Before beginning treatment, Harvey always starts with a thorough exam to determine where the soreness is occurring and possible causes.
“What everyone needs to remember is a good thorough exam is the key,” Harvey said. “Check everything: check rear feet, check ankles, stifles, back, sacro-iliac, check everything on the horse before you settle on the issue being in the hocks. We know the repetitive nature of barrel racing does take a toll on horses’ hocks, so that’s usually where we start. Remember, horses are not vehicles. They don’t get regularly scheduled maintenance. You have to do a good exam before you just go and inject the hocks.”
The exam will give the veterinarian valuable information to treat your horse, based on how the horse responds.
“Sometimes, it’s low-grade pain and it could be showing up as anything from a small performance issue all the way to a lameness issue,” Harvey said.
Harvey says the proximal suspensory ligament is located near the distal joints, which can be confused with hock joint issues, so it’s wise to rule out other issues before injecting the hocks. Harvey says not all hock pain is due to osteoarthritis, which is the breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone.
“Sometimes, the horse can just be inflamed in those joints without osteoarthritis,” Harvey said.
When injecting the hocks, Harvey checks placement of the needle using a digital X-ray machine if there is any question to make sure the needle is in the correct location in the joint. After joint therapy such as hock injections, Harvey says it’s important to allow the horse’s body to rest before returning to work.
“I’m a firm believer that after you inject hocks, give them five to seven days’ rest and let those joints quiet back down again,” Harvey said.
He says it’s a mistake to run your horse too soon after hock injections.
“If the horse is lame enough to need joint injections, he warrants getting five to seven days off,” Harvey said. “The whole goal of joint therapy is to let the joint return to its normal state. You are trying to improve the health of the joint. You’re not just killing pain. All the medications you are putting in the joint are to help improve its health, so let them do their job. Let the cortisone quiet the joint down and the hyaluronic acid nourish the cartilage. Otherwise, you’re almost wasting that injection.”
Harvey says the horse’s body determines how often it needs hock injections.
“It goes back to how much osteoarthritis is involved, how much inflammation is involved and how much cartilage damage has occurred,” Harvey said. “Depending on how often the horse is running and the condition of the hocks, you can find a schedule that works. For some horses, that means injecting every four to six months. Other horses only require it once a year. But I think that is where the relationship between the horse, the owner and the veterinarian is pretty important to monitor the horse’s condition.”