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Capped elbow

From: Debra

Dear Jessica, thank you again and again for HORSE SENSE. I have belonged for two years and I still can't believe all the time and effort you take just to help us all, you must be the kindest person I have ever known.

My question is about a horse I am considering buying. He has a capped elbow, and I don't really know what that means or how serious it is. I assume it is like a capped hock, but now that I think of it I don't really know what that is either! I wll have my vet look at him of course, but I will feel much more competent to ask good questions and understand the answers if you will do your usual magic of informing me in advance in a way I can understand!

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Debra

Hi Debra -- thanks, and you're welcome. ;-)

The medical term for capped elbow is olecranon bursitis. It's basically just a swelling on the point of the elbow -- soft and flabby when new, sometimes hard and fibrous when old. It's usually due to trauma, either from a shoe or hoof hitting the elbow. This can happe when a horse lies down for a nap while wearing caulked or weighted shoes, causing the shoe to come into contact with the horse's elbow. Capped hocks, on the other hand, tend to occur when a horse (shod or unshod) lies down in a stall with insufficient bedding. I've seen a few of these that happened when owners put rubber mats into the stalls and mistakenly thought that they no longer needed to use bedding!

A capped elbow or hock is considered a blemish, not an unsoundness -- it should not be painful, and it should not cause any lameness. The exception would be if there were some sort of infection involved, but in a case like that, the vet would notice the heat and pain (and lameness) immediately.

Caps can often be removed. The first treatment, of course, is to deal with the cause. If the horse's hooves or shoes need to be altered, that should be done immediately, Your vet may recommend a "shoe boil boot" or "doughnut roll", which is a thick, soft, padded tube that fastens around the fetlock like a bracelet. This keeps the hoof from touching the elbow when the horse lies down.

If a cap is recent, your vet may be able to drain the fluid and medicate the area; if the cap is old, your vet may suggest surgical removal of the hard, fibrous tissue. He may feel that a corticosteroid injection, or a series of them, will reduce the cap -- or he may suggest leaving it alone!

These are just some ideas that you can have in your head when you and your vet talk about the horse. Blemishes aren't life- or performance-threatening; if this is the only thing wrong with this horse, he may be a great find!


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