Podcast Episode 40: Lamenesses that hide–coffin joints

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Have you ever had a horse that just doesn’t show the same enthusiasm for work that he or she used to?

Maybe a jumper who didn’t want to jump anymore?

Or barrel racer who backs out of the box?

There are many more examples of how horses show they’re not comfortable.

On today’s Horse Mysteries Solved podcast, let’s chat about coffin joints.

Coffin joints are one of those sneaky issues that cause horses problems, even lamenesses.

We’ll talk about two items causing coffin joint problems that everyone thinks of….

and the two coffin joint issues that no one thinks about.

Links Mentioned:

Shoulder Checkup
Sacroiliac Checkup
“Where Does My Horse Hurt” book


Renee (00:01)
Hello, friends. This is Dr. Renee Tucker, equine veterinarian. Today’s podcast is lamenesses that hide talking about the coffin joint. We’re going to talk about some of the real reasons that coffin joints have issues.

Renee (00:15)
You may see coffin joints issues either as lameness, oftenness, short stride, walking on eggshells, and just kind of a reluctance to do the job they used to like doing. Those are some of the common symptoms of cough and joint issues. Now, I wanted to talk about this today because, yes, I was just minding my own business in the cross ties at this barn, working on a horse, and I overheard a different veterinarian from a couple cross ties down. They had just finished a pre purchase exam on this cute young four year old jumper, Greg gelding. I didn’t catch his name, but the owner, or rather the person who was paying for the pre purchase was a mom who was looking for a jumping pony for her daughter.

Renee (01:12)
The mom, she don’t know nothing about horses. That’s fine, lovely mom to get a pony for her daughter. All right. But the veterinarian, this is what I hear. He says, well, this pony didn’t pass the pre purchase flexion test, but don’t worry about that because we have to maintain jumpers with coffin joint injections and usually hawk injections every six months anyways.

Renee (01:41)
So I think you’re perfectly fine to get this horse. And I said to myself, what in the hell is going on here? Let’s not say anything. Maybe I should have, but whatever. The point is, on the one hand, the veterinarian, that is legitimately his experience in some of these types of barns, high level hunter jumper barns, they do regularly maintain in air quotes the horse by giving them injections in the coffin joints.

Renee (02:21)
And the hawks just regularly like every six months. That’s just what they do. And they really believe it’s preventing a problem. It’s not. Now, I do know and believe there are places when injections are warranted, okay?

Renee (02:38)
But it’s not for maintenance. That’s a crock of crack. All right. And crack like crack cocaine, not like any other kind of crack you can think about anyways. So let’s talk about the two most common reasons for coffin joint issues.

Renee (02:56)
There are two other reasons that are, I believe people already consider these, and so I’m just going to gloss over them. I’ll just gloss over them real quick. That would be just use in general. Certainly if you do overuse a horse, then things do get well overused. And so that can be a component in coffin joint issues.

Renee (03:21)
And the other thing would be shoeing or, and, or poor trimming. Now, this is not the point of this podcast, so I’m just, again, going to gloss over that. I really love to have barefoot in horses wherever possible, and then a really good barefoot trim. So if you don’t have those things, that’s already putting more wear and tear on the coffin joint. So I’d like to focus on the two reasons that I don’t think anybody thinks about, okay?

Renee (03:50)
And that is shoulder joint misalignment affecting the stay apparatus. That’s number one. And then number two is sacro iliac joint misalignments. Now you may say, renee, listen, the shoulder is all the way at the other end of the front leg, and the sacraliac is all the way in the hind end. Have you completely lost it?

Renee (04:16)
I say, no, listen, this is a really good story. Okay, here’s the thing, and it’s kind of funny. Horses have four legs. I know, right? Isn’t that weird?

Renee (04:30)
Do you never think that’s kind of weird? Four legs, no arms. It’s weird. So here’s the thing. Mostly we tend to think what we would do if we were a horse, kind of.

Renee (04:45)
Okay, here’s my first example. If you picture yourself jumping from a height that’s about two steps high, and when we jump, we jump off, and then we land on the ground. And what do we do with our legs? We bend them, we bend our knees, we bend our ankles to soften the concussion of the ground, and it absorbs through our muscles. All right.

Renee (05:13)
If you picture a horse going over a jump, when they land on those front legs, they don’t bend them. If they bend them, they would collapse and fall down. Instead, they keep them straight. Don’t you think that’s weird? It’s super different from us.

Renee (05:30)
Okay, now I’m going to explain more on that and then hopefully connect all the dots. One interesting thing then, about the hind end in the horse is when they are moving and they have all this power, and do you know they can run 40 miles an hour? That’s so fast. So they got all this power from the hind end, and it has to be converted to this push off to go forward. And all that power goes from the hind end through the sacral iliac joints to make it go forward horizontally.

Renee (06:09)
Okay? Yay. We’ve got this huge push off on the hind end, and then guess what happens? The front leg, it extends all the way out. I’m sure you guys can picture that.

Renee (06:21)
And then, you know what it locks. The whole leg locks straight via the stay apparatus. How do I know this? Well, I’ll tell you. The racing industry actually did extensive tests a long while back because they put electrodes on horses to see what muscles were firing and how the horse pulled, because it’s still thought, it was basically thought the horse pulls on a racetrack and that’s how they go so fast.

Renee (06:50)
They pull with their front legs. And so the racing industry wanted to know. Well, great. They pull. What’s the best shoes to put on to facilitate this pulling?

Renee (06:59)
It turns out they don’t pull at all. Instead, they’re more like a pole vaulter. They use their front legs as poles. It’s crazy. So they’re pushing hard with their hind, and that power goes through the sacraliac joints.

Renee (07:16)
And then that front leg extends, and the horse click turns on the stay apparatus. That’s an apparatus of primarily ligaments and tendons and fascia. And when it turns it on, that whole leg locks into stay position. They couldn’t have called it the stay still apparatus. It’s sort of like that.

Renee (07:40)
So the leg locks and then the leg lands on the ground. When that leg locks and lands on the ground, did you know there are no muscles turned on at all? They prove that it’s pretty sweet. So while all those muscles are turned off and the horse is in a stay still position with the leg, the rest of the horse’s body is pole vaulting over that leg. As soon as the leg goes past vertical, the horse basically is passing over its own leg.

Renee (08:18)
Then the muscles turn back on, and the horse is picking up the leg and then using muscles to bring it forward. But as soon as it goes to that full extension again, there’s actually this little microscopic flip of the toe, and then it locks all in place, and it’s absolutely still with no muscles. Turns into a pull, lands on the ground, the horse’s weight transfers over that leg, muscles turn on again, and the leg picks up over and over again. Super cool. There is no pulling with the front leg.

Renee (08:54)
So that’s the whole progression of the horse’s gait. Whether that whatever movement that is, jumping, barrel, racing, dressage, it doesn’t matter. This is how it’s supposed to work. So you can see then if we were to jump from a height of a couple steps, and instead of bending all of our joints and absorbing that concussion, we kept every joint in our body straight. Oh, my gosh.

Renee (09:22)
Ow. Right, okay. Just. You could try it and let me know how much that hurt. It does hurt.

Renee (09:27)
It’s so jarring. It’s all that concussion. Ow, ow, ow. Through all of our joints, we mostly notice that ankles, hips, knees.

Renee (09:37)
Okay, so if the horse’s stay apparatus is not working, then the horse has to function in a way that uses so much more effort, and it’s not good enough effort, and way more concussion hits the joints in the front leg, particularly the coffin joint.

Renee (10:01)
So, in order to have perfectly smooth, flowing collection and avoidance of all the concussion, we can, we need the sacraliacs joints perfectly functioning and the stay apparatus perfectly functioning.

Renee (10:22)
If we don’t have that functioning, either one of those, then there’s way too much weight, way too much concussion on the front legs, in the coffin joints. Tada. Okay, I hope that made some kind of sense. You may be wondering, what’s the shoulder have to do with this? Again?

