I would dearly love a $ for every horse that I have to assess due to stifle problems. The simple Veterinary description for this is something like the momentary locking of the patella or knee bone as it crosses back and forth over the joint. This gives horses some discomfort although Veterinary opinion says that there is little or no pain associated with it. I find that a little hard to accept.

This problem can come in varying severity and this can dictate what actions a horse will take in an attempt to rectify the problem. Some just try to work through it with out much affect upon the riders and others actually buck riders off, although in my experience, rarely are they trying to dislodge them. Moreover, they are kicking from the rear end in an attempt to free the locked patella. The causes:

    • A bone chip due to an old knock, fall or other injury.
    • lack of muscle development in the rear end of the horse. Horses can have the problem in one or both of the hind legs.
    • An incorrect angle of the back hooves by the Farrier
    • Being ridden constantly ‘flexed off’ or lacking ‘straightness’
    • Poor Conformation (straight behind – riding Ponies, Arabs, etc.)
    • Racing Industry.
    • Poor feeding of young stock
    • OCD, especially in Warm Blood Horses in Australia
    • Broken in too young



    • Stallions working through the breeding season
    • A general lack of exercise in horses, usually stabled.
    • A general lack of correct exercise in horses. ( correctly ridden from behind and round )
    • Not enough work given when horses are ridden.
    • Diet? Poor Feeding in their formative Years and not getting the right Feed.


    • Dis-uniting at the canter.
    • A refusal to go straight.
    • Crooked on one rein
    • Not wanting to take a certain lead.
    • Changing back onto the preferred lead all the time.
    • Briefly dragging a back leg.
    • Locking up the back leg totally
    • Kicking up in the rear end whilst being ridden.
    • Bucking people off.
    • A marked resistance to being backed up
    • A dislike of walking down steep inclines
    • Bouncing on back legs at canter
    • Causing a rider to be on the incorrect diagonal.
    • Traveling with the Rump in the Air.
    • carrying the quarters in or out in both directions
    • Behind the Leg
    • Trouble with Flying Changes training, including bouncing in the air to get free one side.
    • Stiff to one side and a lack of ‘suppleness and bend’ one side.
    • Offering correct changes on one side and late on the other OR
      Changing sides to please the Rider and being correct on the normally bad side but late on the good side.
    • Not wanting to retain a ‘head set’
    • Not wanting to ‘COLLECT’
    • Throwing the head in the air for relief…..and
    • The more collection demanded, the more distressed the Horse gets, including snapping back legs like with ‘stringhalt’



    • Bouncing along on the back legs like a Kangaroo
    • Traveling ‘bum high’
    • Rear end action just too good for normal Show Jumper
    • Swishing the tail violently on landing
    • Bouncing on landing, ears back but
      Traveling normally between jumps.



    • Video the horse being worked and watch it on TV and in slow motion if suspect movement is noticed.
    • Ride the horse, work tight circles on both leads.
    • Reverse the horse.
    • Ride it down a steep hill.
    • Jump it.
    • Have it X-Rayed
    • Insist upon the horse engaging and carrying it’s weight on the inside hind leg.


Conformation plays a huge part in determining whether a horse is prone to such problems. In a high percentage of cases that we meet, horses are conformed either ‘bum high’ , ‘straight behind’, too long in the barrel or a combination of them all. Here is one such horse.

straight behind, camped out, poor rump


A little known fact is that Vets’ rarely pick a stifle problem when doing an inspection for sale or purchase. This is because they rarely work them and never ride them. I have seen dozens of these cases.

If suspect, show you Vet the video and then request an X-Ray. If in doubt, we can help


This causes locking patella, crookedness in horses and lameness. In particular, the wide spread habit of leaving the rear near side hoof low on the outside and high on the inner.


Low o the outside rear, a common cause for stifle lock


Treatment really should not be carried out until an X-Ray has been taken to eliminate joint damage or bone chips. Without this, all treatment is pointless.

    • Inject the stifle joint with the new Veterinary treatment (Veterinary Opinion received this week advised that this treatment only lasts about 6 weeks and is not a cure.)
    • Veterinary prescribed anti inflammatory drugs for a period with work.
      Correct work, harder work in soft sand, build the horse up in muscle.
      Surgery to cut the ligaments attached to the patella bone.
    • Injecting a localized area with quartizone
    • Properly prepare the Horse as an athlete by lunging in soft sand and with our systems being used (the most successful way)
    • Ride the Horse correctly, all of the time. “Straight” “supple” ‘Round” “Over the Back” “From behind” In other words, PROPER DRESSAGE!!!! If you don’t know how, stop riding the Horse as you are compounding the problems and go have lessons. 


These days, this is a highly contentious issue and most Vets’ don’t want to do it. I feel the main reason for this is that they read an American study some years back, which dealt with a survey carried out on a number of horses that had been operated on. It showed that a certain percentage developed arthritis of the joint later. A Vet in Victoria however, comments that he has done over 500 of these operations and thinks other Vet’s are a bit over the top with their worries. We completely agree.

X-Ray is highly crucial however. You HAVE TO rule out Bone Chips

We have had dozens done over the years and I am yet to see one suffer any ill affects after. I have never seen a horse suffer any ill affect during 40 years of observation of known subjects to the op. On the other hand, I have seen almost a 100% success rate in fixing the problem. On those that have been slow in mending, the cause has normally been the soft attitude of the owner in not pushing the horse through the prescribed exercise routines after the operation.

So the next time you see a horse bucking its owner off, have it checked out before sending it off to a horse breaker and telling him (as I have been) to give the horse a good bashing.

Remember, they can’t talk.

Listen to Your Horses

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