Equine Ringbone

Do You Have a Lame Horse?

Ringbone is a bony growth at the hoof area on a horse.

Learn about ringbone in horses.  Discover what causes ringbone.  Find out how to tell if your horse has ringbone.  There is a difference between high ringbone and low ringbone in horses.  What to do to lessen the chances of ringbone.


X-Ray of both High and Low Equine Ringbone

The cause(s) of Ringbone

The actual name for ringbone is phalangeal exostosis. Phlalangeal exostosis (ringbone) refers to a bony growth condition on any part of the pastern area of the horse. Phalangeal is the pastern and coffin bones, the area from the fetlock down, and exostosis is the growing of bony deposits at or near the pastern and coffin joints.

When exostosis occurs, the “chemistry” of the horse “grows” calcium and phosphorus deposits at an afflicted area of its body. The horse will do this to strengthen an injured or weakened area. The lower bones and joints of the horse (usually the front legs are the afflicted ones because a horse carries most of its weight on the forefront) can be injured or stressed due to trauma such as a hard blow, stumbling on rocks or getting kicked. Other possible causes can be concussion when moving due to conformation defects such as non-correct pasterns (short and steep pasterns), prolonged shoeing or trimming out-of-balance, and severe toed-in or toed-out conformations. It is also possible for vitamin and mineral deficiencies to play a role in ringbone.

Not all horses are lame when ringbone is present. Each case is different, depending on the location of the ringbone and the amount of bony growth. Usually, there is inflammation and increased circulation near the afflicted area.


A Better Understanding on Why Ringbone Occurs

The bones in a horse are surrounded and protected by a fibrous sheath called the periosteum. For simplicity, this will be referred to as the “bone-skin”. If for some reason this bone-skin becomes bruised, torn, ripped, irritated, or fractured, then the chemistry of the horse attempts to repair the “injured” bone-skin. The horse repairs the injured bone-skin by secreting a calcium and phosphorus deposit in that injured area. The above mentioned inflammation and corresponding increased blood circulation at the inflamed area hastens the depositing of the bony growth.

Ringbone is usually visually identified as a hard lump on the lower leg, near the hoof.

Imagine a horse running through a meadow, ducking and dodging through the small brush and sporadic baseball to laundry basket sized boulders lying about. The horse, weighing about one thousand pounds with an additional rider and saddle weight of two hundred pounds, exerts all this forward motion weight on one foot (depending on the gait), as well as the other bones and structures within the leg, at every stride. On level, soft ground, being trimmed properly and full of the “right” nutrition, as well as having correct conformation, this horse-running activity is amazing. Think of it this way, over twelve hundred pounds pounding downwards (over and over), exerting all this pressure on a hinged apparatus about the size of your ankle. Place your hand around your ankle, right above the ankle bones, to feel the approximate size of the pastern joints of a horse. Now, go back to the image of the horse and rider racing through the meadow. Trauma, movement concussions and pressures, uneven terrain, etc . . . can all lead to bone-skin breakdown, a horse becoming “sore”, and before long the body repairing the damage.

After the horse seems “off”, he may appear sore, tender to the touch, or even limping at the initial trauma time. Or the onset of ringbone may be the conformation issue or the improper shoeing or trimming. The actual bony growth does not happen instantly, the growth may be compared to cut skin and the underlying tissue that heals and leaves a raised scar. It takes time to heal. It is good to “know your horse”, meaning watch and see how he moves and feels on a daily basis, therefore you will know right away at the first indicators that he is off, oftentimes the initial stages of a lame horse.

High Ringbone

High ringbone and low ringbone are both a bony growth condition in the pastern area of the horse. The difference is the location. High Ringbone is located in the area above where the hoof meets the hairline at the lower part of the leg. High ringbone occurs between the long pastern bone and the short pastern bone. It can be seen as a raised lump and it is hard to the touch.

Low Ringbone

Low ringbone is sometimes located where it can be seen, however it also may be in a location that is within the actual hoof structure. This makes it more difficult to visually identify low ringbone. Low ringbone in horses occurs between the low pastern bone and the coffin bone.

What Can Be Done About Equine Ringbone

After damage occurs, or ongoing damage reoccurs, such as bad conformation, poor nutrition, or improper hoof care, sometimes a veterinarian or a knowledgeable horseshoer (farrier) may prescribe a certain type of shoe to help with soundness issues. By using the “know your horse” principle, when he is acting sore or you are concerned, it may be prudent to contact an expert, the vet or the farrier. Most veterinarians have the ability to x-ray the foot area to determine if high or low ringbone exists.

If you are purchasing a horse, a pre-purchase exam by a vet is certainly a worthwhile investment. Not only can the vet determine the overall condition of the horse, the vet can perform certain tests to determine it the horse is sound. The vet will also observe how the horse travels and carries himself. The vet can also “see” things that are not noticeable to the untrained eye, such as a small hard bump at the hoof area that may be low or high ringbone.

During the depositing process and when bony growth ridges are easily identified, most always the horse will be lame, especially while working. It makes sense that the horse will limp when the growth rubs against other parts during movement. Sometimes, ankylosis occurs naturally, and often this may improve soundness. Ankylosis means fusing of a joint. This fusing of bones can also be accomplished surgically. If you suspect ringbone, ask your vet for a proper diagnosis and what he recommends for treatment. Also ask about the long term effects of ringbone.

In summary, follow these steps to lessen the chances of encountering ringbone in horses:

· When purchasing a horse, consider a pre-purchase exam.

· Use the “know your horse” principle.

· Practice proper shoeing and trimming procedures for your horse, this will keep your horse “in balance”.

· Own and breed structurally sound horses, severe toed-in or toed-out horses are more prone to ringbone.

· Know the nutritional requirements of horses, and feed the right amounts of feed.

· Be observant to the terrain and the condition of the horse to not cause undue stress on joints.

Comments 1 comment

greatpyr123 profile image

greatpyr123 5 years ago

I have always heard about this condition, yet never known much about it. Thanks for enlightening me!

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