Got Pop?


I am sick of hearing my horses hocks pop. There is no heat or swelling in the joint but it sounds like a popcorn machine in a steel tub!


     I just read two great articles on the hocks and their problems: Hocks and Stifles Ė A Gaited Horse Issue by Elizabeth Graves and Hock Problems in Horses by Heather Smith Thomas. You can find these articles on the internet by typing in Horse Hock on Google.


     I now know more than I ever wanted to know about the hocks and their seven bones and why my horse makes sounds that make me cringe in sympathy but I didnít find a good reason why he has this condition.


In talking to a friend we looked back on the Walking Horse industry and found an interesting trend. The horses coming from people who raised the horse on their farm or in their back yard and worked with them as babies had a higher likelihood of hock strain than horses coming from padded show horse training barns.


 There are training barns that train in an abusive way that destroy young horses by riding them when their bones are still growing but I am referring to training facilities that are waiting until the horse is closer to an appropriate age. I am also not condoning their training practices but noting that their horseís hocks are in better shape than the horses coming from sound training barns and private farms within the sound horse industry.


This concerns me! This is a trend that has shown up over the last eight years and is getting worse. I receive horses from all over the eastern side of the country from notable sound horse trainers and they have hock problems. I receive horses from sound horse breeders and back yard horse owners and they also have hock problems so I looked for common ground.


John Lyons became a big hit after he published his book Communicating With Cues in 1998 but his ground training methods have been taught in clinics since 1981. The technique of training in a round pen is commonly used and many armature horse owners now have a round pen. It is not uncommon for me to be told that the owner will do weeks to months of round pen work before I am to ride a colt for the first time.


The common ground is the round pen. The trainers and owners that have sent me horses with hock problems have a round pen. I have a round pen.


I asked my vet what could be causing the hock strain and he told me that turning maneuvers in a tight space where the rear hooves were bogged down in sand or mud were a likely cause. In the article Hock Problems in Horses it also refers to any twisting of the hock including trailers on shoes that twist the hind hoof outward may cause this problem. Bad conformation can also be the cause.


Well I donít use trailers on my horseís shoes and I try not to waste peopleís money training a poorly conformed horse. I do ride in my barn isle in the winter when it is raining but I just walk around the end where I have placed a barrel at both ends. I donít do roll backs or canter with young horses and they are very fit.


After six months and many conversations with professionals Einsteinís light bulb went off over my head but only after a 45 minute conversation with a friend. I use a round pen! Everyone that I know uses a round pen. Every horse that has problems has been in a round pen Ė a lot!


So what happens in a round pen? John Lyons instructs to lunge the horse and allow him to become submissive by coming inward toward you and rewarding him for presenting himself to you. Lunge the horse until he relaxes his jaw and chews is stressed by Monte Roberts and many western trainers practice the roll back in the round pen to strengthen the muscles.


I am no expert on these training ideas but I also use the round pen for these reasons as well as to get the edge off a fresh horse. Ten years ago I wasnít aware of the round pen as a training tool. I didnít have one. I read a couple books and saw a few clinics and I was in! This is great - a way to train that allows me to work the horse from the ground and not have to be dragged behind long lines!


Well it was a great ten years but now I question whether this is the cause of the strained hocks. I did many maneuvers in the round pen that I wouldnít have done from the saddle with such a young horse (under 4). Cantering for laps at a time and roll backs to change direction. Deep sand to cushion the hooves may have added to strain in the hocks and stifles.


I want to go back to the time when I never heard of hock damage and I sure donít want to be the cause of it. The round pen is a very good tool but I think that I will lessen its use until I see an improvement in this condition. Abuse comes in many forms and I never want to be told that I am causing more hock strain than a padded barn. I chose to be a sound horse trainer because I loved horses but this choice includes all forms of soundness in all parts of their body. I have shared this fault so that it can be pondered and discussed so that all our horses can benefit. All things should be questioned and put to the test so that in the end we all reach our goal of perfectly sound. Only at this time can we stand before a critical industry and be proud.


Think about itÖ


By Scot MacGregor


1.            Tarsocrural Joint

2.            Proximal Intertarsal Joint

3.            Distal Intertarsal Joint

4.            Tarsometatarsal Joint

5.            Talocalcaneal Joint




A.          Tibia

B.            Talus

C.            Calcaneus

D.           Central Tarsal Bone

E.            3rd Tarsal Bone

F.            3rd Metatarsal Bone

G.           4th Tarsal Bone (solid line)

H.          Fused 1st and 2nd Tarsal Bone

     (dashed line)