At one point, Ringbone meant retirement or a fatal prognosis. Luckily, today we have more options to help horses with ringbone. When diagnosed and treated early, many horses with ringbone will remain sound. Ringbone refers to a bony overgrowth from an injury or inflammation on the pastern or coffin bone. The overgrowth can affect the joint or develop on the side of the leg. In some cases, the overgrowth will encircle the leg, hence the name.
Ringbone has various causes, including injury, infection, and normal wear and tear. Other factors can include bone cysts and osteochondrosis, which cause abnormalities in joint cartilage, leading to ringbone. Ringbone is an arthritic, degenerative disease and, in most cases, appears when horses are older.
Confirmation and use can play an important role in the predisposition of ringbone in horses. Horses with upright pasterns or horses under repetitive stress are likelier to experience ringbone. Acute trauma to the pastern also predisposes horses to develop ringbone.
Initial symptoms of ringbone include signs of lameness such as abnormal gait, heat, swelling, or pain in the pastern joint. If the disease progresses without treatment, distinctive raised bumps appear on the pastern area. Once the bony growths are visible, the case is considered advanced. Early diagnosis and treatment drastically improve your horse’s prognosis.
A high ringbone develops in the joint between the short pastern and long pastern. High ringbone is the most common type diagnosed. The second type of ringbone is called low ringbone. This form develops in the coffin area and tends to be very painful. The swelling within the hoof wall is contained, causing more pressure on the internal structures, including the joint.
Ringbone is a degenerative disease, so there is no cure. However, your veterinarian can help slow its progress and keep your horse sound and comfortable for as long as possible. A combination of pain management and inflammation reduction is the first course of action for ringbone horses. Your veterinarian may suggest joint supplements, anti-inflammatories, joint injections, or fusion. Each case of ringbone is unique, and your veterinarian will put together the treatment plan most appropriate for your horse.
Adjusting their trimming when your horse is diagnosed with ringbone and pastern pain makes them more comfortable. While the right trimming strategy depends on the horse, conformation, and hoof health, the general goal is to move the break-over point back to reduce stress on the joint and provide heel support.
Joint supplements, including MSM, glucosamine, omega-3s, and hyaluronic acid, can be beneficial for ringbone cases diagnosed early. Unfortunately, once arthritis gets to a particular stage, additional medications such as Bute or Equioxx will be necessary to keep your horse comfortable.