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Big Fat Legs

The mud this spring was hard not only on farmers, but it also took its toll on horses’ legs.


During particularly wet times, when there is a preponderance of deep, sucking mud, we see an increase in swollen, hot, painful legs. There are many underlying causes for this, some serious, some minor.

The most common cause is “scratches,” “mud fever,” “greasy heel,” or whatever your favorite term might be. This is an infection caused by bacteria that reside in the soil, and once infection sets in, it can be very difficult to get rid of. In addition to heat and swelling, the signs usually include crusty, oozing sores, particularly on the back of the pastern.

Another common cause of a fat, swollen leg is a bowed tendon. The deep mud puts additional stress on horses’ tendons, making them more at risk of being torn or strained. A hallmark of this disease (in addition to big fat legs) is lameness.

A final cause of big-leg syndrome in wet weather is a hoof abscess. Constant wetness can soften your horses’ hooves as well as allow them to sink deep into the mud, running into many stones along the way. These factors can predispose your horse to abscesses or bad bruises, which can often lead to marked swelling and heat in the lower limb.

It is always wise to have your veterinarian give a quick check to a sore, hot, swollen leg, as treatments vary depending on the cause. The sooner the leg gets back to normal, the sooner you will be on his back, or behind him in a cart, enjoying the sunny weather.

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