What Is Ringbone In Horses & What Can You Do About It?

We used to believe that ringbone was a fatal diagnosis for a horse. Today we know that that a horse with ringbone can continue to be rideable and comfortable for a very long time. In this article, we discuss the different types of ringbone and provide good advice for early detection and sensible, natural treatment of ringbone in horses. Read on to learn more.

Develop A Good Relationship With Your Veterinarian

Early detection is one of the best tools for preventing lameness caused by ringbone. When you have your horse examined by your vet on a regular basis, you have a better chance of detecting ringbone early and identifying the type of ringbone your horse has.

What Are The Types Of Ringbone?

Types of Ringbone

Generally speaking, ringbone is exostosis (bony overgrowth) of the pastern bones. This may be caused by injury or by generalized inflammation.

This exostosis may simply develop on the exterior sides of your horse’s pastern bone, or it may affect the joints. Sometimes, the bony growths go all the way around the pastern area. This is why the common name of the condition is ringbone.

If your horse’s case of ringbone simply consists of calcification or bony growths on the exterior surface of the bone, the condition is not especially serious and you needn’t be overly concerned.

On the other hand, if your horse’s pastern joint is affected, the condition is more serious. Ringbone that affects the coffin joint or pastern joint is a very painful condition and can cause chronic lameness. This type of ringbone comes in two varieties, low and high.

Low Ringbone

If your horse is experiencing low ringbone, it will develop between the short pastern bone and the coffin bone in the joint residing there. This is just inside the upper area of the hoof wall.

Calcification in this area is quite painful for your horse because the enlargement and swelling is stuck in a very limited area and puts pressure on the inside of the hoof wall and on the joint. This can very negatively impact your horse’s range of motion and his or her gait.

High Ringbone

If ringbone develops higher on the leg between the long pastern bone and the short pastern bone, it is called high ringbone. This condition is more common and less serious. Even so, it can still cause lameness.

Although the pastern joint does not have the range of motion that the coffin joint has, it does bear quite a bit of the load of your horse’s body and of yours when you ride.

If the pastern joint is damaged, it does not renew itself. Instead, it continues to lose condition.

Why Can’t Ringbone Heal On Its Own?

Why Can’t Ringbone Heal On Its Own

Ringbone is a type of arthritis that develops when excessive stress on the ligaments, tendons and joints cause inflammation. Arthritis is a progressive condition that does not heal, but it can be managed. Left unchecked, inflammation caused by ringbone can cascade and cause more and more damage.

When the ligaments and tendons supporting the joints in the horse’s lower legs are put under a great deal of pressure, it triggers the horse’s body to generate more bone as a way of stabilizing the joint. Unfortunately this extra bone hampers movement and becomes a problem in and of itself.

It’s important to identify and begin treatment of ringbone very early on because if degeneration of this joint is allowed to begin, it will move along at a rapid clip. If you don’t catch it early and address it early, you may find yourself dealing with a very serious problem, and your horse may suffer a great deal of chronic pain.

Can Ringbone Ever Improve On Its Own?

There is sort of an odd natural workaround that can occur with ringbone. It is called ankylosis, and it consists of the cementing together of the two bones supporting the affected joint.

This is a natural occurrence that may actually work to stabilize the joint and eliminate any pain your horse may have been experiencing. It will affect the horses range of motion and may change his gait’s, but it is one way that your horses body naturally addresses the problem of inflammation in the pastern’s and resulting lameness.

It’s important to realize that this does not happen in every case, so it’s very wise to have your vet examine your horse at least annually to identify the symptoms of ringbone early so that treatment can be started.

What Are Some Natural Treatments For Ringbone In Horses?

Natural Treatments For Ringbone in Horses

1. Take good care of your horse’s hooves

One of the best things you can do for a horse with ringbone is engage the services of a skilled, trained, qualified farrier. Follow your vet’s recommendation when choosing a farrier to be sure of getting a professional who is ready, willing and able to work in conjunction with your vet to design an appropriate course of trimming and shoeing for your horse.

Every case of ringbone is different, so it’s extremely important to get an experienced and qualified farrier who knows how to a evaluate your veterinarian’s findings and the symptoms your horse is presenting to determine the right way to trim his hooves and keep them properly shod.

