Ringbone In Horses

Ringbone In Horses: Bones Will Be Bones

Ringbone in horses can be a tough condition to spot if you don’t know how – and one of the scariest to come across.

You can’t really control how your horse’s bones grow, and sometimes their bodies work against them. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t help them throughout the process.

This is our ringbone guide: how to spot it, slow it down, and treat it.

What Is Ringbone?

Ringbone is a horse condition that affects the pastern or coffin joint. And, well, it’s pretty serious, there’s no sugar-coating it.

Ringbone in horses is basically a case of degenerative joint disease. The joint capsule and surrounding tissues break down, and bony overgrowths can cause joint collapse. The distal interphalangeal (pastern joint) and proximal interphalangeal (coffin joint) are the most vulnerable to ringbone. Pastern and coffin joints are important for a horse’s movement and health.

Spotting ringbone

Around the affected joint, you’ll see some strange bony growth. This bony growth might mess with the way your horse gets around. Ringbone isn’t too difficult to spot. Inspect your horse for lameness or changes in your horse’s gait. They will probably show some signs of pain and have issues moving around smoothly. The joint will look swollen. Look at the image below. You can see the white foot is affected by ringbone while the black foot is not.

Ringbone in horses. You will see swelling above the hoof

Types of ringbone in horses

Low ringbone

Let’s start with the worst of the two types to get it out of the way. Low ringbone in horses can be really serious; it affects coffin bone growth at coffin joints and leads to awful pain and lameness. Low ringbone starts in the horse’s hoof, right under the coronary band, and will ultimately lead to your horse hobbling around uncomfortably.

The coronary band will first start bulging out at the front of your horse’s foot, and can really change the shape and look of the hoof. Low ringbone may be the more serious of the two types, but luckily, it isn’t that common. Your horse’s pain is immeasurable, so let’s hope your buddy hasn’t got this one.

High ringbone

High ringbone in horses is a really slow process, where there’s a build-up of mineral deposits around the pastern joint. It looks like a small bony ridge between the pastern joints and forelegs. This bony ridge pops up because of the calcification process, where minerals deposit and form a ring around the pastern joint.

Because it’s a slow process, a high ringbone might not immediately cause lameness or pain, but it’s important to watch out for. Your horse might still feel some stiffness or show small changes in their gait.

High and low ringbone

What Causes Ringbone?

There are quite a few things that can cause ringbone in horses and affect joint health. The lining and cartilage of the joint are both damaged by the articular ringbone. This means horrible pain, stiffness, and joint enlargement.

The periarticular ringbone is all about the soft tissues surrounding the joint, such as the joint capsules and ligaments. If these parts become inflamed because of trauma, hectic wounds, or strain, they might force bone growth within the joint. Depending on the position within the horse’s limb this is happening, both high and low ringbone can pop up.

Ringbone is more common at the distal interphalangeal joint, which is near the hoof, and the proximal interphalangeal joint, which is closer to the fetlock.

Genetics and age also play a role in ringbone in horses; sometimes it’s hard to nail down exactly what caused it. You should know that it mainly affects older horses, so at least you’ll have a lot of time with your horse before anything goes down. Ringbone can also be more common in horses with a straight pastern bone.

Slowing Down Ringbone In Horses

Listen, it’s almost impossible to prevent ringbone in horses. Once it starts up, you can’t really reverse it, either. But there are some ways to support joint health in your young horses and old boys that can help reduce the risk of this condition affecting their hind legs and pastern bones.

Your horse’s diet does play a role in the health of its bones. A healthy diet that has tons of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients is a good place to start. Maybe even think about including some glucosamine or omega-3 fatty acids supplements to help with their joint function.

Regular exercise is an absolute must. If you keep up a consistent routine with your horse, you can strengthen the muscles around their joints and keep them flexible. Just don’t overdo it, or you could be looking at joint damage.

If you can catch it early, that’s a major plus. Talk to a vet about any strange abnormalities you’ve noticed in their limb structure. This can help the vet address and prevent excessive stress on the joints as time passes. Really, it’s all about paying close attention to your horses as often as possible. Do regular inspections, and take your time carefully looking at their body.

Proper footing is another thing to think about that most people don’t consider. Make sure that wherever your horse is exercising, the terrain is even, gentle, and supportive. This will reduce the risk of trauma and joint impact.

Ringbone Treatment

So now we’re down to treating ringbone in horses. The good news is that there are tons of ways you can help your horse in the process!

Joint injections are one of your best options; it offers a bit of temporary relief by injecting the meds directly into the joint. Most of the time, your vet will use hyaluronic acid to help lubricate the joint and reduce inflammation. These injections improve joint function and ease the pain.

Joint fusion is another option to treat ringbone, but only in severe cases if injections don’t work. The vet will put your horse under and surgically connect the bones of the joint, which will make the bones slowly fuse, and ultimately, stabilise the joint.

It’s important that you be there for your horse throughout the process. Make sure they have some healthy meals, supplements, and hoof care. It’ll get rid of some of the pressure and pain along the way. Talk to your vet about physical therapy exercises that can help improve joint mobility and strengthen the muscles in the area.

Remember, the treatment isn’t about getting your horse to be a champion again. It comes down to slowing the condition and making their last years happy and healthy.

Prepare Yourself

Not to scare you too much, but you need to be prepared for anything. When it comes to horses, ringbone can’t be taken lightly. The best case scenario is that your horse retires from the laps and races, and spends its last old days frolicking gently around with its friends and enjoying good meals.

In the worst-case scenario, your horse might need to be put down. If they can’t stand – or do anything, really – without being in extreme pain, then it might be time for them to head to the stables in the sky. Luckily, there are a couple of treatment options that can keep your buddy running happy and healthy for years to come, so hopefully this isn’t the end for you and your best friend.

This video from lindsey Field gives a great explantion of ring bone


How is ringbone diagnosed?

Your vet will do a proper physical examination of your horse and maybe some X-rays to check the amount of damage.

Can ringbone be cured?

No, unfortunately, ringbone is irreversible. There are ways to treat it, but this will slow the process down and ease the pain for your horse, not cure it.

Will ringbone only affect one leg?

It’s possible for ringbone to affect multiple legs in your horse, although this might not happen all at once.

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