What are Corns?
A bruise on the sole is a traumatic injury caused by too much unbalanced pressure on certain points of the foot, such as in the case of an improper shoeing, or from the impact of treading on hard or stony ground. This bruise results in a hemorrhage, causing a red discoloration and discomfort for the horse. Some corns can open and are then susceptible to infection. The corn can occur suddenly, or form over time, and usually affects the front feet. Horses with low heels can be predisposed to the condition, and may need specialized shoes to provide adequate balance and pressure dispersal.
A corn is a bruise on a horse’s foot that forms between the layers of the sensitive and insensitive tissues on the sole of the foot. This hoof injury is common in horses, and can cause pain and temporary lameness. While treatment is available, proper shoeing and trimming of the hooves can prevent the formation of corns.
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Symptoms of Corns in Horses
Lameness is the most common symptom that can alert you that your horse is suffering from a corn. Depending on the severity, other symptoms may also be present. Symptoms can include:
- Lameness, usually in the forelimbs
- Red, or reddish yellow discoloration on the solar surface of the foot
- Pain when pressure is applied to the affected area
- Horse lands toe first to avoid pressure on heel
- Appearance of a corn, often discovered when horse is shod
- Increased strength of digital pulse in the foot
- Warm foot
Corns in horses can be dry, moist, or suppurative.
This indicates a mild bruising and hemorrhage between the sole and the sensitive tissues of the foot that thins the sole. Blood can accumulate, creating a reddish area. A red bruise may be seen if the sole is pared with a hoof knife.
This more serious bruising results in a serum accumulation in the horn of the sole, giving a wet appearance. Corns that are infected can open, releasing pus or serum.
This is a much more severely infected or abscessed corn that penetrates and develops pus underneath the sole, requiring immediate veterinary care.
Causes of Corns in Horses
Causes of corns in horses can include:
- Incorrect shoeing
- Shoes that are too short or too tight at the heels
- Shoes that fit too closely, or are too small
- Poor conformation, such as low heels, or thin or dropped soles
- Leaving a shoe on too long
- Use of heel caulks or studs, causing the heels to bear excessive weight
- Poor trimming
- Contact with irregular, hard, or stony ground
- Stones that get trapped between the foot and the shoe
- Dirt and debris that gets trapped between the sole and the shoe
Diagnosis of Corns in Horses
During the examination, your veterinarian will remove your horse’s shoes and inspect the area, determining if a dry, moist, or suppurated corn is present. Removing the shoes also stops further damage. Your veterinarian may pare away the overlying sole to see what type of corn has formed. Hoof testers may be used to locate the area of pain. Your horse’s digital pulses will be checked for any increases. The vet may also check for any warmness in the foot, indicating a pained area.
Your horse’s stride may also give the veterinarian an idea of the severity of the bruise. Lameness can sometimes be better seen on hard ground, or when the horse walks in circles or lunges. X-rays may be performed to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as pedal osteitis, navicular disease, and sidebone.
Treatment of Corns in Horses
The treatment of a corn in your horse attempts to remove pressure from the affected area, heal any infection present, and prevent any future reoccurrence through proper shoeing and trimming.
Treatment then begins by removing the shoes if it has not already been done, then trimming the wall and insensitive parts of the sole. For dry and moist corns, soaking the affected foot in Epsom salts can decrease inflammation. The corn is pared with a hoof knife. If pus is present, it will be drained. Then, a dressing is applied to prevent any further infection, or a poultice can be used if there is more fluid that needs to come out. Anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medications may be prescribed. A topical preparation may be given to harden the tissues for future shoeing. Your veterinarian may order box rest for your horse to ensure proper healing while the shoe is off.
If the corn is suppurated, the affected area may need to be opened and drained. This is done with a hoof knife to encourage ventral solar drainage, or by creating several small drainage areas at opposite sides of the corn. The holes are then washed with Epsom salts every 1 to 2 days, and an antibiotic solution can be used to draw out the infection. The sole is then bandaged until a tough epithelium, or horn, forms.
Once the infection has cleared, any hole left behind may be packed with iodine soaked swabs if needed, and bandaged until the hole heals. Keep your horse on clean and dry bedding until healed completely. Your veterinarian may administer a tetanus vaccination if your horse isn’t up to date, as this can be a common source of infection found in soil.
Recovery of Corns in Horses
Recovery of a corn is good with proper treatment. If your horse suffers from chronic corns, then continual monitoring and adjustments may be needed to keep the bruising at bay. Your veterinarian may send home medications or a treatment plan to ensure a speedy recovery and prevent further infection in your horse’s foot. Proper shoeing and trimming techniques are necessary to prevent future occurrences of a corn in your horse.
Once your horse is ready to be reshod, be sure to use a qualified farrier who is familiar with the needs of horses with corns. Feet need to be regularly trimmed to be balanced, and properly shod to prevent pressure on certain areas of the sole, particularly the corn. A special shoe may be needed, such as a bar shoe, which transfers the pressure to the frog. Chronic corns may require egg-bar shoes. Foot pads may also be used, which are layers of rubber or leather that fit between the shoe and the foot to spread out the pressure more evenly and prevent bruising. For horses that seem prone to corns, it may be wise to limit work or exercise on hard, uneven, or stony ground, or roads. There are also supplements and feed additives that can improve hoof health.