Last Updated on November 24, 2021 by Urska
All about Ringbone in Horses. One of the most frustrating experiences in owning a horse is arriving at the barn, just to find your horse lame. And this can be very disheartening if your horse’s lameness is due to the progressive nature of ringbone.
If you’re currently in a situation like this, don’t lose hope. Having a diagnosis of ringbone is no longer the career-ending disease it once was.
Taking basic precautions and carefully looking out for the first signs of trouble can go a long way. It will lead towards helping a horse remain sound and healthy. Are you looking for natural treatments to ringbone in horses? Or finding modern alternatives? Below are all you’ll ever need to know about ringbone.
What is Ringbone?
Ringbone is one of the most common forms of arthritis found in horses. It is a broad term used to describe osteoarthritis of the coffin joint (known as low ringbone,) or the pastern joint (known as high ringbone).
Types of Ringbone
There are basically two types of ringbone, the Articular and Periarticular ringbone. Articular ringbone affects the surface of the joint, the cartilage, and the lining, as a result, enlarging the joint, causing pain and stiffness to the horse.
Periarticular ringbone, on the other hand, affects the ligaments and capsules near the joint, thus causing inflammation around the joint, increase in trauma or strain from stress due to exercise or play. Periarticular ringbone is more common and more serious than articular ringbone because as the affected joints become worn, bone spurs form on top of the damaged joints.
Now, the problem is that this damage is often irreversible, and there is no definitive cure for it as we speak. The disease is progressive, even if caught early. But with proper treatment and good management, the disease’s progression can be slowed.
Even though the ringbone disease can be found in all four legs, it mostly affects the front legs. Also, it affects all kinds of horses irrespective of the breed. but it is more commonly diagnosed in overweight horses and horses fifteen years and older.
Signs and Symptoms of Ringbone in Horses
Ringbone can be difficult to diagnose until it is in its advanced stages. If your horse starts displaying any of these symptoms, it may be time to call the vet. Remember what we said earlier, diagnosing ringbone in the earliest stages can have a significant impact on your horses’ quality of life.
- Intermittent lameness
- Swelling around the pastern or coronary band
- Hot or painful to touch areas
- Reluctance to lift legs, or to have feet picked
- Refusal to play or exercise
- Increased lameness going downhill
- Rigid or thick areas – this is evidence of new bone growth
- Raised bumps and ridges – by the time these bony growths are evident, arthritis will be fairly advanced.
There are many natural and holistic treatments to slow the progress of ringbone, and to keep your horse comfortable. One of them is in maintaining a healthy weight and giving your horse plenty of rest. Even though your horse may benefit from turnout, or consistent low impact exercise, nevertheless, movement stimulates circulation and decreases inflammation of the joint.
Thus, the amount and type of exercise your horse should receive will depend on their pain tolerance and the progression of ringbone.
Another most important step is to adjust your horses trimming, and if necessary, shoeing plans. Now, this is important because it will help minimize the stress placed on your horse’s joints, alter your horse’s break over point, easing the tension placed on joints. This is generally done with corrective shoeing kits.
Many horses with ringbone can be relieved from the use of oral joint supplements. Supplements, that contain glucosamine, Omega-3s, chondroitin sulfate, MSM, ASU, hyaluronic acid and other herbal ingredients have been shown to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, as well as support the growth of healthy cartilage. You can check out this study done on cartilage growth, and you can read more about a study published in the Equine Veterinary Journal on anti-inflammatory supplements here.
Acupuncture and chiropractic work have varying degrees of success with pain management because ringbone, is a wide and varying disease, with each individual horse showing different degrees of progression, and different variations of the symptoms. Because of this wide range, it is difficult to know how your horse may respond to supplements and other natural therapies.
But, if you’re looking for more modern alternatives to treating ringbone, including medication, injections, and fusion, you can read about those here.
Preventing Ringbone in Horses
Early diagnosis, treatment, and management may slow its progress, but it’s important to remember that there is no known cause, and therefore prevention of, ringbone. It is a progressive disease, and it will continue to worsen with time and activity.
