WARNING - Dissection images below the break, click at your own risk!
Today we’re going to chat about the ridden equine elbow! The lovely dissection images are provided by Anita Miles from the joint surfaces of an elbow of a Dressage horse. This horse showed bad behavioral issues, and the vet suspected hock or fetlock issues, and even injected these joints, but upon post-Mortem examination those joints proved to be completely “clean”, meaning healthy and free of defect.
He does, however, have heavy wear in the elbow. In a healthy joint, the surfaces you see would be entirely whole. Instead, we can see that both surfaces of the joint have experienced lots of wear. That alone indicates the horse may have been ridden excessively on the forehand given that his hocks were free of issue. The location of the wear actually tells us even more - on the surface of the radius (Photo 3) the wear is farther to the BACK of the joint. In a horse who is traveling properly, this should show about even across the entire joint. However, this wear indicates that the horse was ridden heavily on the forehand. As you can see in Photo 2, riding or working on the forehand in the trot causes the horse to leave the ground last with one of his forefeet. That leg stays way back under the body, and for a time bears all of the downward forces of the horse. When the elbow is at maximum extension like this, that concentrates those forces into the back of the elbow joint - compressing it and eventually causing wear.
Unfortunately I do not have pictures or video of this horse working (I wish I did!), but I do think it is a fascinating case study on an injury we do rarely consider, but is likely more common than we realize. Did you realize riding on the forehand can cause elbow wear like this? Comment below!