Symptoms & Treating Bruised Soles In Horses
Sole bruises are common and painful for horses. Whether you are a horse owner, trainer, or rider, understanding the signs and treatment options for bruises can help facilitate faster healing and reduce the risk of complications.
- Symptoms of a sole bruise may include lameness, reluctance to bear weight on the affected foot and sensitivity to pressure or touch.
- Several treatment options are available for hoof bruises, including PEMF therapy, cold and salt therapy, pads and soaking and bandaging.
- Preventative measures, such as proper hoof care, regular exercise and good nutrition, can help to reduce the risk of bruises and promote overall hoof health.
What Is a Bruised Sole?
A bruised sole is a common hoof injury that affects horses of all breeds and disciplines. It occurs when the soft tissue underneath the sole is damaged due to trauma or pressure. The sole of a horse’s hoof is a vital structure that provides support, cushioning, and protection to the foot, and any injury to it can lead to severe lameness and discomfort.
A bruised sole can occur for various reasons, including excessive riding on hard surfaces, improper trimming or shoeing, standing on hard or uneven ground for extended periods, or sudden impact. When a horse damages its hooves by walking on rocky ground, it’s often called a stone bruise.
Thin-soled horses and those with flat feet are more susceptible to this condition as they have less protective tissue between the ground and the sensitive tissues beneath the horse’s soles.
Where Do Stone Bruises Occur on the Horse’s Feet?
Stone bruises may occur on many areas of the sole of the foot. We discuss a few possibilities below.
The heel area is a common site of stone bruises, especially in horses with a long toe and low heel conformation. This is because the heel is under more pressure in these horses, which makes it more susceptible to injury.
The hoof wall is another area where stone bruises can occur. This is more likely to happen when the horse steps on a sharp object while walking or running on hard surfaces.
The frog is the soft, V-shaped structure on the hoof’s underside. While the frog is designed to absorb shock and provide traction, it can also be a site of injury when a horse steps on a sharp object or is trimmed too aggressively.
The white line is the area where the hoof wall meets the sole. It is also a common site of stone bruises when the horse’s hooves are improperly trimmed or maintained.
Diagnosing Sole and Stone Bruises
Diagnosing stone bruises requires thoroughly examining the affected foot. The veterinarian will typically begin by observing the horse’s gait and behaviour, looking for signs of lameness or discomfort. They will then use hoof testers, a specialized tool that applies pressure to different areas of the hoof to determine the location and severity of the injury.
Hoof testers can help identify areas of sensitivity or pain, which can indicate a sole bruise. In some cases, the affected area may also be warm to the touch or show signs of inflammation or swelling.
Once a bruise is suspected, the veterinarian may recommend further diagnostic tests, such as radiographs or ultrasound, to assess the extent of the injury and rule out other underlying conditions.
In some cases, a stone bruise may be visible on the surface of the hoof as a small discoloured or depressed area. However, in many cases, the injury may not be visible to the naked eye, and diagnostic tests and a thorough examination may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
Treating a Stone Bruise: Horse Therapies
Treating stone bruises involves addressing the underlying cause and providing support and relief to the affected foot. The horse should be kept on soft, clean bedding to reduce pressure on the sole, and any hard or uneven surfaces should be avoided.
Proper trimming and shoeing of the horse’s feet can help distribute weight more evenly and protect the sole from further injury. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation.
Additional therapy options for a sole bruise include:
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy is an excellent non-invasive therapy for many injuries, including stone bruises. Studies suggest that PEMF speeds healing and reduces pain by stimulating the body’s cells, increasing oxygenation and relieving inflammation.
PEMF therapy can be administered in a variety of ways, but the most convenient method for a bruised sole is with a hoof boot. PEMF hoof boots, like Activo-Med Hoof Boots, strap onto the horse’s hoof and direct therapy directly into it, penetrating the hoof capsule and contributing to healing within the hoof itself.
This targeted treatment makes providing PEMF therapy easier for horse owners and horses alike.
In some cases, a veterinarian may recommend applying a hoof pad or packing material to provide additional cushioning and support to the foot.
These pads can be applied in different ways, depending on the severity of the stone bruise and the horse’s specific needs. The veterinarian may sometimes recommend using a packing material, such as cotton or gauze, underneath the hoof pad for additional cushioning. Other times, the pad may be applied directly to the sole using an adhesive or other fastener.
