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Splints - Problem or Insignificant Blemish?
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Splints - Problem or Insignificant Blemish?

A friend of mine is currently horse-hunting. This weekend she went to try a potential dressage horse and loved him, until she saw that he had a large splint on his off-fore. The horse wasn't lame and the splint was cold and apparently inactive – as a nine year old, this was to be expected – and it didn't interfere with his knee or fetlock joints. If the horse was intended to be used for showing, the splint would be a problem as it would be regarded as a serious blemish and he would be marked down for this. As it happens, my friend is looking for something to compete in dressage classes and a splint is irrelevant for this.

But, what is a splint? Is it something to be concerned about when viewing a horse?

A splint is an injury to the small, narrow splint bone which sits either side of the horse's cannon bone. It is attached to the cannon bone by a tough ligament called the interosseous. The splint bone acts, as you would expect from its name, as a splint to the larger cannon and provides essential support to it. It is vulnerable to damage as a result of traumatic injuries such as kicks and self-inflicted knocks, for example when a horse becomes cast in its stable. Concussion as a result of fast work on hard or uneven surfaces is also a common cause of splint damage especially in growing young horses when their bones are still relatively soft.

If the splint bone suffers a knock or the interosseous ligament becomes damaged, a lump appears called a splint. This change is the result of the body's attempt to repair the damage by forming new bony tissue which manifests as a hard lump. Once the pain and swelling subsides this is no more than a cosmetic blemish which, once formed, causes the horse no problems as long as it does not interfere with the movement of the joints. Splints are roughly divided into five groups:

True splint

A tear in the interosseous ligament progresses to a bony injury. This is the most common type of splint.

Blind splint

Inflammation occurs in between the ligament and the splint bone. This is very difficult to detect, hence its name.

Knee splint

Swelling in the upper part of the splint bone can result in osteoarthritis in the knee, although this is very rare.

Fractured splint

This refers to an actual break in the splint bone.

Spotting a splint can be tricky. The horse may appear very slightly unlevel – nothing major, just a not quite right. Very often there will initially be no outward sign of a problem except perhaps for a small area of heat and tenderness on one or other side of the cannon bone. Over a week or two, a lump will begin to appear and you then know that your horse has a splint. If there's no obvious break in the skin it's probably a true splint. If however the horse is very lame and a lump forms quickly on the outside of his cannon, this could indicate a fracture to the splint bone.

It's important to consult your vet especially if the lameness is severe and the onset is sudden or there is obvious damage to the skin.

Prevention

The majority of splints are as a result of concussion or trauma. Avoid working your horse on hard ground and boot him up when working him and when he's turned out. Clearly, there's not much you can do if a boisterous youngster decides to gallop around his field playing with his chums, apart from keep your fingers crossed! Poor confirmation such as angled cannons can also predispose a horse to the formation of splints as can carrying excessive weight.

Treatment

Many splints develop without bothering the horse at all. Others cause lameness and pain which is usually resolved over three to four weeks. A short course of pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs together with box rest generally does the trick although in the case of a fractured splint bone, healing time will be longer and surgery may be required depending on the severity of the fracture and the presence of splinters of bone which will need to be removed.

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  1. PonyGirl
    PonyGirl
    Long ago, when I was hot walking at the track, there was a filly at the barn that had a fractured splint bone. She was only slightly lame, but the vet felt that surgery was the best option. They just gave her a tranquilizer and local anesthesia. The vet made a very small incision, pulled the broken piece out of the hole, and sewed the skin back together with just a couple of stitches. Two weeks later, the filly won her first race. If I remember correctly, her leg looked completely normal. I would think the surgery would not be very expensive, since it was a very simple procedure, and they didn't have to lay her down to do it. Of course, her break occurred in the bottom third of the bone; the surgery might be more involved if the break is in the top portion. Thanks for another interesting and informative post.
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    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Many thanks. x
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  2. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. Very interesting post. I am learning so much from your posts and enjoy reading them. :) x
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    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thank you. Fingers crossed we find out soon whether Cookie is actually expecting or just having you on! x
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  3. jst4horses
    Very good post. I saw many a splint swelling and even break while working at the track. Our program recently inherited a horse with a big knee, same situation, some kind of injury, long ago, no pain, no problems walking, trotting or cantering, but it is obviously a big fore knee. Maybe hit it on a stall somewhere, or pen bar, or got kicked. Several owners had had it scanned, and nothing could be done. It is just a big knee. The horse is calm, and a favorite of young beginning riders. We do only tournaments, where riders and horses are competing against their last skills, much of our event is exhibition. The first one we did was open, designed to bring in riders from the area that were fighting all the time. Everyone had something to say about the others, and it was unpleasant. The events were a forum where many a harsh trainer got interested in Naturalhorsemanship..........one lady told us she was getting too old to keep fighting a horse, and learned Naturalhorsemanship. Others too. AND everyone was grateful to find that many of the people they had perceived as horse harming mean persons actually were just people who knew very little about horses and were happy to learn more and better ways. AND a lot of arrogant stuck up know it alls found out they were not so knowing, and without the stress of competition, could enjoy both their horses and the other persons at the event.
    Log in to reply.
    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Many thanks! x
      Log in to reply.
  4. jst4horses
    Very good post. I saw many a splint swelling and even break while working at the track. Our program recently inherited a horse with a big knee, same situation, some kind of injury, long ago, no pain, no problems walking, trotting or cantering, but it is obviously a big fore knee. Maybe hit it on a stall somewhere, or pen bar, or got kicked. Several owners had had it scanned, and nothing could be done. It is just a big knee. The horse is calm, and a favorite of young beginning riders. We do only tournaments, where riders and horses are competing against their last skills, much of our event is exhibition. The first one we did was open, designed to bring in riders from the area that were fighting all the time. Everyone had something to say about the others, and it was unpleasant. The events were a forum where many a harsh trainer got interested in Naturalhorsemanship..........one lady told us she was getting too old to keep fighting a horse, and learned Naturalhorsemanship. Others too. AND everyone was grateful to find that many of the people they had perceived as horse harming mean persons actually were just people who knew very little about horses and were happy to learn more and better ways. AND a lot of arrogant stuck up know it alls found out they were not so knowing, and without the stress of competition, could enjoy both their horses and the other persons at the event.
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