Renee (10:42)
Okay. With the stay apparatus, there’s three main things that are kind of like fulcrums for the whole stay apparatus, primarily the shoulder, and then also the accessory carpal bone and the sesame. Okay, you can do a shoulder checkup. I’m going to link to a shoulder checkup so you guys can see a video, but it’s pretty simple. You just pick your horse’s leg up and hold it nice and relaxed.

Renee (11:14)
Don’t make it up too high, just so they’re relaxed and you’re holding it. And then you put your other hand on the shoulder, just above the point of the shoulder. So technically, you’re on the scapula. And then you try to push the shoulder gently back towards the tail. This shoulder should be available and able to move a couple inches at least back towards the shoulder.

Renee (11:42)
That’s it. If you put your hand on the shoulder and it’s just like moving a mountain, a rock, nothing will give or move. Then your shoulder is technically misaligned. As soon as that shoulder is misaligned, you lose the full capabilities of the stay apparatus, which means you have more concussion in your coffin joint. Every single horse I’ve ever checked who’s had their coffin joint done, and with legitimate reason, they really needed it, not just because they’re maintenance, whoever really needed that.

Renee (12:18)
Also, if they had their coffin joint injected for legit reasons, then the stay apparatus wasn’t working and the shoulders misaligned every time. So if you’d like to avoid that, let’s get to work on aligning the shoulders. Similarly, same thing if the horses also almost always have sacral iliac issues if they need their coffin joints done, because none of the weight is transferring right, instead of they say about two thirds of the horse’s weight is on the front end and about a third is on the hind end. If the sacraliacs aren’t working right, there’s even more weight on the front end. Again, too much pressure on the coffin joints.

Renee (13:13)
All right, so those are a couple different things to think about for coffin joints. Really, I just love you guys to keep thinking that if your horse has any kind of problem, whether it’s physical or performance or behavior, I really love you to think about. Well, why is it having this problem? So, for the coffin joints, okay, yeah, maybe there’s a coffin joint problem, but why is it the trimming? Is it the shoes?

Renee (13:46)
Is it the shoulder? Is it stay apparatus? Sacraliacs? There’s a lot of different possibilities. So if you guys take a look at the shoulder checkup, you know what?

Renee (13:57)
I’ll also put the sacred iliac checkup link to the video. They’re all pretty straightforward once you get the hang of them. I mean, frankly, I recommend checking several horses, not just yours, because there’s a range of normal and you want to see normal. And if your horse is, perchance, totally locked up, how are you going to know what normal feels like? So I do recommend checking lots of horses with these.

Renee (14:22)
Your friends will think you’re weird, but it’ll be fun. Okay, so I think that is it for today. And again, I just want to say thank you so much for your comments sharing and your suggestions on different podcasts to do. All right, I’ll talk to you guys later. Thanks again.

Renee (14:38)

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4 Comments on “Podcast Episode 40: Lamenesses that hide–coffin joints”

  1. Thank you! I did the Suspensory course so have been doing the checks for the stay apparatus. I think there’s something wrong with the link above for the sacroiliac video, I just got an error.
    I’ve had my endurance horse’s coffin joints injected twice, which he really did need. What I think was going on with him is that his undiagnosed hock arthritis (evidence was there at age 6, and I wanted his cunean tendons cut but no one does that anymore) caused him to unweight his hocks and go on the forehand. We’re doing lots of things to help his hocks, including injecting since I haven’t found a way around that and since we’re keeping his hocks comfortable, he hasn’t needed the coffin joints done again which makes me happy. Still hoping for a magic bullet on the hocks, but both body worker and chiro have got his body in great shape.

    1. Glad to hear you’re doing your best for your endurance horse. Thanks for the link info, we’ll check it out. :)

  2. Hi I love your podcasts thank you. What about the pastern I thought that absorbed the shock and have seen photos of it almost touching the ground when a horse jumps.

    1. Sure, the pastern is a part of the stay apparatus. And really all the joints of the leg absorb shock, plus the digital cushion of the horse. Just trying to keep it simple. Thanks for listening. :)

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