Wind puffs worry many horse owners, especially if they appear rather suddenly and for no particluar reason. You will always want to check with your vet, whether there is an underlying medical problem or injury that needs to be addressed. If your vet assures you that there is nothing to worry about, there are still a few things you can to do help minimize ‘wind puffs’.
What are ‘Wind Puffs’ or ‘Wind Galls’ in horses?
Wind puffs is a common term do describe an unsightly swelling in the hind fetlock joints. The swelling is commonly a sign of fluid accumulation in the joint.
We need to differentiate between two types of wind puffs: A) Swelling that occurs as an accute response to stress, hard work or injury (when palpated, the swelling feels soft and ‘bounces back’ to the touch, there can be heat and the horse is clearly uncomfortable, expressed by gait abnormalities and/or sensitive when palpated) – or – B) Swelling that occurs as a result of old injury (stretched tissues, years of hard work, insufficient turn out) and feels just like the first type, but is cold to the touch and does not seem to present discomfort to the horse.
You will need your vet’s help to determine, whether your horse’s wind puffs are type A) or type B) (Note: these type names only serve to simplify this article, your vet will not know what “Stefanie’s type A) wind puff” is ;-).
What causes wind puffs?
Regarding type A) described above (accute injury), please speak to your vet, especially if the swelling occurs suddenly and is accompanied by other symptoms like lameness. We will only talk about type B) here, which is usually caused by old injury to the fetlock joint or digital flexor tendon sheaths, years of hard work and stress to this anatomical structure, for instance to work on hard surfaces (police horses, for example), often combined with a lack of turnout. In this case, the swelling will tend to become chronic even long after the original injury is healed.
What you can do to minimize unsightly wind puffs:
Even though it is assumed that there is no discomfort in “type B)”, you may feel the need to reduce the swelling and help your horse look as good as he feels.
Every Day: Simply allow your horse to get as much turnout as possible. Standing in a stall will exacerbate the problem. If this is not possible – for instance due to weather conditions such as Blizzard etc. – allow your horse to get sufficient daily exercise, preferably free lunging, in an indoor arena.
Before a show: Start to cold-hose the fetlocks a few days before the show and gently bandage the legs at night after applying an ointment containing Horse Chestnut Extract. (I like this product, but do not endorse it or guarantee it’s efficacy or suitability for your purpose http://www.smallflower.com/klinge/venostasin-creme-50g-cream-12798)
A note about chronic wind puffs: Some types of chronic wind puffs can harden and then again become the cause for certain problems. While this is rare, you will want to address this question with your vet, if you feel that your horse’s wind puffs have been hardening over time.
Most of all: Don’t worry. If your vet says, there is nothing to worry about, you can be sure it’s more of a cosmetic problem.
[I do not currently have a good photograph of a horse with wind puffs. Please feel free to submit one to firstname.lastname@example.org , thank you.]