Finding your horse has filled legs can be worrying, but in most cases it’s a simple enough problem to resolve – read on to find out more

Filled legs is the term used to describe a condition where the length of a horse’s legs (more commonly the hind pair) appear swollen. It’s often the result of the horse standing in his stable for longer than normal and not doing enough exercise.

What causes filled legs?

The veterinary term for filled legs is oedema, and it’s basically an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body’s tissues. Horses are prone to this ‘stocking up’ as they have relatively poor circulation in their legs. When a horse is moving, the action of his legs and his feet hitting the ground acts like a pump and sends blood and lymphatic fluid back up from his limbs. However, if he stands still things slow down, allowing fluid to leak out of the blood vessels and reducing the return of lymph.

Do you need the vet?

In most cases, although filled legs can cause a horse to be a little stiff it’s not serious and will usually resolve after exercise or the use of stable bandages. If it doesn’t resolve within XX hours, call your vet for advice.

It’s also vital that you check your horse for other symptoms of illness – if he’s suffered a cut, is showing signs of pain or lameness, appears depressed or is running a temperature it could mean he’s suffering an infection, so call your vet straight away.

Filled legs can also be a sign of other health conditions, including problems with the efficiency of a horse’s heart and conditions which result in low blood protein levels – there’ll usually be other signs of illness, so always call your vet to investigate further.

How to deal with filled legs

When a horse has developed filled legs due to inactivity, walking him out and placing stable bandages on the legs can help reduce the swelling. Magnetic boots can help some horses, as they are believed to help improve circulation.

Applying stable bandages

Stable bandages are wider than exercise bandages, and should always be used over padding, such as Gamgee or Fybagee. Before you apply stable bandages, tie your horse up and make sure his legs are clean. When applying bandages, always stay to the side of his leg, squat rather than kneel and keep your fingers off the floor so he can’t step on them. See our illustration for an easy-to-follow-guide.