If you feel a bump on your young horse's leg, there's a good possibility that he's "popping a splint." While he'll probably be lame for a while, odds are that he'll heal in time. It's almost a rite of passage for many young horses -- especially those in hard work at a young age -- but rarely occurs in horses aged 5 and up, when bones are more mature. Call your vet if your horse pops a splint.
Equine Splint Bones
Your horse has small splint bones on either side of his front and rear cannon bones, formally known as the metacarpal and metatarsal bones, respectively. That's a total of eight splint bones per horse. The splint bones attach to the cannon via a ligament, in effect supporting and "splinting" the cannon bones. In the front legs, these bones start from the knee and head down along approximately three-quarters of the length of the cannon bone. In the hind legs, they begin at the hock and travel the same distance down the rear cannon bones. While a splint can "pop" in any leg, it occurs far more often in the front.
The popped splint is actually an inflammation of the ligament holding it to the cannon bone, and is formally known as interosseous desmitis. This soft tissue injury eventually forms into bone.
Why Splints Occur
Certain conformational or other conditions predispose the young horse to developing a splint. These include:
- poor farrier work
- a toed-out animal striking the opposite front leg.
- a kick from another horse -- often the cause of rear leg splints.
While the lump in the area of the splint bone is the most obvious sign of a splint, it's not the only symptom. Others include:
- or heat.
Stall rest is the primary treatment for splints, which usually lasts for about six weeks but can take up to a few months. Additional therapy may include:
- cold packs or cold water from a hose
- oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- topical anti-inflammatory medication for swelling reduction.
While most horses are as good as new once the splint heals, the bony protrusion may remain. In older horses, it's simply a conformational flaw, unlikely to cause issues.
While there's no surefire way to prevent splints, keeping horses at a light workload until their skeletons fully mature after the age of 4 is a good start. Avoid lunging the horse in small circles or other situation where he's more likely to hit himself. Use splint boots on young horses -- if a horse does interfere with the opposite front leg, he'll hit the boot, not the bone. Use a farrier knowledgeable in the shoeing of young horses.