Your farrier should also be familiar with a wide variety of shoeing methods. Sometimes, traditional metal shoes are called for. In other cases, modern synthetic shoes or even hoof boots are more appropriate. Avoid working with a farrier who only knows one trim and one way of shoeing.

Proper trimming and shoeing can often alleviate your horse’s pain and correct the problem within just a couple of trimming and shoeing cycles (i.e. 2 to 4 months).

2. Keep your horse properly nourished

Supplements and medication can also be helpful keep in mind that ringbone is a form of arthritis, and just like arthritis in humans, it is progressive and requires a gentle, holistic, ongoing course of treatment. It cannot be cured, but it can be coped with.

Be sure that your horse is receiving the right kind of feed. Some modern feeds are formulated with nutraceuticals intended to support good joint health. Talk with your vet about the brands he or she recommends.

Generally speaking, a good type of feed for an equine with arthritis would include:

  • Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • Hyaluronan
  • Sulfate
  • MSM

These supplements, and others, can all work together to help reduce inflammation, which in turn relieves pain. Furthermore, a good diet help support healthy cartilage growth. Strong cartilage helps pad the joints, reducing pain and stiffness and other symptoms of arthritis.

It’s important to begin this type of feeding regimen early on (or preventatively before any problem begins). If your horse suffers with ringbone for a long time without proper feeding and care, the damage caused by the condition will progress. When this happens, you will not be able to reverse the problem.

Remember that natural treatments in general are best used as prevention and maintenance. They are typically not effective as curatives.

3. Follow your vet’s advice

Your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs such as:

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Phenylbutazone (Bute)
  • Firocoxib (Equioxx)

Your vet may also wish to take some aggressive action to address immediate pain. For example joint injections can target and pinpoint severe, localized pain.

A corticosteroid injection directly to the joint can help reduce inflammation and relieve severe pain. This sort of treatment may just be a one-off to get severe, acute pain under control. Repeated treatments can have negative side effects. For example, repeated injections may increase your horse’s risk of developing laminitis.

As an alternative to corticosteroid injections, your vet may choose to inject polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAG) or Hyaluronic acid. Both of these substances deliver very positive anti-inflammatory action and also help protect healthy cartilage.

Yet another alternative in joint injections is polyacrylamide hydrogel. This is a long acting treatment. The gel is a synthetic lubricant that helps pad and cushion the joints. Currently, this treatment is only available in Europe, but hopefully it will soon attain clearance from the US Food & Drug Administration.

Your vet may also prescribe drugs intended to help with navicular syndrome. The drugs known as Tildren (administered intravenously) and Osphos (administered by intramuscular injection) are both bisphosphonates which work by binding calcium to prevent bone resorption. This helps keep healthy bone from deteriorating.

Other very advanced options include biological treatments such as stem cell therapy and use of the horse’s own platelet rich plasma. These types of options may not be offered except in the case of very valuable show horses, racehorses and the like.

When all other options have been exhausted, or if/when your horse’s condition deteriorates beyond the point of being addressable through natural treatments, therapy and drugs, your vet may offer surgical solutions.

This type of solution is naturally quite costly and may alter your horse’s gait after recovery. If your horse is a pet/pleasure horse, retirement may be the most practical option at this point.

Should Retired Horses With Ringbone Have Total Rest?

Should Retired Horses With Ringbone Have Total Rest

Just like people with arthritis, horses with arthritis should keep moving. If you retire your horse because of painful ringbone, it’s best to literally put him out to pasture with good shelter, plenty of grass and freedom to move about.

If you don’t have this resource, be sure your faithful friend has time for turnout every day. Take him on walks and keep him as active as you and your vet determine appropriate.

Are Cures For Ringbone Permanent?

It’s important to remember that there really is no cure for ringbone. It is arthritis, so it is a progressive disease. With good, early treatment, your horse can enjoy reduced pain, improved function and a comfortable life for a longer period of time. If ignored, the pain and degeneration will worsen over time and eventually become unmanageable.

Even with early detection and treatment, you’ll need to be prepared for some good days and some bad days. Sometimes your horse may be too stiff and sore to perform up to his usual standards. Other days he may feel very limber and frisky.

Good teamwork between you, your veterinarian and your farrier can help you enjoy your horse and help your horse enjoy his life for a much longer period of time. There are also some therapeutic leg wraps that may help – have a look at this Back On Track Quick Wraps review.

Ask The Vet – What Is Ringbone?

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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