What are windpuffs on horses?

You are going through your daily leg inspection and notice some squishy parts of your horse’s fetlocks. Could these be windpuffs?  Maybe?  As with all things horse leg related, it’s important to gather as much information as possible before jumping to a conclusion.  Very often, a quick vet check is warranted, too.  

 

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What are windpuffs?

 

  • Windpuffs are  “extra fluid around a tendon sheath, and a tendon sheath is a protective layer around a tendon which holds some lubricating fluid.”  

 

  • You may find a roundish puffy spot that sticks out from the leg. It may be the size of the tip of your pinky or even larger than a golf ball.

 

  • You can press it in, and it’s kinda soft, and it bounces back. Windpuffs, like a scar, are considered cosmetic blemishes and should not interfere with your horse’s soundness. Usually.

 

 

Daily leg inspections are a must!

 

General guidelines about windpuffs:

 

  • Old
 
  • Cold
 
  • Not lame
 
  • Not sensitive or tender
 
  • Develop over time
 
  • Can vary in size due to exercise amount and concussion on the ground
 
  • Typically symmetrical on both sets of legs
 
  • More common on the hind legs
 
  • Occur at the rear of the fetlocks, usually

 

 

windpuff higher on a horse's fetlock

This windpuff is squishy and about the size of a walnut.  An ultrasound exam confirmed this windpuff is not a tendon or ligament injury.   

 

When to call the vet

 

  • If you find something that wasn’t there yesterday, it may still be a windpuff, but a sudden appearance, heat, tenderness, and/or lameness warrant a call to the veterinarian.

 

  • Because windpuffs involve tendons, they are not to be taken lightly if they appear suddenly or become warm, hot, tender, or painful and/or lameness. Anyone rehabilitating a horse with a tendon injury can tell you many horror stories!

 

  • There’s another scenario where the windpuff is caught in the annular ligament, which goes around the fetlock. This ligament is flat and thin and causes a pinching. In this case, your horse will be uncomfortable. This may be treated with injections.

 

  • Your horse might also develop adhesions between the tendon and the tendon sheath. In cases like this, arthroscopy surgery inside the sheath can cut the adhesions or in some cases, cut the ligaments that are interfering.

 

windpuff on horse fetlock

 

Treatments for windpuffs

 

  • Most of the time, you don’t need to do anything. If your horse has an injury or is bothered by the windpuffs, your veterinarian will need to do some diagnostic work to find the underlying issues and then map out a treatment plan.

 

  • If you ice your horse’s legs after exercise (ahem…it’s a good idea), you will notice that your horse’s windpuffs shrink a bit. This is totally normal, as it’s normal for them to return to their “regular” size after the icing effects have worn off.  Poultice treatments may also help. 

 

  • You may notice these puffs fading on a retired horse, taking extended time off, or with a lighter exercise plan.

 

Does your horse have windpuffs?

 

A quick video about windpuffs.

 

 

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