You may have looked to see if the horse was kicked, cut, or bitten, but you cannot find any mark on the leg that would indicate such an injury. This kind of injury is more common than you think. Your horse’s leg contains a cannon bone which is flanked by two small bones on either side.
These bones are often referred to as splint bones and they are actually attached to the cannon bone by a ligament. When properly aligned, they serve as a support to the cannon bone, yet if by injury or strain the ligament is damaged, obvious swelling and inflammation are the case. Quite often referred to as a true splint, this condition will cause a horse to experience mild lameness, heat at the affected area, as well as tender swelling.
On the other hand, if the ligament damage is only very mild, the swelling is much harder to detect, since it occurs between the cannon and the splint bone, thus giving rise to the name blind splint.
Splints can very often be avoided. For example, if your farrier is not on the top of her or his game and thus trims and shoes your horse poorly when it is time for it to be shod, any uneven growth will not receive the proper attention it needs. Additionally, some horse owners contribute to the problem of splints by overfeeding their animal or not providing a proper nutritional balance.
This is quite often the case in foals that are growing rapidly and putting more and more weight on still soft bones. Of course, some horses are simply predisposed to this condition because they place added stress on the leg by toeing in or out.
When the horse presents with a splint, it is important to treat the affected area by treating the inflammation itself. Ice packs are very often the first treatment a horse should receive for any kind of splint. Generally speaking, you will want to apply a cold pack to the affected area for 25 minutes several times a day. After each application, follow the treatment with a pressure support wrap.
You know that you will be able to discontinue the cold treatments when the splint is not as tender anymore and no longer feels hot to the touch. Other treatment options include cold poultices, injections with steroids, massages, and application of DMSO.
While splints are entirely treatable, they will require their time to heal, and no matter which treatment option you choose, the swelling does not go down quickly. Yet the sooner you beginning the smaller the swelling will be!
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