Causes of windgalls
Windgalls are the result of irritation of the joint surfaces or joint capsules, causing excessive production and reduced absorption of synovial fluid.
The following are examples of contributing factors to windgalls in horses:
- Overworking a young or heavy horse, particularly on hard surfaces.
- Heavy breed types, like cobs, are more susceptible to windgalls, as are the smaller horses with heavy bodies and short legs.
- Nutritional deficiencies in young horses can cause or contribute to windgalls, especially mineral deficiencies.
- Poor conformation – horses with short, upright pasterns are prone to windgalls when excessive concussive force has to be endured by the horse’s legs.
- Improper trimming or shoeing of the horse’s hoof.
- Severe concussion to the fetlock joint – prolonged hard exercises like galloping and jumping are commonly associated with their formation.
- Articular cartilage in the joint being injured as in an acute injury or prolonged degenerative joint disease.
- Fetlock joint trauma – slips, trips and falls can sprain the fetlock joint, leading to the development of windgalls.
Factors affecting the size of the windgall
Many ‘normal’ horses in work will have slight windgalls, especially in the hind legs. The amount of swelling varies according to the temperature, being less obvious in cold weather and more filled with fluid in warm weather. Hence many owners only notice the presence of windgalls in the warmer months, believing them to have developed acutely, whereas in reality, they have probably been present for some time.
The size of the windgall is also influenced by exercise. Work typically causes some reduction in swelling as the fluid redistributes, whereas prolonged periods of standing such as box rest can result in an increased collection of fluid and an enlarged swelling developing.
WARNING: Do not apply stable bandages in an attempt to compress windgalls. Most windgalls are only of concern cosmetically, while tight stable bandages can cause damage to the soft tissues in the leg and thus result in long-term damage to important structures. Stable bandaging may help in redistributing the fluid, but the goal of the bandaging must not be to ‘flatten’ the swelling.