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What is Solar Penetration?

Puncture wounds are among the most common injuries found in horses, an inherent malady when their normal and natural activities are considered.  Puncture wounds stem from various jumping and running activities and include various types of surfaces on which the injuries are incurred.  It is the penetration of foreign objects into the tissue in the equine hoof which causes the most often seen types of lameness in horses.

Solar penetration in horses is defined as a penetrating wound in the solar surface of the hoof.  The sole of the hoof is the hard epidermal structure that covers the bottom of the equine foot.

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Symptoms of Solar Penetration in Horses

Penetration of a foreign object into the solar surface of the hoof, depending on the object, depth of penetration and presence of infection, can cause some of these symptoms in your horse:

  • Horse is standing, pointing or resting a leg
  • Reluctance/unwillingness to put any weight on it
  • Trembling or sweating with an increased heart rate
  • Elevated digital pulse rate
  • Fever greater than 101.5 degrees F
  • Positive responses to hoof testers
  • Cellulitis 

Types  

The only types of solar penetration in horses applies to the portion of the sole of the hoof which has been penetrated and the degree to which it has been damaged or infected.  The most common types of solar penetration are these:

  • Subsolar Abscess -  The penetration of a foreign object allows the entry of pathogenic microorganisms to enter through the wound into the surrounding tissue; abscesses form from the microorganism activity in the wound
  • Septic Navicular Bursitis - Results from a penetration into the frog which is deep enough to get into the synovial structures, of which the navicular bursa is only one of the structures

Causes of Solar Penetration in Horses

The cause of solar penetration in horses is basically the puncturing of one of the structures in the hoof of the horse, one of the most often afflicted of those structures being the sole of the hoof.  Here are some things to know about solar penetration in horses:

  • Puncture wounds in horse hooves are generally incurred as a result of jumping, running or any activity in which a horse can step on a foreign object like a rock, nail or virtually any object on the surface of the ground on which the horse is traveling 
  • Some puncture wounds can be caused by picks used in cleaning the hooves
  • Most of the puncture wounds incurred by horses puncture the subsolar surfaces of the hoof and cause abscesses in this tissue - an injury which is very treatable and which usually heals without permanent damage
  • More catastrophic puncture injuries involve entry into the deeper structures of the hoof (navicular bursa, distal interphalangeal joint or even the deep flexor tendon sheath), an injury that could be career ending for the performance horse

Diagnosis of Solar Penetration in Horses

If you have a horse who suffers from lameness, especially in the case of a sudden attack of lameness, an examination of the hooves of your equine should be done immediately and, if a foreign body or a puncture wound is noted, your veterinary professional should be contacted immediately.  He will need your complete history of the incident which should include where the horse was located when the lameness was noted, the duration of the lameness, the symptoms and the actions taken by you or the handler when the injury was discovered.  Your vet will likely need to do his own physical examination as well as clean out the hoof and utilize hoof testers to ascertain the extent of the injury.

If the horse is shod, the vet may need to remove the shoe and clean up the bottom of the hoof.  If a foreign body is suspected, your veterinary professional may utilize radiographic imaging (x-rays) to confirm the identity, depth of penetration and surrounding bone and tissue involvement.  To utilize this diagnostic imaging tool, the horse will likely need to be moved to obtain access to the appropriate equipment.  An appropriate treatment plan will be developed and initiated as soon as possible.

Treatment of Solar Penetration in Horses

If an abscess is noted, it will need to be drained as soon as possible to reduce the pain and discomfort of the horse as well as prevent deeper infection of the hoof structures.  This could possibly be accomplished in your paddock or field but could also require more in depth surgical procedures, requiring the horse to be moved to a facility with access to the necessary equipment and space.  Antibacterial medications will likely be recommended and administered to avoid further infection deeper into the hoof structures.  

If the wound doesn’t respond to this treatment, or if the wound continues to drain pus beyond the normal healing time, it is possible that the infection has gone deeper into the hoof and may require more in depth treatment and possibly hospitalization to provide appropriate treatment.  If the infection has reached the coffin bone directly, creating a condition called osteomyelitis, additional radiographic imaging will likely be required to confirm the condition.  If the condition is confirmed, the treatment options will get more complicated and will likely require some surgical intervention.

Recovery of Solar Penetration in Horses

Solar penetration in horses is a commonly experienced injury in horses and, if you own horses, you will likely experience it at least once. The important thing to note is that puncture wounds to the solar surface found early are generally quite treatable with foreign body removal, drainage of any existing abscesses and antibiotic therapy.  Healing may take some time but ultimately the afflicted equine will heal without permanent damage.  However, if the wounds are not appropriately treated in a timely manner, or if the injury penetrates deeper into the hoof structures, or if the infection from the wound works its way into the deeper structures of the hoof, the injury becomes more serious.  

The prognosis for the afflicted equine diminishes if the infection/injury involves the deep hoof structures and there can be permanent damage which will have catastrophic implications on the performance of your horse.  Your takeaway in this is quite simply...don’t put off getting medical attention for your afflicted horse.  Putting off the call to your vet could have severe economic and performance implications as well as health implications for your equine.