Has your horse got a hoof bruise?

At this time of year, hooves can easily bruise on dry, hard ground. As living, flexible tissue, hooves are designed to expand and contract, withstanding concussion. However, too much force from an impact can cause damage. This may be from something as simple as treading on a stone! A hoof bruise may develop and become apparent afterwards. Also, the hard ground can affect the biomechanics of ligaments, joints and tendons, and some horses with certain problems (navicular and arthritis for example), could simply get worse.

So what are hoof bruises?

Bruises are small haemorrhages that occur when blood vessels rupture due to trauma. Similar to humans having a blood-filled blister (haematoma) under the fingernail, larger haematomas can also form between sensitive tissues and the sole of the hoof. The resulting internal pressure can be very painful!

What are the signs of a bruise?

Symptoms can include:

  • increased digital pulse
  • shortened stride or more obvious lameness
  • purple/red marks on the hoof.

How do I locate a bruise?

Even if there are no external marks, hoof testers can be used to test sensitivity of the soft tissue structures within the hoof capsule. This aids in locating the specific area of pain, which will help determine the cause of the problem and the best way to treat it.

How are bruises treated?

Treatment options may range depending on the specific case. It could involve paring the sole to relieve pressure, cold therapy, poulticing, protective bandaging or anti-inflammatories. Deep bruising can also trigger abscesses, so if in doubt, seek veterinary attention.

Emiliano Espinar, veterinary surgeon, checking a horse's hoof with hoof testers.