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Windgalls in horses: What are they, why does your horse have them and how to get rid of them

Author: Steve Stretton
January 12, 2021

They say that a dog may be a man’s best friend, but the horse wrote history. Through the centuries, horses have fought alongside men, and empires were built with them. 

Hopefully, you won’t need to fight battles with your horses these days, but they still remain very important in your life.

So, we understand why making your horse’s everyday life as comfortable as possible is a priority to you. It’s natural to want to get rid of anything that gets in the way of their comfort, such as windgalls. 

What are windgalls?

Windgalls (sometimes called wind puffs) are what is known as the soft swellings found just above the fetlock on the hind legs of horses. In some cases, they can be seen in forelegs, too. 

The fetlock joint is the joint between the cannon bone and pastern in horses. Though it can be easily seen as the equivalent of a human ankle, these joints have more technical similarities to the ball of the foot. The word fetlock translates to “foot-lock”, and it is originally referred to as the small tuft of hair found on the rear of the fetlock joint.

Windgalls are usually soft round swellings filled with fluid. They are usually 2 centimetres in diameter on either side of the fetlock. They normally should not feel hot, and they should not cause lameness in a horse (change in their gait).

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The two types of windgalls

Tendinous windgall

The tendinous windgall is the most common type found in horses. They should not cause any real problems. Middle aged horses and ponies who have been worked hard often are susceptible to tendinous windgalls. It’s normal for tendinous windgalls to come and go in some horses. Often, the swelling found in tendinous windgalls are merely thickened membrane lining sheaths rather than fluid. 

Articular windgall

This is the type of windgall that normally is an indication of a disease, as they are found in cases of degenerative joint disease of the fetlock. They can also be the result of certain traumatic conditions. Many horses that appear to be “normal” carry on with articular windgalls.

Why do horses get windgalls?

Windgalls in horses are found to be an inevitable side effect of an active life. This is why windgalls are often found in horses that are older, or those who have worked a lot. Sadly, horses that work on unsuitable terrain and receive poor nutrition are likely to develop windgalls. 

When a horse’s immune system is reacting due to a viral infection, windgalls have a greater tendency to flare up. Additionally, when horses are in hot weather, the swelling tends to get aggravated, while it can become less obvious in cold weather.

Are windgalls a serious condition?

In general, windgalls are considered to be benign in nature and are regarded as minor damage to horse joints. They are usually painless, not hot to the touch, and should not cause lameness or change in gait to the horse. 

When should you take your horse to the vet?

You should be alarmed when the windgall, or any swelling located below the fetlock, generates pain, is warm to the touch and causes lameness in your horse. These can be signs that your horse either has an acute injury to their fetlock or that they may have degenerative joint disease. If you find these symptoms in your horse, we suggest that you immediately take them for a veterinary diagnosis. 

How can windgalls swelling be treated?

Cold therapy 

Horse ice packs work extremely well in providing cold therapy for windgalls. Horse ice packs such as these are designed to relieve tissue-related pain such as windgalls. Swelling can be reduced when cold therapy is applied to the affected area. It’s important to use ice packs especially made for horses, as they often come with flexible straps and are flexible even when frozen. We want our horses to be as comfortable as possible!

Rest

Because windgalls are often found in hardworking (or, sadly, overworked) horses, giving them a break would be a good idea. Not only will this reduce the windgall swelling, but your horse will love you for it! 

Exercise

After your horse has had their well-deserved rest and relaxation, putting them under a controlled exercise regime will help reduce the swelling resulting from windgalls.

Bandaging

During exercise or light work, you can bandage up your horse’s legs. Not only does bandaging conceal the appearance of the windgall, but the compression from it also helps reduce swelling. Horse ice packs like this come with adjustable straps and will stay put with minimal movement, so they can double as compress bandage as well. 

Magnotherapy

Many racehorse trainers routinely use magnotherapy to stimulate blood flow to weaker body parts and areas in their horses. Magnetic therapy is a non-invasive and drug free method that increases blood flow to certain areas. The increased circulation can sometimes reduce swelling, including windgall-related ones.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

If your horse shows minor signs of lameness and your veterinarian prescribes it, anti-inflammatory drugs may be used.

Even though windgalls are considered normal in horses, it’s still important to be vigilant in giving proper care to them. Ensure that they are not overworked and are given adequate nourishment and rest. Always look out for early signs and symptoms for windgalls so they can be treated early on. 

Do you suspect that your horse has windgalls? Send us a message for any questions. We’d love to hear from you!

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