Prevention begins with good horse management, and in reducing the level of trauma to your horse’s coffin bone and pastern joints. Poor foot care, or improper trimming methods, can put excess stress on your horse’s joints, as a result causing ringbone to develop. Thus, it’d be ideal for you to keep a watchful eye if your horse has conformation issues. If your horse has upright pasterns, toes that point in, or feet that are disproportionately small for their size, then there is every possibility that your horse is predisposed to develop the disease.
If your horse gets injured in the joint, be careful not to rush them back into work. Giving them the appropriate rest and ensuring the joint and surrounding tissues are strong enough to support the work.
And always look out to lubricating the horse’s joint by ensuring that they warm-up, before any form of exercise. Adequately stretching out their tendons, ligaments, and warming their joints will result in greater flexibility, and lower their risk for injury.
Don’t Lose Hope
While a diagnosis of ringbone can be disheartening for both, you and your horse, it is no longer the tragic news it once was. As discussed above, there are many options available to slow the progression of the disease and to help keep your horse free of pain. If you can detect and address the disease early enough, your horse may stay sound for years to come.
Looking for more? Check out these two articles by Kentucky Equine Research on the basics of ringbone.
Did we miss something? Comment below if we’ve overlooked a natural treatment for ringbone. Let us know your experiences with ringbone, as well as the treatments you and your horse have had success with.
Is ringbone in horses hereditary?
Some ringbone cases are hereditary. One horse can inherit ringbone from one parent, while the other can have it due to a different cause. The ringbone gene is dominant, therefore only one parent has to carry the ringbone gene for their offspring to be predisposed. It was once thought that ringbones were always hereditary but this isn't accurate. Some cases are due to developmental issues in the horse's foot. Horses with ringbone have characteristic bumps on their front legs below the knee or hock joints where they developed ringbone due to injuries that occurred while the bones were still developing. Not all ringbones are inherited, however ringbones that appear before a certain age are hereditary.
If ringbone is inherited, it may not become apparent in the horse's life. Horses with ringbone are more susceptible to ringbone injuries than other horses so they should be prevented from participating in activities that put them at risk for injury. This will prevent ringbones from developing later in life when their condition is most severe and difficult to treat.
Do horses with ringbone need shoes?
Shoes are not always beneficial or safe for ringbone sufferers. The ringbone bump causes the horse pain, therefore shoes may aggravate this pain. Wearing shoes can make condition more serious by causing further damage to the joint where ringbone occurs and even lead to ringbone spurs, cysts, and sequestrum which are all more painful than ringbone alone. The ringbone bump may become too sore if shoes are not fitted properly or the shoe is hitting the ringbone bump directly because of poor trimming methods.
However, some horses may benefit from special therapeutic shoes. The ringbone bump may have been damaged from being hit by shoes in the past. In this case, special shoes can be used to protect ringbone bumps while also healing them. These special shoes don't actually offload weight or pressure on ringbones so they should not be used too long.
Can you ride a horse with ringbone?
Riding ringbone horses is not recommended.
Ringbones can cause serious problems when riding, in particular ringbone in the forelimbs is more dangerous than ringbone in the hind limbs. Ringbone in the forelimb affects a horse's balance and this can lead to serious injuries if he stumbles or falls off an obstacle while under saddle. Ringbone in the hind limb affects a horse's gait but is less likely to cause spurs, cysts, sequestrum and lameness due to problems with the foot.
Riding can also aggravate ringbone by putting the ringbone bump in contact with hard surfaces like fences, saddles, and stirrups. This can cause ringbone to bulge and become more painful for the horse.
Can you cure ringbone in horses?
Ringbone in horses can be treated but it cannot be cured. The ringbone can be treated with joint supplements, medication and a course of rest. In some cases ringbones will go away on their own if the horse's movements are restricted from activities that cause it pain.
In most horses ringbones aren't permanently cured but rather they need constant management of ringbone to keep lameness at bay. Current treatments for ringbone include joint supplements, medication and a restricted diet unsuitable for horses that require heavy exercise. Rest is also extremely important in ringbone management as it can keep ringboning under control as well as decrease pain and inflammation. Special shoes may be required to protect ringboned areas from injury. Ringbones can return after the treatment so ringbone sufferers should always be monitored for recurring symptoms.