Horses are such extremely athletic animals.  They are playful, curious and built to be on the move all the time.  When we curtail their movement, whether due to injury or boarding situations, a common issue that develops is “stocking up”.  This appears as fluid pooling in the fetlock area, causing lower leg swelling.  But not to worry, there are some very simple techniques you can use to deal with the issue of stocking up.

Longer Turnout Times

In an ideal world, horses benefit the most from 24/7 turnout in a large area with varied terrain.  Horses were designed for almost constant movement as they graze the day away.  Wild horses move from place to place over the vast prairies to better grazing and watering holes.  The majority of domesticated horses’ lifestyles are quite different from their wild counterparts, and may involve prolonged stretches of time standing in a confined space.

For situations where it is feasible, providing longer turnout times, or better yet, 24/7 pasture turnout may provide the solution for stocking up.  But what about when your horse is injured and MUST be on stall rest, or pasture turnout is simply not an option?

Stimulating The Digital “Pump”

As mentioned before, horses are designed to move.  As the horse walks and pressure is applied to the sole of the foot, that pressure helps “pump” fluids back up the horse’s leg.  This is often referred to as the digital pump.  It is one of the reasons that contact with the ground by the frog is so very important.  It is a vital part of the horse’s circulatory system.

Thankfully it is a very easy system to stimulate manually.  Simply asking the horse to shift their weight from side to side activates the digital pump.  This helps get that fluid that is pooling in the lower limb up out of the leg.  Simply stand beside your horse with the flat of the hand on either the hip or at the shoulder.  Then gently apply pressure until your horse slightly shifts weight to the opposite leg.  Then let up on the pressure.  You are basically asking your horse to rock back and forth from side to side.  You should see visible improvement to the stocking up almost immediately using this technique.

Stimulating Lymph Flow With Leg Massage

Another really simple technique is using manual massage to stimulate lymph flow and improve circulation in the leg.  It’s not necessary to do a full on lymphatic massage, although that would be ideal.  Simply wrap your hands around the leg.  Then starting at the pastern, rub in an upward direction with moderate pressure towards the top of the leg.

To improve the effectiveness of this technique, try adding an invigorating essential oil to your massage.  About 2-3 drops of pure therapeutic grade oil added to about a nickel-sized dollop of carrier oil for each leg is sufficient.  Essential oils like Peppermint, Wintergreen, PanAway and Cool Azul are perfect additions.  Rub your chosen essential oil with carrier oil into your palms and then massage that into the leg as described earlier.  Most horses find this type of leg massage to be very soothing and relaxing.  You may have to be careful that your horse doesn’t drift off to sleep and fall over on top of you 🙂

So as you can see, your horse doesn’t have to suffer with uncomfortably swollen fetlocks.  By adding one or more of these simple techniques to your daily routine, your horse will be MUCH more comfortable.  Happy horse, happy caretaker.

Join me over on the Heavenly Gaits Equine Facebook page and let me know how this worked for you – https://business.facebook.com/HeavenlyGaitsEquineMassage

This information is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or condition, nor is it meant to replace regular veterinary care.  Always remember to consult your veterinarian before beginning any treatment plan on your horse!


Lisa Carter, Certified Equine Massage Therapist, with her Arabian mare Siofhice. www.heavenlygaitsequinemassage.com.Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools.  She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses.  She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.

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