We’re all familiar with the sudden pain of stubbing a toe or stepping barefoot on a sharp rock—ouch! You might think your horse can’t experience anything similar thanks to their strong hooves, but that’s not the case.
The sole of a horse’s hoof is a tough shock absorber, but the tissues inside can still become sore and inflamed from uneven ground, poor hoof trimming, or overwork.1
A stone-bruise horse can develop inflammation, swelling, and even bleeding inside the hoof that can lead to hematoma in rarer cases. Fortunately, many cases of stone bruise can be prevented with regular exercise along with proper horse hoof cleaning, care, and maintenance. Keep reading as we cover the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this common hoof problem so your horse can get back on the move.
Hoof Biology 101
The bottom of a horse’s hoof is made up of keratin, like the outer wall of the hoof. However, the keratin on the sole of the hoof is softer than the hard outer wall. It’s tough enough to hold up to walking and running, but it’s also flexible and rubbery enough to expand and contract as the horse moves.2
This flexibility serves several essential purposes:
- It provides shock absorption
- It acts as a pump to aid in blood flow
- It provides traction and grip on uneven ground
But this softer tissue also means the bottom of a hoof can become injured and sore. When this happens, it’s known as a stone bruise.
Causes of Stone Bruises
Stone bruises are frequently caused by stepping on a sharp stone (hence the name), but they can happen for other reasons, too. Some of the most common are:1
- Improper shoeing or hoof trimming
- Riding or running on hard, uneven surfaces
- Too much time standing on a hard surface, such as a stall floor
- Getting a stone stuck in the hoof due to caked-on mud or snow
- Lack of exercise and excess weight
- Prolonged standing in damp conditions
Some horses are naturally more prone to stone bruises than others. Flat-footed horses, thin-soled horses, and horses with a long-toed, low-heeled hoof conformation have less protective tissue between the ground and the sensitive structures beneath the sole.3
Due to the complex structure of the hoof, it’s essential to have your horse’s hooves trimmed by an experienced farrier. A good farrier can trim the frog and other softer tissues without causing damage, while shaping the hoof to work with your horse’s gait.
How to Recognize Stone Bruise
Stone bruises don’t always show any visible signs on the outside of the hoof, especially right after the injury occurs. The most common symptoms of stone bruise are:1
- Sudden lameness or limping on one foot
- Reluctance to bear weight on the affected foot
- Sensitivity to pressure or touch
- Discoloration of the sole, such as red or blue spots (this may not appear for several months after the injury)
If the stone bruise has progressed without treatment, you may even see an open sore or foot abscess.
Treatment for Stone Bruises
If you see your horse limping, it’s important to take action quickly to prevent the hoof problem from becoming worse. Severe bruises may need to be drained and bandaged, so it’s best to consult with your vet or farrier if you’re in any doubt.
At the first sign of a sore foot, you should:
- Clean the hoof – Inspect the affected foot for rocks, loose shoes, or signs of injury. You’ll need to remove the shoe to check the hoof thoroughly. An antimicrobial hoof spray or wound care spray will help loosen dirt and remove bacteria that could lead to infection.
- Provide rest – The most important treatment is simple: Let your horse take a break from all activity until the bruise heals. This should usually only take a few days for a minor bruise that’s treated early.
- Provide hoof soaks – Soak the hoof daily to reduce inflammation and keep the sole of the hoof clean. Use a medicated hoof soak to speed healing and flush out any harmful microbes that could cause infection.
- Consult your veterinarian – Depending on the severity of the bruise, your horse may need additional treatment. If your horse doesn’t seem to be healing after a few days of rest, or if the lameness is chronic, it’s time for professional care. Your vet can assess the injury and determine if an underlying condition such as hematoma or laminitis is involved.
Preventing Stone Bruises
Most horses will suffer a stone bruise at some point. However, you can make it less likely to become a serious problem with a few preventive measures:
- Keep your horse at a healthy weight
- Provide regular exercise to encourage good circulation and healthy foot movement
- Always have hooves trimmed by a knowledgeable farrier
- Inspect shoes regularly for proper fit and even wear
- Use hoof boots when riding on rocky, uneven trails
For Healthy Hooves, Trust Vetericyn
Stone bruises are a fact of life for active horses. They can even happen in the paddock, especially if it’s wet, muddy, or snowy. The best step you can take is to know the signs of stone hoof bruising, take care when riding on rocky ground, and let your horse rest at the first sign of limping.
Always make sure your horse’s hooves are strong and healthy by cleaning and inspecting them regularly.
For help with that and more, add Vetericyn products to your horse care arsenal. Vetericyn Hoof Care spray encourages the regrowth of healthy hoof tissue and protects against more than 99.99% of harmful pathogens that cause hoof disease. Find Vetericyn at your local feed store, Amazon, or Tractor Supply, and keep your hooves tough and your horses happy.
Reviewed by Solomon Benarroch, Veterinarian
Solomon Benarroch DVM has been a practicing veterinarian for over 30 years. His primary focus has been in equine soundness and performance sports medicine. Originally from Winnipeg, Canada he attended college at the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine. And completed an internship at the University of Minnesota. He is the father of three kids and when he isn’t working (which is rare), he enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending time with friends and family.
- Equus Magazine. Why hoof bruises happen. https://equusmagazine.com/lameness/hoof-bruises-happen-29327/
- Equine Spot. Hoof anatomy inside and out. https://www.equinespot.com/horse-hoof-anatomy
- Butler Professional Farrier School. The horse’s frog. http://butlerprofessionalfarrierschool.com/archives/1991