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Horse clicks when he walks

From: Pam

Hi Jessica I just started on-line with you and I'm really enjoying your articles. My question is, I'm looking at a two year old thoroughbred gelding, 16.2 hands and fairly large bone. He moves out wonderfully and looks healthy and sound. The problem, and maybe it isn't one, he clicks ( sounds strange, doesn't it ) when he moves, almost as if walking on gravel. If I decided to purchase, I definitely will have a full pre-purchase examination by a vet. Have you ever seen, or should I say have you ever heard of this before. I know he is quite large for his age and my main concern would be OCD. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated. Thanks Pam Kotzeff

Hi Pam! Yes, I've heard of (and heard!) clicking horses before. The first thing you need to do is figure out where the sound is coming from.

Is is from the horse's teeth? Some horses walk out energetically and rhythmically, and click their teeth as they go, creating a sort of percussion accompaniment for themselves. It's more commonly seen (or heard) in Tennessee Walking Horses than in Thoroughbreds, but one does hear the occasional TB walking along clicking happily to itself.

Is it from the horse's feet? Shoes left on too long will make clicking noises as the hind toes come into contact with the front feet. Horses with overly-long toes will also tend to forge like this -- in both of these cases, the correction is simple and involves a more balanced trim and more frequent resets of the shoes. Since the horse you've described is a very young, very tall TB, I would guess that he will need a few years for his muscular development to catch up with his height. Even horses with properly-trimmed feet and a good set of shoes can forge if they aren't sufficiently muscular to move out of their own way - their front legs stay on the ground just a fraction of a second too long before lifting -- which is just enough time for the hind feet to tap the front feet! This is not a problem, the horse simply needs to grow up and develop. And since this is obviously already a tall horse and will be even taller when he is full-grown, you'll want to take your time with him and be patient (if you plan to keep a horse like this for a long time, it's best to turn him out for a year or more, and not start him under saddle until late in his three-year-old year, at the earliest).

Is it from the horse's stifles? THIS can be a problem. He may have intermittent catching of the patella -- a ligament of the stifle (the medial patellar ligament) sometimes slips on and off over the kneecap, and the kneecap pops in and out of place, causing a clicking sound. This will not necessarily lead to upward fixation of the patella -- which is what happens when that ligament slips over the kneecap, stays there, and "locks" the leg in an extended position, but you should be aware of the possibilities. Horses with very straight hind legs -- very little angle between the tibia and femur -- are more likely to have this condition.

Again, this is not at all uncommon among young TBs, and quite often goes away by the time they are 3 -- it might take an extra year with your horse, as he is so tall and growthy. Sometimes there's nothing more to it than loose, undeveloped musculature, and as the horse becomes more physically mature and begins training, the problem -- and the clicking -- can go away. It isn't necessarily a reason NOT to buy the horse, as long as clicking is the ONLY symptom and there is no actual locking. But do mention it to the veterinarian who does the pre-purchase exam. It's definitely something you'll want to discuss.

- Jessica

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