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Sabrina from Maryland, writes:

Dear Dr. Dave,

I have a filly that is a early yearling now, but at the end of her weanling year she showed signs of lameness. When my vet was out I had him look at her. I thought she might be sore in the left hind stifle area. He thought the same, but could see no swelling or other problems. She was a very large weanling and stands now a little under 15H. Her growth rate is rapid.

My veterinarian advised putting her on bute for 8-10 days, combined with stall rest. If she was sound after that, then we could rule out OCD. She came up sound, so I let her back out with the other two weanlings. She came up sore again and has been on stall rest until I can get her X-rayed or an MRI done.

I have tried hand walking her a few times over the last few weeks. She seems to be OK in the first 15 minutes, but then the next day she is lame.

I am really worried that keeping her in the stall is not good for her tendons, bones, etc. The last time I let her out of her stall, she was fine for about 10 minutes. Then, I heard a popping noise. It wasn't coming from the stifle area, but I noticed that she was favoring that same left hind and it looked like her pastern joint was dislocating/dbl jointed when she stepped down.

I put her back in the stall and looked up info on the web related to the problems. I am afraid of trying to trailer her to the vet at this point with her lack of stability.

I have never run into this with any of our other halter or performance horses. Can you give me any advice and your opinion about what might be happening?

Dear Sabrina,

Thank you so much for your interesting question. The information you provided about your yearling is very helpful. Let me see if I can sort through some of it.

You should be very pleased with your breeding program if you are showing in the halter and young performance arenas. It is interesting that you note that the filly was a “very large growthy weanling and now stands a little under 15H,” as size is definitely a bonus when showing. However it does come with some risks, of which I am sure you are aware.

I frequently see these “growthy” youngsters walking a fine line between grandeur and lameness. Because of breeding, they have the genetics for rapid growth, and because of their inherent rapid growth, we tend to feed them in such a way as to accentuate that growth. Unfortunately, it is not very difficult “to push them over the line,” by over-feeding. Now of course I have never seen your filly, nor do I know your feeding program, so I must speak in very general terms.

I concur with your veterinarian that it is important to rule out any form of OCD, which is typically initially found in the stifles but can also be seen in other joints. The age of your filly would also have me considering “epiphysitis” which as you probably know is an inflammation of the physes (growth plates) of the long bones. Epiphysitis will demonstrate just above the fetlock joints of both the front and/or hind legs as a swelling causing pain on impact with the ground. The affected weanling or yearling will have a shortened, stilted peggy stride, and will be hesitant to “romp and play” with its pen mates. It can also cause the youngster to stand very “upright” and sometimes cause a “knuckling” of the fetlock. This can then cause the fetlock to appear as if the fetlock is “dislocated” upon landing.

I encourage you to have the filly’s diet analyzed by an equine nutritionalist, looking especially at the calcium-phosphorus ratio and the copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium concentration. In my opinion, epiphysitis is caused by the animal growing faster than the development of the boney structure.

The treatment of epiphysitis is two-fold. It is centered on a balanced feeding regime by emphasizing a supportive vitamin-mineral supplementation and decreasing the “rapid growth” rations, and, restricting exercise. Restricting exercise does not necessarily mean stall confinement but may include keeping within a small paddock or pen. If the filly is allowed free exercise, it can exacerbate the pain, and cause her to alter her stance, thereby changing the stresses within the bones and affecting her growth.

Bottom line, we want to slow her growth rate while we enforce her bony structures to “catch up” with her growth. Unfortunately, this usually takes them out of the yearling halter shows, but will permit her to re-establish normalcy for future performance.

In summation, there are several conditions which could cause your filly to present as she does, OCD and epiphysitis being the two main culprits. Your veterinarian should be able to determine both of these by radiographs.

Thank you again for your question. I wish you the best, and if you have any more questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Dr. Dave