What is Ringbone in Horses? What Causes It?
There are many names for the disease, but the most common ones are 'ringbone' and 'founder'. The cause lies in faulty conformation of the bone and tendon structure, usually the front leg joints, but usually the forelimbs.
Ringbone in horses is a disease in which the joint bones are affected by an inflammation and the soft tissue is damaged. The disease is painful and damages the joint until the horse can no longer use it. Usually there is redness, swelling and heat at the affected area, but not always.
Signs of ringbone include; lameness in one leg of the horse, limited movement of the joint, tenderness, heat and swelling of the affected joint, and weakness in the joint.
Types of Ringbone in Horses
The most common types of ringbone include:
Subchondral ringbon e: Collagen damage occurs due to poor biomechanical fit and loading between the bone and articular cartilage. In this condition, damage to the cartilage is caused directly by the bone in the lower joint of the hoof. It’s mostly caused by poor bone conformation and/or hoof conformation. Horses suffering from this condition may show signs of joint pain, lameness, and joint swelling.
Collagen damage occurs due to poor biomechanical fit and loading between the bone and articular cartilage. In this condition, damage to the cartilage is caused directly by the bone in the lower joint of the hoof. It’s mostly caused by poor bone conformation and/or hoof conformation. Horses suffering from this condition may show signs of joint pain, lameness, and joint swelling. Hypertrophic ringbone : When the subchondral ringbone isn’t corrected, it may progress into the hypertrophy form of ringbone. As the name suggests, it’s an enlargement of the affected bone. This ringbone growth problem severely damages the joint surface.
Causes of Ringbone in Horses
Ringbone is an inflammation of the bone, most commonly the cannon bone. It will develop a distinctive ring-like formation with the most prominent area in the cannon bone.
The formation of the ring is caused by a callus growing around the bone. This growth is like a cast that restricts the area of bone between the second and third phalanges of the hoof. It’s caused by stress being placed on the bone, usually because of stress on the horse’s legs, such as carrying heavy weight, kicking, or applying too much pressure to the leg joints.
The callus formation will restrict the growth and in turn, cause the bone to shorten. This happens as the bone material is used in the callus formation. As the bone shortens, its shape becomes distorted and manifests as a ring around the area of bone between the second and third phalanges of the hoof.
The bone callus formation will be most obvious in high-stress areas, such as the knee, fetlock, and pastern. A callus may form in other areas of the leg as well. If that occurs, the ringbone in these areas may cause lameness or arthritis.
Ringbone is often confused with navicular syndrome, similar symptoms, but with different causes. Symptoms of ringbone can also be mistaken for other problems.
Signs and Symptoms of Ringbone in Horses
Ringbone is a bone and joint disease, characterized by a hard and swollen ring-like bone lesion on the lower third of the cannon bone. The disease can occur in horses of all ages but is most common in ones older than 7, even though it is often found in younger horses. You may notice the disease by the sound the horse's legs make while moving around.
Ringbone is caused by trauma like direct blows, which can damage the bone and initiate the disease. The trauma and the number of years the condition has been present determine the deformity of the wound and the appearance of it, which can vary from horse to horse. It is also important to understand that you cannot reverse ringbone or cure it.
The bone's ringlike, hardened, and painful appearance can make it difficult for any rider to stand on the horse's back. However, horses do not seem to be in pain and the quality of their life and performance may not be affected by the disease.
Diagnosis of Ringbone in Horses
While ringbone is not a life-threatening condition, it is a painful arthritic condition in the front leg, and it impairs the horse's ability to move and be ridden. You should know the signs and symptoms of ringbone so you can have your veterinarian diagnose it quickly and effectively. In many cases, your veterinarian will be able to diagnose ringbone by visual inspection. If there is doubt, a radiograph is done. If it is on the front leg, your veterinarian will probably do a radiograph of the front legs.
You have to amputate the affected leg or the horse will suffer the consequences of permanent pain.
Bute is an old drug for horses, but your veterinarian may still have it in stock. It is also approved for use in children.
Veterinarian and Shoeing Treatment Options
Differential diagnosis of ringbone is based on long-term physical examination, radiographs, ultrasonography, MRI or CT scanning. The most important is the expertise of the veterinarian to diagnose the real cause of lameness and provide an appropriate treatment. To date, osteoarthritis or its complication (jackbone) seems the most commonly diagnosed cause of soft tissue injury and lameness, even before any lameness appears. No specific blood test is available, but in case of doubt, it’s important to measure APCR through time to evaluate its progressive nature.
Having a horse with ringbone can be quite difficult at times. Not only are there vet bills and medication, but your horse may need to have his shoes worked on in a different way in order to help with the discomfort.
Contact a knowledgeable equine veterinarian about trimming your horse's hooves or have your farrier contact one before attempting to deal with the horse's ringbone.
Prevention is the key and watching your horse for any lameness can help catch it earlier than when it progresses.
How to Make Sure You are Helping Your Horse
Bringing a horse into your life is a big commitment, but like most families, you've probably waited a long time for your horse with long hours and days of waiting. And now that he or she is in your life, you can't imagine ever being without that beautiful companion.
In the beginning of the relationship, being an equestrian was all about time together, and you've worked hard at making appointments for lessons, for riding, and for making and keeping appointments to work with your horse and his groom. My husband and I, being busy with our jobs, never quite had time to learn about what we needed to do to make sure we were taking care of our horses every day. We made appointments for lessons, but we didn't always have time to bathe or feed them when we got home. As a result, we occasionally got in trouble. We both knew something was missing from our relationship with our horses because they didn't look as beautiful as we remember them looking at the barn. We knew we weren't doing things "right".