Q: My 7-year-old gelding’s joints occasionally make clicking noises. The sounds seem to come from his knees and don’t have a pattern, as far as I can tell. Sometimes they start as we warm up, other times it’s later in a ride. My horse is sound and doesn’t have any signs of arthritis. Does this noise mean his joints are “tight” or otherwise compromised? Should I be doing anything about this noise?
A: In the absence of other clinical signs, joint noises are not anything to worry about. Popping noises can occur when nitrogen gas bubbles in joint spaces are released as the joint is stretched. The sound may also be produced when tendons or ligaments slide over other structures. Joint popping may increase as a horse ages.
Another potential source of noise heard while riding is interference, such as forging (when the hind hoof contacts the front hoof). The metallic clicking sound produced by forging is distinct from the popping of a joint, however, and will often occur rhythmically at a particular phase of a horse’s gait. If you suspect your horse is forging, ask your veterinarian to investigate. Your horse may benefit from an adjustment in his hoof trims and shoes or from boots or other protective gear.
Going back to your original questions: Joint noises alone do not indicate a problem with a joint, but if your horse develops other signs of trouble, such as lameness or swelling, then an examination by your veterinarian is warranted.
Kelly Giunta VMD, DACVSMR
Blue Ridge Equine Clinic