What is up with “splints”? Do I need to call the Veterinarian?
The short answers are “a lot” and “yes”. Splints are a fairly common occurrence in horses, and for the most part they are fairly benign. There is, however, much use of the words “popped a splint” to mean many different things. So let’s clarify a bit.
The splint bones are small bones that run along the cannon bones of all four horse legs, inside and outside. The splint bones are attached with the interosseous ligaments. Keep in mind that the lower leg where the splint bones live is also chock full of other tendons and ligaments that interact with each other, so a splint injury may have larger implications. What you usually find is a hard walnut shaped lump on your horse’s leg. (Insert bad language here). Your horse may or may not be lame. Chances are that you will find the walnut lump before you have a chance to check for lameness.
This splint "popped" just below the knee.
The splint bones - the two similar bones alongside this canon bone. Note how long they are!
Splint injuries range in severity and location. Splint area injuries range from damage to the interosseous ligaments, damage to the knee where the upper end of the splint bone resides in relation to the knee, or the outer coating of the splint bone has been whacked or damaged. You can also have a total fracture of the splint bone.
A few years ago, I found a tiny, hard lump on the inside of a horse’s fetlock. He was a bit sore when I touched it, and it turns out that it was the distal end of his splint bone that had snapped off and lodged itself much lower that what I expected a splint injury to look like. Surgery was required to remove the snapped off bone, so that it wouldn't interfere with the tendons and ligaments.
This unfortunate horse had a fractured splint bone (look at the lower third of the splint bone). It was never repaired and was allowed to heal, likely causing much interference and pain to the horse as the fracture rubbed against the soft tissues.
Because of the complex nature of splint injuries, it’s always best to consult your Veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. Your Veterinarian can determine a few things. One, is the injury the splint bone itself or the interosseous ligament? Two, how lame is your horse - what's the best exercise routine? Three, what’s the treatment plan? Then, and only then, can you proceed. Splint injuries have so many contributing factors, including conformation, diet, exercise habits, soft tissue injuries, kicks, knocks, interference, farrier work, etc. You and your Veterinarian can examine all of the contributing factors to create the best plan for your horse, even if he’s super sound and you think the injury is just superficial….remember the proximity to really important soft tissues!
It’s very likely that your horse will be rested, wrapped, iced, poulticed and hand walked during recovery. When you first discover a splint, call your Veterinarian to get a plan together before his exam. You will probably be icing, resting, and wrapping with good ol’ fashioned standing wraps!
What has your experience been with splints??
PS - if you want to learn more about the skeleton of a horse, check out Equineskeletons.com. Cool stuff!