Ringbone in horses | Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Ringbone in horses or ponies is actually a form of osteoarthritis within the pastern or coffin joint and in most cases is caused by trauma or overworking of the joint itself. 

Ringbone (medically known as Phalangeal Exostosis) is named as such as a bony proliferation accumulates over a period of time, often unnoticed, around the coffin or pastern joints, hence the reference to a ‘ring’.

The bony accumulation seen with Ringbone is caused by calcification of excess mineral deposits, the natural result of chronic inflammation, which eventually ossify and become solid and bony.

As with many forms of Arthritis, Ringbone is more commonly found in horses after they’ve reached middle age and is thought to be mainly down to the accumulation of repetitive stress within the pastern area. As such, horses with an active lifestyle, working horses, or sports horses such as barrel racers, showjumping horses or polo horses are more likely to develop Ringbone.

The genetic conformation of the animal can also play a part in developing Ringbone and is more commonly found in horses with toed-in or upright pasterns. A horse can inherit Ringbone from a gene within one of its parents, so checks can be done if possible to ascertain whether there are any known genetic disorder's.

Inadequate shoeing can also lead to Ringbone complications.

The more calcification which occurs, the great challenge horse owners have to achieving a sound horse.

Sidebone in horses is a closely related symptom to Ringbone - both of which are an orthopaedic condition of the lower limbs. We’ll talk about that a bit later, for now, let’s look at the different types of Ringbone found in horses. 

Ringbone, depending on the location, in fact comes in two different forms; “High Ringbone” and “Low Ringbone”. These conditions are known as “True Ringbone” or “Articular Ringbone” and differ slightly to “False Ringbone”.

True Ringbone occurs when the calcification of the bony growth forms within the joint itself whereas False Ringbone is when the new bone formation occurs outside of the joint. True Ringbone conditions are more serious than False Ringbone - both requiring medical attention.

Spotting the condition early is preferable.  

‘High Ringbone’ in horses

High Ringbone is located where the long pastern bone and the short pastern bone meet. As the mineral deposits calcify a ring or partial ring around the pastern joint is formed. High Ringbone is normally only visible once the process has been developing over a long period of time and can be visibly seen as a small bony ridge halfway down the pastern and forelegs develops. It is very unlikely to be visible within its early stages unless via radiographs.

The greater the calcification and the closer it is to the surface of the joint the more apparent Ringbone becomes, resulting in the joints bones rubbing against each other causing pain and lameness and worsened with every step. Following a period of time suffering from this, the joint will often fuse which naturally stabilises the area and reduces lameness - the joint itself however will no longer be flexible which in turn will reduce the horses flexibility and mobility levels.

‘Low Ringbone’ in horses

Low Ringbone is very similar to High Ringbone and is a result of the same calcification process except that it forms in the joints between the short pastern bone and the coffin bone. This causes a hard bony ridge around the coronary band.

Due to the location of these joints being flexible and required for movement, Low Ringbone is considered by many as more serious that High Ringbone.

As with High Ringbone, after a period of time in pain and being lame, once a horse with low Ringbone is set (where the joints fuse completely) then mobility is naturally reduced but pain levels and lameness are greatly lowered. 

Symptoms of Ringbone

Clinical signs of Ringbone can include a reduction in stride lengths often leading to short or choppy strides. Gait is often effected and in many cases the horse will show signs of lameness.

The demeanour of your horse will often be the earliest sign something is wrong. Reluctance to pick up their feet or play with another horse can be important indications. 

A commonly reported symptom, often helping diagnosis of the condition, is how heat and inflammation can be felt in the pastern joint.

Important tip: Traditional magnetic pulse products are not advised to be used to treat Ringbone, reducing heat is important and creating additional heat as traditional magnets do is the last thing you are looking for.

Diagnosis of Ringbone in horses   

In its primary stages of formation, heat and swelling within the joint associated with Ringbone will come and go. In some cases a period of box rest or recuperation will help reduce lameness temporarily but as the calcification of the bony growth increases the inflammation and soreness will return when the horse finishes their rest period.

In suspected Low Ringbone cases, owners will often notice a reluctance of the horse to move the pastern joint and is often first detected by a farrier when flexing the horses lower limbs.

In very early stages of Ringbone the most accurate technology used to diagnose the condition is infrared thermography which is handy at revealing inflammation and increased thermal activity along the pastern bones. In theist majority of cases though, diagnosis cannot be made until the calcification process begins which can be seen on radiographs.

In a small number of cases radiographs can detect little calcification in the pastern joint which is likely to be diagnosed as ‘false Ringbone’. This condition has a much greater success rate in recovery and normally can be treated with a period of box rest. It is however an indication that the horse may develop future arthritic conditions.

In some cases nerve blocks are used by the vet to help focus in on the pastern and discount similar conditions such as tendonitis, navicular issues or chip fractures.

Imaging techniques are the most accurate technology now used to diagnoses Ringbone, but do not come cheap. Likewise, treating the condition will be an expensive process - so it’s worth checking whether the condition is covered by your insurance.

Ringbone in horses symptoms cause and treatment blog image of horse on box rest

Sidebone in horses

Sidebone, historically referred to as ‘the curse of the working horse’, remains prevalent in larger draft horses. Similar to Ringbone, this condition is also degenerative and an arthritic condition.

Sidebone, unlike Ringbone, is where the calcification builds up along the lateral cartilages that extend backwards along the side of the coffin bone. Sidebone results in the heel bulbs losing their elasticity which results in the horses side being effected and can normally be diagnosed pretty easily as two large bony growths appear on each side of the coffin bone.

Sidebone often occurs in middle-age and older horses and is often considered a natural stage in many larger breeds as they get older. It is often only diagnosed as Sidebone if found in younger or abnormally lame horses.

