Wind puffs are roughly golf-ball sized collections of fluid found in the area of the fetlock joint. They may be on either front or hind legs. Their significance depends to a great degree on exactly where they’re located.
True wind puffs are outpouchings of the joint capsule of the fetlock joint.
If you follow the splint bone and the back edge of the cannon bone down toward the ankle, true wind puffs will be located under the end of the splint, above the sesamoid bones, between the flexor tendons and the cannon bone. They’re called wind puffs because they are likely to show up after the horse has been worked hard and fast.
Increased joint fluid is produced in response to an irritation of some type. It may be just an irritation of the lining of the joint (synovitis) or in response to a chip or cartilage damage. Even if the horse ”only” has synovitis, this inflammation changes the joint fluid and can interfere with the nutrition of the cartilage.
False wind puffs are fluid collections in the sheath of the flexor tendons. It occurs directly overlying the flexor tendons. They occur at approximately the same level as true wind puffs, but behind the location of true wind puffs. To be sure which it is, just run your fingers down the flexor tendons until you reach the level of swelling.
They may be caused by strain to the tendons themselves, or by injury/inflammation to the annular ligament, a band of connective tissue that encircles the fetlock joint. If the annular ligament is inflamed or thickened, it can cause a backup of fluid in the tendon sheaths above it.
Action Plan. True wind puffs, because they involve a joint that takes a lot of punishment, are considered a more serious problem. Reduced work load and local treatments such as ice or cold water should be used to try to quiet any inflammation. If the swelling does not recede or returns again when work resumes, your veterinarian should examine the horse, even if there is no lameness.
Minor tendon sprain/strain causing some false wind puffs is a fairly common finding in horses that work hard. However, while it is not always serious, it should not be ignored. Like true wind puffs, it is a sign of tissue stress. If hosing and wrapping don’t help the wind puff, a veterinary visit is in order to rule out more serious problems.