Overall, pads are a valuable treatment option for horses suffering from stone bruises, as they can help to reduce pain, encourage healing and prevent further damage to the foot.
A hoof pad may also be used preventatively to protect thin-soled horses from sustaining foot injuries like bruises. A horse with thin soles has less natural cushioning in its hooves, making it more susceptible to damage than a thick sole. A good hoof pad can give a thin-soled horse the additional support required to maintain optimal foot health.
Cold and Salt Therapy
An Equine Hydrotherapy Spa is a specialized facility designed to provide a range of therapeutic treatments to horses, including cold and salt therapy, which are particularly effective in treating stone bruises. The combination of cold and salt therapy can be especially effective in treating stone bruises by reducing pain and inflammation and promoting healing.
An equine spa like the Activo-Med Hydrotherapy Equine Spa offers horses a safe and comfortable environment, with features like variable fill levels, chilled salt or fresh water, aeration and optional vibrating floors. These features allow for a customisable experience that can be tailored to the needs of each horse, even those on box rest.
Soaking and Bandaging
Soaking and bandaging are two commonly used treatments for hoof bruises in horses, especially when an abscess is present. Soaking involves immersing the affected foot in a solution of warm water, Epsom salts or another therapeutic soak to decrease inflammation, alleviate pain and facilitate healing.
Bandaging is often used with soaking to provide additional support and protection to the affected foot. A bandage can help lessen movement in the foot and prevent further injury while promoting healing. A dressing also supplies compression and avoids exposure to the injured area.
The Coffin Bone and Hoof Bruises
The coffin bone is a crucial structure within the horse’s foot, as it supports the weight of the horse’s body and provides a foundation for the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that attach to the foot. The sole of the hoof plays an important role in protecting the coffin bone from excessive pressure and shock, but this protective function is compromised when the sole is bruised.
Untreated hoof bruises can lead to issues with sensitive tissues beneath the sole, like the laminae and the coffin bone. The inflammation and pressure related to the injury may damage the sensitive structures underneath the sole. In severe cases, the coffin bone may rotate or sink within the hoof capsule, causing conditions such as laminitis or founder, which can be extremely painful and have long-term effects on the horse’s soundness and quality of life.
FAQs About Bruises on the Sole
Many horses experience sole bruises at some point, and when they occur, most horse owners are keen to relieve their horse’s pain quickly. Below we answer a few frequently asked questions about treating a painful bruise and preventing sole trauma in the future.
When Are Hoof Pads Most Useful?
A hoof pad is most useful for a horse experiencing foot pain or those at increased risk of developing foot injuries. They can give additional cushioning and support to the foot, helping to alleviate pain and promote healing.
Pads can be particularly beneficial for horses with thin soles, as they have less natural cushioning in their hooves and may be more prone to developing stone bruises or other injuries. Pads can also be helpful for horses with sensitive or compromised feet, such as those subjected to excessive wear or affected by diseases or infections.
In addition, a hoof pad may be useful for a horse recovering from a foot injury or undergoing treatment for a condition that affects the foot, such as laminitis or navicular disease.
Can the Hoof Wall and Sole Be Strengthened to Prevent Infection or Bruising?
Yes, the hoof wall and sole can be strengthened to help prevent infection or bruising. Several strategies can be used to promote overall good health and strength, including adequate nutrition, regular exercise and proper hoof care practices.
One of the top factors in strong hooves is proper nutrition. Horses need a balanced diet that provides all necessary nutrients, including protein, vitamins and minerals, to maintain healthy hoof growth. Feeding a diet deficient in these nutrients can weaken the hoof wall and sole, making the horse more susceptible to infection or bruising.
Regular exercise can also help to promote hoof health and strength by increasing blood flow to the feet and promoting healthy hoof growth. Horses turned out regularly, or those that engage in regular exercise on a treadmill, are often less prone to hoof problems than those kept in stalls or with limited access to exercise.
Good hoof care practices, such as regular trimming and shoeing, can also help to maintain the health and integrity of the hoof wall and sole. Trimming can help prevent excessive wear and tear, while a horse’s shoes can protect the hooves.
How Long Do Most Bruises Take to Heal?
Sole bruises are common, and most horses recover fairly quickly. With proper treatment and management, many affected horses recover fully within a few weeks to a few months.
That said, horse owners should take whatever steps necessary to prevent this condition from occurring in the first place, such as providing proper hoof care and avoiding excessive riding on hard ground. Lameness in horses is always a serious matter.