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Lame from windpuff?

From: April

Dear Jessica, I own a 4-year-old Paint Breeding Stock mare that has not been ridden since November because of my pregnancy. She developed a soft lump on her inside foreleg about two months ago. The vet tells me it is a windpuff and it will eventually go away. It causes her to limp so I'd like to do something for her, but the vet says there is nothing I can do. I've checked all over the internet for information on windpuffs and have found nothing. Is there a technical term for them? Is there anything I can do for her? She is a very nice mare and I was considering breeding her next spring, but I'm worried about the strain the extra weight might put on her leg if it doesn't go away. I've always enjoyed your newsletter, and would appreciate any input you have. Thanks, April

Hi April! I re-titled your message, because this is the question you'll need to ask your vet: What is wrong with the mare's leg? It would be highly unusual for a windpuff to cause any sort of lameness. "Windpuffs" have nothing to do with wind; most are nothing more than fluid accumulations in the fetlock area, often appear in older horses that are kept in overnight, and usually disappear within an hour or two of the horse's being turned out into the field for exercise.

Sometimes, there can be more to a windpuff than fluid pooling. The three most common causes for inflammation of the fetlock joint ("windpuffs" or "windgalls") are (1) physical stress (too much work, the wrong kind of work, work in difficult footing, etc.), (2) nutritional deficiencies (which would typically show up in at least two if not all four fetlocks), and (3) trauma (such as a sharp blow or a kick to the affected fetlock). But even so, there's usually no heat or pain involved - and no limping.

If your young mare has a swelling that's causing her to limp, it's very unlikely that this swelling is a windpuff. Your description of the location also makes a windpuff unlikely - this swelling is too high on her leg.

First, I'd suggest that you check her feet VERY carefully. A rock, a nail, a stone bruise, an incipient abscess - all of these can cause lameness. It's perfectly logical that you would see a lump on your mare's leg, watch her limp, and assume that the lump caused the limp, and you are probably right - but just in case, take a close look at that foot. Sometimes we can overlook one injury because we're paying so much attention to another one.

If you determine that your mare has no problem in the foot, and you're reasonably sure that her limp is the result of the lump on her leg, I would suspect something else is the problem - perhaps a splint, if it's actually higher than the fetlock. You may want to have a different vet look at your mare; I know that in some areas it's difficult to find a vet who specializes in horses, but it's best to get an equine specialist when there's a lameness involved. You may need to get some x-rays to help get this problem diagnosed.

Small fractures can result in the presence of small bits of bone, which, in the wrong place, can cause severe damage to a joint. A puncture injury, if it's deep enough, can also cause severe damage. Horses, like humans, can suffer from full or partial dislocations in joints. If your mare has been limping for two months, something is wrong.

Was your mare being worked when the injury occurred? I know that you haven't been riding her, but if someone has been running her around in circles, either on a longe line or in a round pen, she may have sustained an injury as a result. Common causes of such injuries include hitting the pen with a leg, hitting her own leg with the opposite foot, and straining a leg from tight-circle work. If she hasn't been worked in any way, what else has been going on? Is she turned out with other horses that may have kicked her? Might she have caught her leg in the fence? Splints, like bruises, tend to be swollen and hot when they are new, but a bruise should eventually resorb, whereas a splint, although it is unlikely to disappear entirely, should steadily become harder, smaller, and colder, and (with luck) cease to cause lameness.

Since this has been going on for so long, it's hard to say whether the problem would respond to treatment. But at least find out precisely what is causing the mare's lameness. Perhaps it's something that can be treated, so that she'll become sound and you'll be able to ride her eventually. Even if it can't be treated, if moving around isn't actually harmful to her, you may be surprised what a year of pasture turnout can do to help a horse heal. And if you're thinking of breeding her, it's especially important to know what's wrong with her - not just because of the effect of the extra weight on her lame leg, although you are very sensible to be thinking about that, but because what you find out may affect your decision to breed from this mare. Obviously, a kick in the pasture isn't going to cause a hereditary problem - but wouldn't you feel more secure about breeding this mare if you knew that the cause of her lameness was (for example) another horse that was turned out wearing hind shoes?

Good luck with your mare - and your new baby!


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