your horse, you should contact your veterinarian before initiating any new treatments or medical regimes. They can help you design the best plan for your horse and keeping them happy and healthy in the future. An older horse may need a little bit more love, but they’re absolutely worth it.