The Gift Horse Golden Bay


Locked Patella/ Stifle lock/ Upward fixation of the Patella/ Sticky Stifle

Posted by Pam on January 18, 2011 at 9:20 PM

As many may already know, Beau is often affected by locked patella. Although it is not painful, it can look very dramatic and even shocking to those who may not have ever seen this condition in a horse before. I remember the first time I saw him lock up in the paddock – I panicked, thought he had eaten something poisonous, or had broken his leg, and was about to fall over and die an awful, painful death!!!


So what is locked patella?                                                            

The horses stifle is the same joint as the human knee. Just like the human knee there is a knee cap, the patella, a small flat bone that rides back and forth in the front of the femur. The patella connects the large muscles in the front of the upper leg with the long bone of the gaskin using three large ligaments. When this muscle contracts it pulls up on the patella and helps to straighten the leg.

Unlike the human knee, the horse is able to hang the medial (inside) patellar ligament over a bony prominence of the femur, intentionally. By doing so the leg is locked in extension and the horse can rest and sleep standing up. Some horses have trouble with unintentional interference or even have the leg lock up and unable to flex normally.

Locked Patella can be caused by a lack of muscle development,conformation fault, or injury to the stifle. A locked stifle is most often seen in younger horses, particularly if they have been worked for a while and then turned away. In Beau’s case, a hard day at work, (i.e. at a show or Pony Club for the day) followed by resting in a pen with minimal movement overnight will more often cause him to lock up the following morning. I have found that the best way to help Beau unlock his stifle is to bend him round tightly, and then warm him up in straight lines in walk and trot, until his movement is smooth and flowing again.


It is also seen in horses who are growing abnormally fast and disproportionately as the bones and ligaments become mismatched. It is not hard to see that in Beau’s case, his long legs play a part in his condition.


Some Symptoms include:

• Disunited canter

• Crooked on one rein

• Not wanting to take a certain lead

• Total locking of back leg, dragging of the back leg

• A marked resistance to backing up


Treatment options vary, and believe me I have looked into every available option. Hard work on soft sand to build up muscle, light regular exercise to improve muscle tone. Surgery is another option. This involves cutting the ligaments attached to the patella bone. Although a simple procedure, the recovery time is lengthy. I was told strict boxed recovery of no less than 6 months. Although a common procedure, it is only considered in the most severe cases.


With age and growth the problem may correct itself. Time is the best healer for this condition - as the skeleton matures the problem is usually resolved naturally and cures itself.


I discussed Beau’s condition with Kevin Wastney, a farrier who specializes in lameness issues. He is confident we can correct Beau’s condition with corrective shoeing. This may take some time, as it requires influencing the growth plates. And Beau now has a brand new pair of “high heel shoes”. I am confident in Kevin’s ability and his extensive knowledge in lameness issues that we will be able to help Beau.


So next time you see us at a show, or Pony Club or out and about, please feel free to come and say hi to us. If you have any concerns, I am happy to answer any questions regarding locked stifle. I have researched the issue extensively. I love my pony and would love nothing more than see him moving freely, but I do understand that nature teaches us patience and time is the best healer.



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1 Comment

Reply sheila
3:54 AM on August 2, 2011 
Hi there, i have a miniture pony with locked patella, he has very straight conformation and it seems that all the options are not going to work....... i am not stuck and dont know what to do....... any advice......... thanks.

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