Cunean Tenectomy

A simple procedure could be the answer to your horse's hock pain.

I was having a pre-purchase examination done on “Badger,” a cutting horse that my husband and I were interested in buying. The veterinarian said that the horse was experiencing hock pain, not uncommon in horses that use their hocks in competitive situations that require quick turns or jumping. That description applies to many English and western events.

The vet said that the pain could be managed easily with anti-inflammatories and/or injections of coricosteroids. But there was something else that she offered that is a more permanent solution: a cunean tenectomy.

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This surgery is done on one or both hocks and is performed with the horse standing, using sedation and a local anesthetic. I was interested but unsure since I had never heard of this procedure. The veterinarian assured me that the procedure has been done for decades with good and immediate results. This surgery would decrease the need for repeated injections or “pain killers.”

Here’s the technical part: The hock has four joints. The lower three joints do not have much motion and act as shock absorbers when the horse is running or working off the hock. The bones are connected by an intricate system of tiny ligaments inside the hock joint, which is encased in the joint capsule. The tendons of various muscles run beside or attach to the hock from the outside and one, the cunean, crosses the front of the hock, with a large bursa located underneath this tendon.

Hock pain can originate from a problem in any of the structures described above. Anything that requires exaggerated flexion and/or weight-bearing on the hindquarters stresses the hocks, including some conformational faults.

It looked like Badger was a candidate for a cunean tenectomy. The vet described the procedure. A small incision is made on the inside of the leg at the hock, and the cunean tendon is pulled out through the incision. A portion of the cunean tendon is cut which releases tension and pressure on the hock “infrastructure,” making the horse more comfortable. A few stitches and some bandages, and the horse is ready to go home. Stall rest is recommended with a slow return to work a few weeks later. Different research sources gave different recovery times.

Frequently, both hocks are involved, and the surgery is performed customarily on both hocks at the same time. The cost for this surgery is $250-$300 for doing both hocks, depending on the veterinarian. The cost was more reasonable than I expected. After purchasing Badger, I made an appointment for the surgery.

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I watched as he was sedated, given a local anesthetic, and then a small 3/4-inch incision was made, the tendon pulled out and clipped, and our new horse immediately cocked his leg in a relaxed manner. I was amazed at how quickly it appeared that he felt relief. The recovery was quick, and he has been performing even better than before.

I have had this surgery performed on two other horses since then with excellent results.

Basic Tip: Your veterinarian can give you more information on this surgery and whether your horse is a good candidate. This article simplifies a complex part of the horse and does not suggest that a cunean tenectomy is the right solution for all hock pain.

Based in Colorado, Gerrie Barnes is an AQHA Professional Horsewoman, professional educator, Certified Horsemanship Association-certified riding instructor and certified community college instructor in equine studies.

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