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What are splint injuries in horses?

Splints are a fairly common occurrence in horses, and for the most part they are fairly benign.  It’s always critical to involve your Veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan, as some splint injuries can be critical. There is 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 depending on where the injury occured.   What you usually find is a hard walnut shaped lump on your horse’s leg.  Your horse may or may not be lame.  Chances are that you will find the walnut lump while grooming.  


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.   


This photo shows the two splint bones along the horse's lower leg. 


Because of the complex nature of splint injuries, it’s always best to consult your Veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.  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 of the splint bone to joints and soft tissues.


This is an improperly healed splint fracture.


It’s very likely that your horse will be rested, wrapped, receive ice therapy, and be hand walked during recovery.  When you first discover a splint, call your Veterinarian to get a plan together before his exam. Cold therapy can help relieve inflammation with soft tissue problems, and act as an analgesic to make your horse more comfortable during the healing process!