Bruises of the Hoof in Horses
In the equine context, corns are bruises on the sole of the hoof that appear on the angle that is formed by the wall of the hoof and the bar (the side of the frog of the hoof). Bruises in any other part of the hoof sole, such as at the toe, are only referred to as bruises.
Corns can be very painful and uncomfortable. If left untreated they may develop into abscesses, which may require medical treatment to drain and heal properly.
Poorly fitted horseshoes are the primary cause of corns or when a stone becomes wedged between the shoe and the sole of the hoof. Corns are rare among horses that are used barefooted. General sole bruises, however, can have more causes, such as poor hoof conformation, thin soles, soft soles, or excessive riding on hard, rocky surfaces.
Symptoms and Types
Often with a sole bruise, including corns, there is some appearance of inflammation on the sole of the hoof. This is most easily seen in horses with light colored feet. The horse will react when hoof testers are applied to this affected area of the hoof. The horse will be lame, and the degree of lameness will vary with the degree of severity of the bruise. Sometimes the hoof will be warm to the touch.
When the inner layer of connective tissue and vessels that lie below the epidermis of the hoof are involved, bacteria can enter this sensitive tissue, and an abscess forms.
- Poorly fitted horse shoe (i.e., either due to poor hoof growth or hoof that is too large for shoe)
- Stone lodged between hoof and shoe
For sole bruises in general:
- Poor hoof confirmation, such as flat feet
- Thin soles or soft soles
- Direct injury from stones/rocks on harsh ground
- If the hoof wall has been trimmed too short which causes the sole to have greater contact with the ground
Trimming the surface of the hoof should be all that is needed to visualize corns in a horse. The sole of the foot in the area of the bruise or corn will usually be sensitive, discolored, and inflamed. When a veterinarian or farrier places hoof testers on the affected area, the horse will flinch in pain. The combination of these signs in addition to any lameness the horse demonstrates often leads to a straightforward diagnosis.
In many cases, the corn or sole bruise will resolve once the source of trauma is removed. For corns, usually the removal of the horseshoe will allow the hoof to heal on its own. During this time, the horse should not be ridden. Sometimes, the sole will need to be trimmed as well. If there is an abscess, this will need to be drained and properly dressed. This will leave a very sensitive and irritated area that will need to be further treated and healed. The hoof will need to be cared for regularly, with foot baths and clean dressings applied one or more times daily, and the stall in which the horse is kept will need to be kept particularly clean. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as phenylbutazone (bute) are sometimes prescribed by your veterinarian to help keep the horse comfortable while the bruise or corn heals.
Living and Management
After the corn has been treated, it is important to give your horse time to heal. Corns are very painful, and when they are removed the procedure and exposed area can be painful as well. Depending on your horse's health status and the severity of the pain, your veterinarian may prescribe a pain reliever until your horse is able to stand comfortably on the wounded foot again.
The following are steps you can take to help prevent the development of corns:
- Ensuring that properly sized shoes are used on your horse
- Properly trimming the hoof with the size of the shoe (i.e. do not overtrim the hoof)
- Avoid riding on rocky, rough ground for extended periods.
- Allowing your horse some time off to recover if he develops sore feet while riding
- Assessing if your horse truly requires horseshoes. Some horses do not need shoes, depending on their hoof structure and the amount and type of work they are required to do.