Poor conformation or poor shoeing can also play a part in a horse developing signs of Sidebone particularly if that horse puts additional stress on its joint through exercise or work.

Sidebone, luckily, more often than not does not result in severe lameness and will often be sore to touch but not show signs of lameness.      

Treating Ringbone in horses

Although there are no clinically proven cures for Ringbone, there are several methods available to provide comfort and support to your horse diagnosed with Ringbone.

As with any arthritic condition, managing your horses weight is an important step in reducing strain on the horses joints. Likewise, managing their activity and ensuring limited impact on the joint is achieved will help reduce pain levels.

Joint supplements can be administered long term and anti-inflammatory NSAID medications such as Bute or Danilon are widely used to battle any inflammation in a short term capacity.

In the majority of cases, helping to treat Ringbone will be an important role for your horses farrier.

The most approach by a farrier treating a horse with Ringbone or Sidebone will be to apply a rolled-toe shoe and provide a little extra protection to the hoof using a webbed shoe or by adding a pad. Some farriers will treat the horse by allowing the sole callus to grow and resist trimming the sole itself.

Veterinarians will often recommend the first stage of treatment as a period of box rest and ensuring limited movement of the joints. Some will recommend a cast or tight bandaging to limit movement in the joint.

Your vet may also suggest intra-articular steroid injections and in some cases will advise that the joints are artificially fused (called Arthrodesis) to help reduce the horses pain levels.

Ringbone in horses symptoms cause and treatment blog image of horse x ray hoof

Natural approaches to managing your horse with Ringbone

In many cases, with the correct treatment plan, you can support your horses recovery and prevent Ringbone being a career ending condition.

Many horse owners now turn to a variety of natural and alternative methods to support their horses condition which are developed to complement prescribed medical treatments.

Supplements containing a variety of herbs and minerals such as glucosamine, Omega-3s, hyaluronic acid and turmeric and are now are widely used within equine communities to help with inflammation, relieve pain and improve the animals cartilage regeneration process. 

Cold-therapy has been shown to be helpful in reducing inflammation and swelling within the joint and is now widely adopted across the equine world.

Therapies such as acupuncture, massage and physiotherapy can all provide additional benefits and are also used by many horse owners around the world.

Finally there is tack used to support your horses recovery.

Advancements in quantum physics and Bio-magnetic Therapy, such as with EQU StreamZ Advanced Magnetic Bands, are an ideal complementary option for horse owners looking to support their horse with Ringbone. This specifically manufactured magnetic technology creates no heat and is suitable for use on horses diagnosed with Ringbone or Sidebone.

Advanced magnetic technology is useful in supporting a horses short-term and long-term health and can be used 24x7 unlike with many traditional magnetic devices which increase heat and should only be used for limited periods of time.

EQU StreamZ Magnetic Horse Bands are highly  acclaimed to support horses with Ringbone image for blog.

So you’ve done what you can. Your horse has seen their vet, therapist and farrier with various treatments being applied. Their diet and rest periods are all in check and you’ve spent a small fortune getting to this point!

What benefit is there in investing in a set of EQU StreamZ horse bands?

EQU StreamZ horse bands and Ringbone

An anecdotal study was carried out on 25 horses diagnosed with Ringbone using EQU Streamz Bands, publicly publishing the results of the effects. 

Within this study the following statistics were achieved:

  • 84% of the study group reported a reduction in Ringbone symptoms.
  • 68% reported an improvement within 9 days of use.
  • 84% felt the bands helped their horses mobility levels.
  • 72% reported the bands helped their horses energy levels.
  • 80% reported the bands helped their horses overall wellbeing.
  • And 92% said they would recommend the bands to other horse owners to support Ringbone.

Below we take a look at some other StreamZ customers who have seen success in using EQU StreamZ bands as part of their treatment and recovery plan for their horse diagnosed with Ringbone.

“I bought a Rocky Mountain horse about 10 years ago. He was doing a little bit of tripping when I bought him but attributed it to him being over weight and out of shape. I didn't think at all about a vet check. ( I should have) He kept tripping up every so often even after I got his weight in check. I took him to my vet to get his feet and front legs checked out. who ran a series of x-rays and then I knew what his problem had been all along. He had mild Ringbone in the pastern/fetlock areas. We got him some EQU StreamZ bands hoping they could help reduce his medication levels.
If it wasn't for him wearing his EQU StreamZ bands his dose of medication would be far more than it is now! The medication is very expensive so I not only have saved money by using these bands but the natural approach must have been of benefit to him. 
Some days I have even skipped administering his medication and just keep his band's on.

He is around 24 or 25 yrs old and looking at him and his behaviour it is like he thinks he is 15 again!! I don't regret for a moment the money I spent on these bands, they have been worth every cent. They are making him very comfortable and giving him more time with me. From the bottom of our hearts, Thank you so much EQU StreamZ.” - Tina

“I totally love our Streamz bands. My 20 year old was diagnosed with Ringbone and has improved so much since wearing his bands that he’s like a 5 year old again! He is loving life. He is cantering around the field sound and when riding him he’s swinging and striding out. A simply amazing product!” - Rebecca

“I got these for my 20 year old warmblood who has Ringbone in both front feet. He has been lame since May but after 3 weeks wearing these bands he was sound and will be joining the Boxing Day meet with our local bloodhounds! He is like a 3 year old again!” - Sam

“We have used the bands on our ISH who was diagnosed with high and low Ringbone. She had all of the treatments available from the vets with only 1/10 improvement in her lameness. Since using the Streamz bands she has gradually improved and is now sound and back doing what she loves most in life, jumping! I highly recommend these Streamz bands, we cannot thank Streamz enough.” - Jackie

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