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Medical Index
First Posted: Nov 4, 2009
Sep 19, 2012

Horse Splints

Splint bones are located on either side of the cannon bone. The interosseus ligament is located between the splint bones and the cannon bone. An injury to the interosseous ligament or the periosteum (The periosteum is the soft tissue covering bone) of the splint bones can cause splints.

You hear the term splints in the horse's leg often. So, just what does that mean? "The horse's splint bone is actually what is left of what was once one of his toes. The bone is still there, it just no longer reaches the ground. It still carries weight passed down to it by the carpus (knee)." Recurring Splints What causes the condition? Can the condition be prevented? Can the condition be cured? Will splints make my horse lame or unable to perform athletic endeavors?

What Is A Splint and What Causes them?

A splint is an inflammatory condition. It usually develops on the splint bones or "splints" Young horses between the ages of 2 to 3 years old are most prone to splints. However, they can occur in horses 4 years and up. Usually splints will occur when a horse has been put into work at too young an age or are worked too hard on pavement, hard ground, etc. At the walk the horse generally does not show lameness. It is at the trot and canter or in gaited horses at the faster gaits. Conformation problems such as a narrow base, i.e., feet too close together, toe-out, hooves that are not balanced correctly, too much rich food, and the absence of proper minerals can also be the culprit.

"A ligament, located between the cannon bone and the splint bones, is quite elastic in young horses. As the horse ages, the ligament ossifies; that is, the ligament is replaced by bone and the three bones fuse... During ossification, there may be inflammation and pain. Jumping, running and working a horse during this time produces further irritation." Splints in Horses


  • Let your horse develop before beginning training.
  • Three year olds can generally begin light training
  • Proper nutrition
  • Prevent obesity
  • Proper foot care
  • Protective, padded, splint boots for horses with limb interference. Boots should be able to absorb hoof interference impacts.

Four Types of Splints

  • "True splint - This is a fibrous and bony enlargement at the interosseous space secondary to inflammation or tearing of the interosseous ligament.
  • Blind splint - The inflammation this causes results in a fibrous and bony enlargement between the splint bones and the suspensory ligament (i.e., little to no external swelling).
  • Periostitis - This inflammation and bony reaction is secondary to trauma to the periosteum (the soft tissue covering bone).
  • Knee splint - This type of splint involves swelling located very proximally (toward the upper part of the splint bone, closer to the knee) and involving the lower joint in the knee, resulting in osteoarthritis."
  • Splints


  • Heat along the splint bone
  • Pain along the splint bone when palpated
  • Swelling along the splint bone
  • Intermittent lameness of young horses
  • Lameness at the trot but not the walk

Diagnostic Techniques Used

  • The above symptoms being present on a young horse
  • Watch the horse's way of going
  • Ultrasound
  • Nuclear scintigraphy (bone scans)
  • Computed tomography


  • Act quickly
  • Treat aggressively
  • Rest
  • Topical cold therapy: icing, cold hosing, pressure bandaging
  • Non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs: DMSO pr Surpass
  • Corticosteroids injections are sometimes used
  • Proper shoeing and trimming
  • Shockwave therapy
  • Lasers
  • Ultrasound
  • Electromagnetic therapy
  • Surgery is sometimes necessary. It is expensive and risky.

Prognosis or Long Term Consequences

  • Act quickly
  • Treat aggressively
  • Varies: 2 weeks to three months for pain and swelling to go down.
  • Usually a positive outcome
  • May become only a blemish after acute onset
  • Sometime a knot can be felt on the splint
  • Not as positive if bony growth interferes with knee joint or suspensory ligament.

"Prognosis is excellent in uncomplicated cases. The horse will be able to return to full work once the inflammation and pain ceases. Although the horse usually recovers quite quickly, horses with "blind splints" may take longer because there may be impingement on the suspensory ligament. The calcification of the splint is usually a permanent blemish, though over a period of many years, the excess calcification may be reabsorbed to some degree, occasionally to the point that the splint is no longer visible." Splints

For More Information:

Speedy Splint Recovery
Equine Lameness
Horse Splints

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