Many horse owners are aware that horses have chestnuts. Not as many of them, however, know that horses also have ergots on their legs. What are chestnuts and ergots? Why do horses have them? We’ll answer both of those questions and more in this post.
What is a Chestnut on a Horse?
A chestnut often referred to as a “night eye,” is actually a good-size callus. When present on a foreleg, you’ll find a chestnut on the inner side of the foreleg, situated a little above the knee. If present on a hind leg, you can expect to see a chestnut below the hock. Not all horses have chestnuts, leading to questions as to why some do, and some do not.
While there is yet to emerge a definitive reason why some horses have chestnuts and some do not, some believe them to be an evolutionary holdover from ancient horses, and, if that is so, they may cease to exist altogether at some point in the future. Currently, these dry-layer tissue growths are simply cosmetic concerns and cause no harm to your horse.
Chestnuts can present in various sizes and shapes, causing some to liken them to human fingerprints.
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What is an Ergot on a Horse?
Related to a chestnut, ergot is a somewhat smaller pea-sized callusy growth situated on the underside of the back of a horse’s fetlocks. Not all horses will have ergots on all four fetlocks. Some breeds are more apt to present more prominent ergots. On the other hand, some horses will have hardly any ergot growth at all. Interestingly, ergots do seem more common on horses with feathers.
Fun Fact: The term “ergot” derives from the old French word for the spur of a rooster—an “argot.”
Trimming Chestnuts on Horses
Chestnuts continue to grow over time, sticking out further and further from the leg. For show horse owners, grooming often includes trimming or peeling the outermost layers of the chestnut to present a more aesthetically pleasing appearance on the leg. To make the process easier, chestnuts can first be softened with a moisturizer, petroleum jelly, or even baby oil. That said, if you simply leave the chestnut alone, it will eventually peel on its own.
Chestnuts and ergots will often grow back. If you opt to have them trimmed, you may want to consider that part of your regular horse grooming routine. To be clear, chestnuts and ergots are both cosmetic concerns and have no ill effects on a horse’s health or performance.
To wrap up, here are the most important aspect of chestnuts and ergots to keep in mind:
- Chestnuts are located on the interior foreleg above the knee and below the hock on the hind leg.
- Ergots are located on the back of the fetlocks.
- Chestnuts and ergots are both callous growth and comprised of the same type of tissue.
- Neither chestnuts nor ergots cause your horse discomfort or any type of health and/or performance issues.
- You can remove chestnuts and ergots, but you don’t really need to. If you opt to, however, it’s best to soften them with some kind of moisturizer first, then peel them by hand the next day.
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