It seems to be a common, and to me upsetting, theme that if a horse breaks its leg it gets put down but this doesn't hold true for some other animals. For example, if a dog or cat breaks its leg the same outcome isn't applied. Indeed, I've seen many healthy dogs and cats with just three legs (although likely not caused by a broken leg).

Is there something specific to the anatomy of a horse that means it is difficult to repair a broken leg in comparison to other animals? Perhaps height or weight related?

I'll note here that it seems a lot of broken legs are caused by horse racing but I'm not looking to debate the morality of horse racing in this post.


3 Answers 3


As this source writes, there are some main issues, that horse's legs make special in cases of broken legs:

  • The leg bones are small in relation to the horse's body weight
  • Under the knee (which is not the knee in anatomical sense, but everybody think about this as knee) there is nearly no tissue to give the bone some stability (even with a cast around, this is not enough)
  • Running and movement is a horse's life, so you could not pressure it to rest enough time to heal the bone
  • Additionally, everyone with a horse could tell you about risks in health for a horse caused only by staying/not be moved enough time, so we talk about secondary damage, caused by treating the broken leg
  • Horse's movement puts a lots of stress to the bone, and breaking means in this most time splintering too, which complicates the treatment in general

But like every field of science, treating broken legs in horses develop, and today there is treatment in more cases possible than 50 years ago. There are people who work on new methods. But like everywhere new methods are mostly expensive, and owners will decide by their conscience if the material/immaterial win makes it a good deal for them. (In race business the horse has no value anymore, because even with a former broken healed bone it could not run races anymore...)

  • 4
    This is a great answer, but I guess there is a little more: It is not cost effective. Some owners might be attached to their horses but they generally like to ride them, which is hard to do when the horse has broken a leg. A cat would be a perfect cat with a broken, or even amputated leg, a dog would be a perfect dog likewise unless he is used for hunting. But a horse would be of no good and quite expensive to take care with a broken foot.
    – ck1987pd
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 22:40
  • Even if the horse's leg can't be fixed, why not just amputate and put it out to pasture? A three-legged horse might not be able to be ridden, but you could still probably put it out to stud, right?
    – nick012000
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 5:10
  • @nick012000 horse breeding is an extremely specialized field. Only if the horse's family tree is certified and the horse has extremely valuable assets (strong desirable characteristics of the breed) can the income from breeding be profitable enough to offset costs for feed and care. Most horses break their legs while working (pulling weights or being ridden) and cannot do their job even after healing the fracture, which makes their care unprofitable.
    – Elmy
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 6:03
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    @nick012000 in Germany there are some organizations, that give "Gnadenbrot" for former working animals. The organization lives of donations and the animals do not need to work anymore in the traditional sense (because of age or health state). Some attract visitors, or you can book them for medieval or Christmas markets. It depends on the philosophy of the organization. Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 8:28
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    Actually, I googled the question about amputating legs on horses, and found this article about how people have done it. equinewobblers.com/other_surgeries/Amputation.html It sounds like the down side is that you have to take the prosthetic off regularly, and to do that you need to put the horse in a sling. Probably a lot of horses wouldn't tolerate that.
    – Kai
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 6:50

A horse with a broken leg is usually put down because it’s very difficult for the broken leg of a horse to heal correctly. Because the blood circulation in a horse is dependent on its hooves, keeping a horse still, besides beeing very difficult, for a long period of time in order for its bone to heal is a huge risk to its life.

The cost of fixing the broken bone of a horse leg is considerably high. Therefore, unless it’s a very, very special and expensive horse, people tend to refrain from spending a lot on treating a horse’s leg, whose chances of complete recovery are pretty slim even with treatment.


In addition to the given answers, healing a horse's broken leg is usually combined with hanging the horse off the ceiling in a sling, so it is forced to rest its feet. This measurement would need to be done over roughly half a year, and many horses would pass away with a colic due to this. Also, amputation as mentioned below is questionable; horses live in groups and an amputated leg rather speaks against living in a group. There are some broken bones, that actually are fixable, but for most bones in the horse's leg, it's very hard even more so if have arthrosis on the 'healthy feet'.

The problem is, that the horse's metabolism is negatively effected and the horse experiences immense stress. Costs are also very high (starting from high 5-digits numbers [Euro, dollar], depending on the case), and as a result, many horse owners could simply not afford this treatment, which additionally does not promise good outcomes. I am not even talking about whether the horse could be 'ridden' again [I would not care too much for that], I only argument from the horse's perspective there.

Horses tend to solve problems with moving forward, even when in pain. As a result, they would even unnecessarily tear off their feet even if thinking hard and doing a cautious movement to free the limb would have left the horse unharmed. Do not underestimate the nature of a horse, this plays highly against treatment in the case of broken legs :/

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