Last Updated on April 19, 2023
If your horse has lameness problems, the veterinarian might suggest that false ringbone is the problem. But what exactly is false ringbone in horses, and what can be done to fix it? Let’s find out!
What Is False Ringbone In Horses?
There are two types of ringbone in horses – true ringbone, also known as articular ringbone, and false ringbone, more correctly named periarticular ringbone.
Both types of ringbone are similar, and the main difference is the area of the body that is affected.
Ringbone in horses is a form of osteoarthritis, meaning it affects the joints of the skeletal system. When a horse has ringbone, excess bone starts to form either inside or around the joints of the lower legs. The two joints normally affected are the pastern joint – high ringbone – and the coffin joint – low ringbone.
This excessive bone causes pain and discomfort, and can also affect the mechanical movement of the joint. The horse may appear lame or have an altered gait. If the horse has ringbone in two limbs, the lameness may be disguised but the horse will be reluctant to exercise.
So, what is the difference between true and false ringbone in horses? True ringbone occurs when new bone is laid down within the joint itself, whereas in false ringbone the new bone formation appears outside the joint. True ringbone is the more severe of the two types, often leading to degenerative arthritis within the joint capsule.
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Why Do Horses Get Ringbone?
Ringbone in horses normally occurs as a result of long-term concussion. This happens when the horse is regularly exercised on hard surfaces. Horses with upright limb conformation are also much more susceptible to ringbone.
When the lower limb is subjected to repeated concussion, inflammation appears around the collateral ligaments of the joints. These are short but very strong ligaments that support the joint capsules. When these ligaments become inflamed, the horse will appear uncomfortable.
This inflammation is not just painful, but also causes long-term damage to the joint. When ligaments become inflamed, the body responds by depositing extra bone around the affected area. This can be either within the joint, true ringbone, or in the case of false ringbone it appears around the edges of the joint.
Another cause of ringbone in horses is poor foot balance or inadequate shoeing. If the hoof is unbalanced it will not land on the ground evenly, and this will put the ligaments of the joints under excessive strain.
How Is Ringbone In Horses Diagnosed?
When a horse has ringbone, the first symptom the owner normally notices is that the horse is lame or reluctant to exercise. Lameness will be more apparent if one limb is affected, whereas bilateral limb lameness can be more difficult to detect. Some swelling of the joints of the lower limb may also be seen.
If your horse has recurrent or noticeable lameness, it is vital to stop exercising the horse and seek veterinary advice. Your veterinarian will carry out a range of tests to locate the source of the problem.
When a horse has ringbone, he will normally appear more lame when trotted on a circle than in a straight line. Lameness may also be more apparent when the limb is flexed. Nerve blocks, which numb the lower limb, can be used to confirm the source of the pain.
A suspected diagnosis of ringbone can be confirmed by taking radiographs of the lower limb. Images of the bottommost two joints will be obtained, from a variety of angles. If the ringbone is present, the calciferous bony deposits will be apparent on the X-ray images.
Treatment Of Ringbone In Horses
If a positive diagnosis for ringbone is reached, your veterinarian will recommend changes to your horse’s exercise program, as well as medication to reduce the inflammation. The changes in the joint can never be fully reversed, but careful management can make the horse more comfortable and slow the progression of the disease.
Prescribed medication may be topical, applied directly to the affected area, or systemic. In some situations your veterinarian may administer medication directly to the affected joint, to ease the symptoms of arthritis.
In recent times, modern techinques have been developed where the joints are fused to reduce the effects of ringbone. These are invasive treatments and do not always guarantee a full recovery from lameness, although they can help to make the horse more comfortable.
How To Shoe A Horse With Ringbone
There is no one correct way to shoe a horse with ringbone, as every case is different. In fact, an experienced barefoot specialist may even be able to ease the pain of ringbone without shoeing your horse.
The aim when caring for the hooves of a horse with ringbone is to correct the angle and shape of the hoof. For most cases, this means reducing the toe length and correcting the hoof-pastern axis. Rebalancing the hoof in this way will ease pressure on the joints, helping to reduce inflammation.
Common types of shoes used for horses with ringbone include bar shoes or open heel shoes with pads. These help to reduce concussion at the heels and alleviate the pain of ringbone. Rolled toe shoes are also commonplace in horses with ringbone, as they reduce the impact on the horse’s hoof.
It can help to reduce the weight of the shoes in a horse with ringbone, so aluminum or plastic shoes are commonly used.
Natural Treatment For Ringbone In Horses
While the first line of treatment for ringbone in horses should be remedial farriery care and veterinary-prescribed pain relief, some natural supplements can be used alongside to help alleviate this long-term health problem.
There are some excellent feed supplements for ringbone in horses, that can help to ease inflammation within the joints. Look for supplements aimed at joint care, that contain high quality ingredients like MSM, glucosamine, hyaluronan, chondroitin sulfate, and avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU).
As well as these important nutraceuticals, some herbs can also help to ease the pain and inflammation of ringbone and promote healing. Arnica is well known for its abilities to reduce bruising by improving circulation in areas of inflammation. This can be given alongside elecampane and comfrey to promote normal tissue repair and speed up bone healing.
Some herbs can do more harm than good when treating health problems in horses, so it is always a good idea to consult with a qualified herbalist first.
Other natural treatments can also be beneficial in cases of false ringbone in horses. Cold therapy is a great way to reduce pain and inflammation, and ice boots can be a good investment for horses with ringbone. Physiotherapy, acupuncture, and massage can all ease the pain of ringbone and help to keep your horse comfortable and healthy.
Reducing concussion and impact on your horse’s hooves can also be hugely beneficial when caring for a horse with ringbone. Keep your horse at a healthy body weight, as increased load will make the condition worse. Avoid exercising your horse on hard or uneven surface, and ensure your horse always has a soft, comfortable spot to lie down in and rest.
If your horse is on restricted exercise, provide plenty of environmental enrichment to prevent boredom and stress from setting in. Ensure your horse has company at all times – either human or equine – and, if permitted, take your horse for short walks to allow him to graze and stretch his legs.
Summary – False Ringbone In Horses?
So, as we have learned, false ringbone in horses is a painful condition of the skeletal system. When a horse has false ringbone, new bone starts to form around the outside of the joints of the lower leg. This will cause discomfort and lameness, and localized swelling around the affected joints.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on false ringbone in horses! Have you ever owned a horse that has suffered from this condition? Or perhaps you’ve heard of an interesting new technique for treating false ringbone in horses? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
How Can You Tell If A Horse Has Ringbone?
When a horse has ringbone, the joints of the lower limb may appear thickened and swollen. Some degree of lameness is normally also present, but the severity varies according to the extent of the ringbone. A diagnosis of ringbone can be confirmed by taking a radiograph of the bony structures, or ultrasound scan of the ligaments and joint capsule.
How Serious Is Ringbone In Horses?
Ringbone in horses is a serious problem, as the horse may never make a full recovery. In this situation, prevention really is better than cure, so avoid exercising your horse on hard ground on a regular basis.
Can You Fix Ringbone In Horses?
Some cases of ringbone do resolve, but for the vast majority of horses this is a lifelong condition. It is vital to reduce the amount of exercise the horse is getting, as this may make the condition worse. Anti-inflammatory medication can help to make the horse more comfortable.
What Is The Difference Between Sidebone And Ringbone?
Ringbone is a condition that occurs when the collateral ligaments of the lower limb joint capsules start to calcify. In sidebone, calcification of the lateral cartilage surrounding the horse's heel occurs.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE