In winter, many horses get less exercise. They are more often in the stable and especially during the holidays they train less. This can cause filled legs: thicker, raised (hind) legs that do not feel warm. What exactly is this, can it harm and what can you do about it? We give you six useful tips!
Horses are naturally made to be on the move all day long. When the heart starts pumping faster during this movement, the circulation in the legs also improves. This is partly due to the hoof mechanism: the hoof expanding with each step, which pumps blood through the lower leg and hoof.
What are filled legs?
By “filled legs” we mean: moisture in the lower legs because the horse is in the stable for a longer period of time. If a horse stands still for a longer period of time, the circulation in the legs decreases. The flow of blood and lymph fluid then stagnates and fluid accumulates. The hind legs are more sensitive to this fluid build-up, because a horse can “lock” them when standing still. The front legs are always a bit in motion and therefore become fat less often.
Is it a filled leg?
Filled legs are usually visible on both back legs. The legs of filled legs are not warm. Filled legs are not dangerous or problematic in themselves, your horse is at most a bit stiff when “starting up”. But watch out! If only one leg is thick, or if the legs are hot and painful, then something else is wrong. For example, virus infections can cause thick, warm and painful legs. Heart problems can cause four swollen legs. If one leg is thick, the cause is probably an inflammation from a wound or a (tendon) injury on that leg. If your horse has warm and sore legs, ask your vet to visit.
Movement is crucial!
Standing still for a long time can therefore cause filled legs. In general, older horses often have poorer circulation, which means that they develop filled legs more quickly. You can prevent filled legs by letting your horse move. Exercise is also the solution for a horse that already has filled legs. If you restart the circulation and the lymphatic system, the legs will quickly become thinner again. But what if you are forced to have your horse in the stable more often in the winter – and certainly during the holidays? Because the paddock is wet, or because fireworks are set off outside?
Here are six useful tips:
Tip 1 – Get out several times a day
If your horse can only stand outside for a short time during the dark days, it is a good idea to get him out of his stable in between. Even if it is just to take a walk in the arena or across the yard. If he is outside in the morning, goes for a walk in the afternoon and is driven by you in the evening, that makes a big difference. A walker can also be a solution if it is present. If necessary, make a grid with stable mates to regularly walk each others horse.
Tip 2 – Look at the protein in the food
Horses that consume a lot of (low-quality) protein sometimes also develop swollen legs. It’s not really scientifically proven, but many horse owners find that roughage from heavily fertilized land, such as silage that is actually meant for cows, is causing the problems. Horses that are growing or need to develop muscles do benefit from high-quality protein, which contains many essential amino acids. But horses that do not have an increased protein requirement can get overloaded kidneys from protein-rich food. A horse that is sensitive to filled legs may do better on rough-stalked hay than hay drying silage. Maybe it is also worth a try for your horse?
Tip 3 – Give little extra
Sweets, bread and other treats can put unnecessary strain on your horse’s digestive system and cause extra waste. That puts a strain on the liver and kidneys and can also lead to fluid in the legs. It is therefore preferable not to give a horse that has filled legs regularly.
Tip 4 – Nettle and cleavers
There are several herbs that support the circulation and the removal of fluid from the lymphatic system. Nettle is an example of this, preferably in concentrated form, since fresh and dried nettle are not consistent in quality. Did you know that you can also make an extra water bowl with liquid nettle? This way your horse can absorb nettle as needed. Cleavers is also known for its diuretic effect. Give your horse some extra herbs in the winter to keep its legs nice and thin.
Tip 5 – Bandages
Some horses with chronic filled legs are put on bandages at night. They work like a kind of compression stockings. Not everyone is in favor of this option because it is literally a “stopgap” that does not eliminate the cause of the swollen legs. More exercise and diuretic herbs are preferred.
Tip 6 – A little detox
Since the moisture in your horse’s legs can also be a sign of a build-up of waste, it can be useful to give a low dose of a cleansing regimen in winter to horses that quickly get swollen legs. Detox supports the kidneys and liver and helps to dispose of waste products faster. We advise to stick to 30ml per day.
Filled legs can be prevented by giving the horse a lot of (free) movement. Being in the stable for a long time unfortunately gives an increased risk of filled legs. Herbs such as nettle and cleavers can help wick away moisture, but plenty of exercise is and remains the best option against filled legs.