Inexperienced horse owners and those caring for older horses may be alarmed to habitually see their animals’ legs swollen after an extensive period in the stall. This may likely be a normal condition known as “stocking up.” If this is the case, it can be an easy problem to treat.
During periods of inactivity, circulation to a horse’s lower extremities decreases, letting blood and other fluids pool in the lower legs. If the horse is stocking up, it is usual to notice swelling below the horse’s knees in all its legs or in just the front legs or the hind legs. The swelling, edema, may be minimal or pronounced. If you press your fingers against the swollen area, you should see indentations caused by the pressure; they will disappear after about a minute because the fluid will slowly seep back into the pits.
If you notice this type of condition, you should consult your local veterinarian or equine specialist to confirm the condition and discuss treatment options.
Stocking Up in Older Horses
Stocking up is an ordinary condition for older horses to experience since their circulation is not as strong as it had been in their youth. Still, the aged are not the only ones to experience edema. The circulatory system works best when a horse of any age is moving. Movement helps blood flow throughout the horse’s body, and that is why movement is key to eliminating the swelling caused by stocking up, at least for the day ahead. It is unlikely that you will be able to “cure” the condition, but there are several ways you can help your horse alleviate the swelling.
Activity is Key
Activity reduces the swelling from stocking up. Try a short, easy ride or walking your horse by hand. In about 30 minutes, you should notice a significant difference in the extremities where the swelling had been. You will manage the problem easily if daily exercise and regular turn out are part of your routine. If inclement weather keeps your horse from this, walk it throughout the barn if possible; otherwise, turn out the horse when the worst of the weather has passed. Some owners have found it helps to hose down the swollen legs with cold water.
Reducing Stall Time
You can try preventing your horse from stocking up by keeping stall time to the bare minimum. Also take notice of the distances between your horse’s shelter, food supply, and water supply. Can any of these be moved to increase the distance your horse must walk to reach them? That is an easy way for your horse to get additional exercise. Wrapping the lower limbs with standing bandages may also help prevent swelling. If wrapping is requires, consult a trainer or barn manager. Wrapping is not an easy process and if are unsure how to do it properly, it could be wasted effort with regard to helping reduce or eliminate the condition.
Stocking up should not cause you to worry about your horse’s health; however, it is wise to check with your vet for a proper diagnosis. Not all swelling is innocuous. Call your veterinarian if the swelling occurs suddenly or is visible in a single leg as this could be the symptom of an injury or other serious medical condition. Seek professional help if other symptoms occur. If the swollen area is warm or is causing the horse pain, this might not be from stocking up. Check with your vet if your horse seems lame, depressed, or lethargic. A change in appetite is also concerning. Likewise, if the swelling continues even though the horse has been turned out and exercised, then it is time to consult your veterinarian. Any of these symptoms could be signs of heart disease or liver disease. Sudden swelling, unlike the persistent swelling noticed when stocking up, can also occur with viral diseases and allergies. While the treatment for stocking up is manageable, you must be certain that is why the swelling appears.