The hocks are the joints most responsible for the forward motion of the horse. The hocks work in conjunction with the stifles. When the horse flexes the stifle, the hock automatically flexes. When the hock is straightened, the stifle automatically straightens.
There are two muscles responsible for these actions: the gastricnemius and the flexor metatarsi. The gastricnemius is a short muscle which works to straighten the hock. It is not always easy to massage, as it is tendonous and hard to reach , but I always include it in every massage session. The flexor metatarsi flexes the hock. This muscle is impossible to isolate in massage, but benefits when other leg muscles are worked, such as the quadriceps
If a horse standing still with both front feet planted on the ground, it is impossible to move until one of the hocks flexes and weight is moved to the hind feet. This the only way the elbow of the front leg can unlock and be free to move. This basic law influences every gait and jump.
Movement in every 4 legged animal is dependent on perfect synchronization of the front and hind legs. The weight has to be transferred at a very quick rate back and forth. Add the difficulty of carrying a rider, and the rigidness of the spine, and it’s amazing that any horse sport exists.
The horse has a heavy body compared to other 4 leggeds like dogs and cats, and is supported by just 1 toe at each corner. Deer, dogs, and cats have flexible spines. But the horse is like a missile with just its 4 legs to steer, brake, and propel it.
When standing, does your horse stand square, or do his hind legs appear to be trailing out behind? When trotting or cantering, does your horse feel strung out? The cause could be that the pelvis has rotated. This can happen when a horse jumps a jump that is too big for his fitness level. Also, if the horse lands with his feet out behind and the rider sits down hard at the same time, the pelvis can be shoved into a position that causes pain in the stifle, hocks, croup, lower back, and even the withers. Myofascial release and stress point therapy can reverse this condition. Hand walking down a steep hill will encourage the horse to maintain the position after it is corrected. It may be necessary to include chiropractic treatment if the condition is severe.
During pregnancy, the cartilage of the pelvis softens and stretches to allow the foal to pass through. It takes several months after foaling for the pelvis and the muscles connected to it (psoas,adductor) to regain stability. During that time, injury to the pelvic area can happen very easily, especially when spring rains make the ground slippery. If your mare is standing wide behind, if she has little action in the hocks when trotting, if she has difficulty picking up the canter, she may need an adjustment of the pelvic area. Myofascial release and massage can reverse the condition, but rest will be needed. Recovery will take some time.
In the last post (see January 5th) I discussed the origin of this long muscle. Now I’d like to talk about the belly of the biceps femoris. When this muscle (which actually has three segments side by side) becomes hard and unyielding, and the horse is taking shorter strides, and scuffing with the hind legs, sports massage may be needed. (If there is unusual heat, there could be a tear, in which case massage should not be performed. In that case, I would use my cold laser.) When massage is done properly, you will notice the hock and stifle will have increased flexion. In the photo the red arrows show the belly of the biceps femoris.