Model image of side bone in a horse
By nature’s grand design, healthy hooves contain built-in shock absorbers, hyaline-type structures that act to help dissipate excessive concussion to the horse’s feet and lower limb.
When there’s a breakdown of this process, it is most often referred to as sidebone (the hardening of cartilage-type tissues that form the shock absorbing bulbs located to the rear of each hoof). This condition is often noticed by accident upon x-ray of a horse’s feet for other lameness issues.
Sidebone can be of great concern where major limb conformational deformities exist. Such asymmetrical conformations prove to be the most stressful. Most studies reveal that sidebone is usually not a primary cause for lameness, but could contribute to complications down the road. Certain forms of ossification (a process of softer tissues that calcify, resulting in bony formations) can lead to discomfort of your equine friend as he ages. Just as in our own bodies, as we age, bone/joint disorders can become more prevalent and make it necessary for us to change a few things in our lifestyle.
You can never go wrong with a little preventive maintenance. A well-planned diet, exercise, and regular visits from the farrier, have all been proven to help. Understanding if your horse has a predisposition for sidebone is the best place to begin. If your horse is like most, he spends a great deal of down-time just hanging out in the field and not working for a living; he can easily become overweight which, over the course of several years, can cause undue stress to his limbs and feet.
Obesity in our equine world is no different than in our people world. It’s become increasingly evident that it can be the catalyst to many health issues. Putting our horses on a more balanced diet that matches their activity level can be just as challenging, if not more so, than putting ourselves on one. This one change alone can make a big difference for a horse’s long term health.
An X-ray will be necessary to reveal the severity of sidebone. Since sidebone drastically decreases shock absorption, it tends to always leave the door open for ringbone, navicular syndrome, pedal osteitis, and other arthritic conditions.
One encouraging fact is that according to many veterinarian sources, sidebone, due to its location inside the limb, is usually associated with little or no pain to the horse. However, in some instances, if a bony formation appears around the articulating portion of a coffin joint, it can inhibit the function of tendons and ligaments within that region, causing pain to the horse, even at walk.
If you’re an owner of an older horse and you have noticed symptoms of increased stumbling, joint swelling, or perhaps a slight loss of appetite, you may want to get him looked at by your vet and also arrange for a farrier visit. In situations where bone or joint discomfort is suspected, your vet may recommend joint supplements/remedies. Your farrier, on the other hand, can provide your horse with a dose of immediate relief, by trimming him in a manner that supports his natural anatomy.
I urge you to not underestimate the power of a well-balanced trim. With or without supportive shoeing, it’s often the only way to provide the most lasting comfort for your horse.
Bryan Farcus can be found at farrierfriendly.com. His new FARRIER-FRIENDLY Horse Owner Guides are available at amazon.com
Resources & Recommended Reading:
Illustrated Atlas of Clinical Equine Anatomy and Common Disorders of the Horse, Ronald J. Riegel DVM & Susan E. Hakola B.S., R.N., C.M.I.
Essential Principles of Horseshoeing, Doug Butler PhD, CJF, FWCF, Jacob Butler CJF & Peter Butler B.A., CJF
www.equusmagazine.com, Issue 430 /July 2013, Identify Common Hoof Problems, Deb Bennett, PhD