What is Ringbone?
Ringbone is not commonly seen in young horses but in older ones who have been worked longer. Ringbone is defined as a ring of ossified tissue surrounding the joint to the pastern or coffin joint. In many cases, it affects the front legs and since it develops gradually, it goes unnoticed. Symptoms are vague and usually begin with intermittent lameness and heat radiating from the affected area. The only way to properly diagnose this condition is with diagnostic imaging that may require you to go to a specialist hospital. Treatment is supportive with rest, anti-inflammatory medications and corrective shoeing. In more severe cases, surgical fusion of the joint may be a good option for you to consider.
Ringbone in horses is an osteoarthritis condition affecting the coffin or pastern joint of a horse. Typically caused by injury to the joint, it can lead to a long term abnormality of your horse’s gait and the inability to perform the job he was originally intended for.
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Symptoms of Ringbone in Horses
Symptoms of ringbone may include:
Your horse can suffer from two different types of ringbone: low or high. Low ringbone is the more serious of the two forms and causes a bony enlargement at the coffin joint. It occurs inside the hoof beneath the coronary band which causes pain and lameness. Chronic low ringbone causes the coronary band to bulge at the front of the foot and is known as buttress foot. When the condition affects the pastern joint, it is known as high ringbone.
Causes of Ringbone in Horses
The most common cause of ringbone is injury to the joint. It may be from strain or stress due to athletic activity or conformation abnormality that causes it strain. If your horse’s leg is crooked, especially from the fetlock joint or lower, it puts a large amount of stress on the coffin or pastern joint. Horses with pigeon-toe are more prone to develop ringbone on the outside of the joints and splayed-foot horses develop more on the inside.
Diagnosis of Ringbone in Horses
The first symptoms you will see in your horse tend to be intermittent lameness, tenderness and heat radiating from the area. Radiographs of the area should be taken as soon as your horse presents with lameness. An MRI is also helpful when diagnosing this condition. It will help diagnose ligament abnormalities that otherwise would go undiagnosed. In addition to these imaging options, there is also nuclear scintigraphy, or bone scanning, that has the ability to see even the earliest of bone and cartilage abnormalities before it would be visible on a radiographic image.
While imaging may be expensive, it is the only way to get a proper diagnosis. The clinical symptoms of ringbone are very vague so diagnostic imaging is very important. Otherwise, the veterinarian is forced to make an assumptive diagnosis and treat the condition blindly and just hope for a good outcome.
Treatment of Ringbone in Horses
Rest is the best thing for a horse with ringbone. It is also important to keep your horse at an appropriate body weight. When overweight, it puts additional stress on their legs and feet making the condition worse. You also need to take his job into consideration and alter his exercise and riding plan to reduce wear and tear on the joint.
Corrective shoeing can also be helpful when it comes to managing ringbone. A shoe that limits the torque on the joint is helpful in this type of diagnosis. Anti-inflammatory medications will also help your horse deal with the pain. Oral medications, as well as intra-articular medications, can be utilized for your horse’s needs.
In more advanced cases of ringbone, surgical fusion of the joint can help. It eliminates the pain for the horse but does cause him to move with a more stiffened pattern.
Recovery of Ringbone in Horses
In some cases of high ringbone, as the pastern joint grows together it sometimes heals. Low ringbone unfortunately is prone to result in permanent unsoundness. Either form of ringbone can interfere with a horse’s ability to do his job. The main thing you as an owner should keep in mind if you begin aggressive therapies after an early diagnosis, it is possible to keep it from developing into a severe case.
If your horse does develop ringbone, it is important to have his hooves trimmed and shoed regularly. Maintaining a healthy weight and giving him plenty of rest when needed is just as important to his healing process. Additionally, adding chondroprotective supplements to his diet can act as a cartilage protecting agent.
Ringbone Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I am looking into buying a horse that has been diagnosed with low ringbone. After a vet check, I was assured that corrective shoeing, arthritis supplements, and joint injections will keep the horse sound so that he can be barrel raced off of a couple times a month with only walk/trot exercise at home. The horse is not lame but does show some signs of soreness. As of now the horses is not being treated at all for the ringbone, hence his soreness. With the correct treatment, can this horse be sound to run at barrel races or is he limited to be a companion/trail riding horse?
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I am considering taking on a companion pony (that has intermittent lameness from ringbone) for my thoroughbred and understand that the pony has never been officially diagnosed or treated. The pony is 15 years and 13.2 hands and seems to have a good temperament. I am just wondering if this is a good decision or a potentially expensive exercise if it has had no care up until now and should I just keep looking for a horse/pony in a more sound condition.
If the pony is purely for companionship; the condition may be managed with weight control and using a good Farrier who understands the condition. I would get the ringbone official diagnosed before purchase just so you know the severity and if there are any other problems. There are records of horses still competing that have ringbone; it is all about the management. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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