Why Can’t a Horse Live With Three Legs or Fix a Broken One?

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

After the horse’s leg was broken during a race, my friend had to put it down. My grandson loved the horse, which we knew well. He asked immediately why they didn’t fix the broken leg or allow the horse to live on three legs.

Horses cannot live on three legs. Their massive weight must be evenly distributed over four legs. They can’t even get up from a seated position. Horses who lose a leg can suffer a variety of health issues, some even fatal. Most leg injuries can’t be repaired sufficiently to support a horse’s weight.

If you have horses, or have been around horses often, you will likely notice that they tend to put their weight on three legs when they are relaxed. Is this proof that they can live on three legs? I don’t think so.

Three-legged horses face difficulties

Horses cannot survive on three legs. They can relax and shift their weight onto three legs, but they often shift their weight onto the fourth leg and then use that to carry some of their burden.

They could do the maneuver without a fourth foot. Their weight is too much of an obstacle. Horses with three legs must overcome insurmountable obstacles to survive.

To rise, horses need four legs

Three-legged horses that fall or lie down on their backs can’t get up. Horses who can’t get up on their own can cause serious injury and even death.

Why Can’t a Horse Live With Three Legs

Even with your assistance, it is unlikely that the horse will rise because an average-sized horse weights more than 1,000 pounds. A machine or mechanical device, such as a wench, would allow a horse to stand on three legs.

Horses who lie down for prolonged periods of time can develop health problems.

These large animals must stand regularly due to their enormous size. Horses who are too long on the ground can cause blood loss, nerve damage and muscle weakness.

The blood flow is limited

Horses lying down can restrict their blood flow. This restricts blood flow, which can cause damage to organs and cells.

A reduction in blood supply can cause a shortage of oxygen, which is necessary to keep tissues alive. Organ damage and tissue death can lead to the death of an animal.

After blood flow and oxygen have been restored, cells and organs can be damaged. This is reperfusion injuries.

Nerves and muscles are affected.

Horses that are left to lie for long periods of time can also have negative effects on their muscles and nerves. Horses undergoing surgery should be aware of this. To avoid injury from compression, horses that have been sedated for long periods of time must be moved.

When a horse is prone, its bodyweight crushes nerves, muscles, and other parts of its underside. Horses with three legs could spend too much time on their backs to survive.

Lungs can be adversely affected.

Horses who lie for long periods of time can crush their nerves and muscles. Blood that should be circulating throughout their bodies also begins to pool.

Blood flows to the most accessible and lowest places to travel, which is often the closest to the ground. Horses with three legs will have poor quality of life and most likely die from a slow, painful death.

The remaining legs are affected.

Horses often rest on their three legs, but they also alternate between the two. Horses with only three legs are often under unusual burden and don’t get much rest.

Horses that lose one leg could damage the rest of their legs as they are able to carry the entire animal’s weight. The rest of the legs can be affected by circulatory problems, laminitis and joint diseases.

Horse prosthetic legs

Horses have had to be fitted with prosthetic legs on rare occasions. A pony called “Molly”, who lost her leg in a dog attack after Hurricane Katrina, was one such case.

She was an outstanding pony, with the right temperament, size, injury location, and temperament for the prosthesis. This is not a common occurrence, but Molly does show that artificial limbs are possible for horses with three legs.

Carbon graphite or titanium are the most common materials used to make prosthetic limbs for horses. They are expensive and can only be used in very limited circumstances, as you can probably guess.https://www.youtube.com/embed/DkeLgXocwas?feature=oembed

A broken leg is difficult to repair

Simple bone fractures can be treated with surgery or rest. Horses with severe fractures can be difficult to treat because of the difficulty in keeping horses still during surgery, infection, and weight recovery.


Horses who break their legs must keep their weight down and stabilize the injured limb. This is very difficult. For the reasons mentioned above, horses can’t lie down for long periods of time because their instinct is to move.

Horses are prey animals that have survived the centuries due to their instinctive movement. It is hard to keep horses immobile. Many horses will refuse to move and may even injure themselves.

Laminitis is another problem that horses face when they can’t move. The founder is an inflammation of the tissue connecting the foot’s coffin bone and the hoof wall. Laminitis can be extremely painful and cause instability.

Advanced cases of laminitis can cause the coffin bone to break and rotate within the hoof wall. This condition is often fatal.


Dirt can often cause bacterial infections. When the broken leg bone protrudes from the skin, it is called a compound fracture.

Horses suffering from compound fractures will usually be put to sleep. Broken bones can cause infection even if they are not compound fractures.

Is it necessary to kill a horse when it breaks its leg?

Although not every horse needs to be killed if it breaks its leg or has to be euthanized, most must. Horses are often killed when they break a bone in a limb. This is because they have little chance of recovering and they suffer severe pain.

Horses with broken legs have poor chances of healing due to the anatomical structure of horses’ legs. It is also almost impossible to keep a horse immobilized long enough to allow its leg to heal.

Broken legs cause suffering.

Horses that break a leg are in severe pain during injury and recovery. Although drugs can provide some relief, too many pain-relieving medications could cause the horse to injure himself again.

It is important to administer pain-relieving medication with care so that the horse doesn’t become too dependent on them. When deciding whether surgery is an option, it is important to consider the horse’s pain tolerance.

Common injuries to horses’ legs

Horses’ lower limbs are the most likely to be fractured. Horses’ lower legs have a smaller width than their weight. The bone can sometimes crack or break if a horse falls, takes a tumble, or takes a bad step.

The pedal bone.

Horses often break their pedal bones by landing on uneven surfaces or kicking against a wall. Most horses recover from a broken pedal bone, but it is possible to heal them.https://068dcae9454967145657cfd6fb6b06ea.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

A surgical screw may be required to heal any injuries that occur when the pedal bone breaks also involve the coffin joint.

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Pastern bone

The pastern bone is located directly above the horses’ hoof and below their fetlock. It consists of two bones, the short and long pasterns. They are linked by ligaments.

With proper care, a horse can heal from a non-displaced fracture of its pastern. Wraps and stall rest are common treatments for pastern fractures. However, surgical screws are often used.

Although most horses can make a complete recovery from simple fractures, it is difficult to predict the outcome for more complex fractures. Most horses survive, but they don’t go back to competition.

Sesamoid bone

Horses can suffer from sesamoid fractures. Sesamoid bones are small bones located at the rear end of the fetlock. It is crucial to determine the location of the break in order to determine the likelihood of recovery.

Surgery is possible if the fracture is at the top. However, it is not likely that the horse will recover if the fracture is in the middle of the bone or is very small.

Cannon bones

The cannon bone lies between the fetlock and animals’ knee. The fracture is usually found in the fetlock when a horse breaks the long bone.

These longitudinal breaks can be repaired by resting, screwing, and leg wraps. If the bone breaks horizontally, it is often not possible to predict the outcome and horses are often put down.

Carpal bone

In competitive horses, the carpal bone is located at the knee. It often breaks off small chips. You can feel these chips by rubbing your fingers on the animal’s joint. They may also be on the front or sides of the bones.

Chips that are small don’t affect the horses’ performance, but can cause joint pain and swelling. The horse can have larger chips removed surgically and given some time to heal.

Slab bone fractures of knees can also occur, and require surgical screws.


Horses cannot live with only two legs. This is due to the pressure placed on their remaining limbs and the fact that they are unable to raise themselves off the ground. While prosthetics may be an option for some horses who have lost a leg, it is rare to find the ideal canidate.

Horses that break their legs are put to sleep because they run the risk of infection and have a low chance of making a full recovery. However, some horses do come back leg fractures.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!