Protect ranch horses from stone bruises

Stone bruises are common when horses travel on gravel or rocks. Trauma to the inner tissues of the foot can rupture small blood vessels beneath the sole.

Protect ranch horses from stone bruises

Stone bruises are common when horses travel on gravel or rocks. Trauma to the inner tissues of the foot can rupture small blood vessels beneath the sole.

“Some horses are more at risk if they have thin soles or flat feet,” explains Mike Foss, veterinarian at Alpine Veterinary Hospital, Hood River, Ore. These horses need sole protection to prevent bruising. “If you are riding in a rocky area, I recommend using hoof pads. There are many different kinds today that your farrier can apply, in conjunction with a shoe. If the horse is barefoot, you can use protective boots whenever you ride.”

Ranch horses working cattle in rocky pastures may need sole protection, especially for the flat-footed horse. “Also, the farrier should not trim the sole back as aggressively as normally. In some instances, they should not trim it at all,” says Foss.

“If your horse tends to get sore, use good judgment — walking rather than trotting or galloping on gravel roads or through the rocks. It might be hard to slow down, however, if you are working cattle in rocky footing. It pays to pad some horses before they have to do cattle work or roundups.”

Foss says most stone bruises get better within a few weeks if you quit riding the horse in the rocks and turn him out in a soft pasture, or put pads on him. “If he isn’t lame traveling on soft ground, you could use hoof pads and get by with careful riding, avoiding gravel roads and rocky terrain. If you put pads on a horse that’s already bruised, don’t use pour-in pads that fill in the area. Those won’t help because they’ll put direct pressure on the sore area on the sole,” he says.

Treating abscessed bruise

“Soak the foot if there’s an abscess.” Use a half-cup of Epsom salts in a gallon of warm water and soak the foot for 30 minutes, Foss says.

Stand the horse with the foot in a tub or bucket, or use a soaking boot to make this job easier if the horse moves around. “If the owner doesn’t have a special soaking boot, but has an ordinary hoof boot, I tell them to clean the foot thoroughly, rinse it, put it in a boot and pour warm water in around the foot.”

“Every few minutes add more warm water. The horse can walk around if he wants to, and slosh it around,” says Foss.

“Soak it once or twice a day. If it’s an abscess, I’m trying to bring it to a head to break open. Or trying to clean out after its open, I’ll go twice a day,” he says.

After the abscess is open and draining, with pressure released, the horse is more comfortable and not as lame.

“My general rule is to soak it three more days than the horse is sore to make sure all the infection is out of it,” says Foss.

Draining abscess

The abscess may break out the heel or coronary band after traveling through the foot, following the line of least resistance, because it can’t break out through the horny sole or wall.

“Sometimes we must open a small hole on the bottom of the foot to allow drainage, after locating the sore spot. Then you need to protect the hole and keep dirt from getting up into it between soakings,” he says. “A piece of cotton soaked in Betadine pushed into the hole will act as a plug to keep mud and manure out. Then bandage the foot.”

A bandage can be created with stretchy material like Vet-Rap, covered with duct tape — taped up the sides of the hoof. Some people tape a hoof pad to the bottom of the foot or put a hoof boot over the bandage.

“You may need to protect the foot for a couple weeks or longer, depending on how big the hole is. After that, you could use a shoe and hoof pad, or a wide-webbed shoe that covers that area while it fills in,” Foss says.

Smith Thomas writes from Salmon, Idaho.

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SOFT FEET BRUISE EASILY: Mike Foss, a Hood River, Ore., veterinarian, checks horses at endurance rides. “Here in the Cascades, we see more stone bruises when horses from west of the mountains come to the east side because their feet are softer. Horses in a moist climate have soft feet and are more apt to bruise when traveling in rocks because the sole is not as tough,” he explains.

Ice for an acute bruise

Cold therapy is beneficial for an acute bruise. “For treating any fresh injury, whether a stone bruise or a whack on the leg, ice is a great anti-inflammatory,” says Mike Foss, Hood River, Ore., veterinarian.

“Ice also numbs pain. If the horse steps on a rock and is lame, or tender on a certain foot after a ride, you could ice that foot for 30 minutes.”

Ice is helpful during the first 48 hours after injury. “If you think the horse may have bruised a foot, use ice, or stand the horse in a cold creek,” says Foss.

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BRUISED SOLE: The bruised area on this foot showed up when the foot was trimmed.

Be sure of the diagnosis

‘Make sure you have a correct diagnosis before you just let the horse have time off,” says Mike Foss, veterinarian at Alpine Veterinary Hospital, Hood River, Ore.

If it’s something other than a stone bruise, like a puncture wound that needs treatment, or if the bruise abscesses and needs treatment, you should not ignore it.

“If the horse is obviously lame, don’t just give him time off unless your veterinarian’s recommendation is rest. I recently had a case in which the horse had an abscess that needed to be drained, and the owner waited a few weeks thinking it would get better,” he says.

Have your veterinarian do a lameness examination to see if it’s an abscess, or take an X-ray to see if it’s a cracked or fractured coffin bone, he says.

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SOAK FOOT: Stand the horse in a tub or bucket of warm water and Epsom salts.

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WRAP THE FOOT: Use stretchy Vet-Rap after soaking the foot.

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ADD PROTECTION: Apply duct tape over the Vet-Rap for more protection.

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USe A HOOF BOOK: Put the bandaged foot in a hoof book to protect the hole in the sole between soakings.

This article published in the April, 2015 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.

Animal Health

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