Humans aren’t the only ones who can get corns, horses can suffer from them too! Dry corns, moist corns and infected corns are all causes of lameness seen in shod horses.
Corns are a type of bruising usually seen at the angle of the bars and hoof wall on the inside of the front feet. Corns are a hoof injury caused by impact and appear as a red blemish because of damaged tissues and blood vessels.
Corns can be dry, moist or more seriously infected:
- Dry corn: this is bruising between the sole and sensitive internal tissues of the foot. As a result the sole becomes thin over the seat of the corn and the blood vessels leak into the newly formed horn.
- Moist corn: this is a more severe bruise causing an inflammatory response and serum (fluid) accumulates in the horn of the sole making it appear wet.
- Suppurated corn: this is an infected corn and will require immediate veterinary attention.
The major cause of corns in horses is incorrect shoeing. Generally corns are common in the following circumstances:
- Shoes that are fitted too short and tight.
- Shoes that have been left on for too long causing the hoof wall to grow over the shoe.
- Long toe/low heel due to poor trimming or poor conformation.
- Dirt and debris may find their way in between the shoe and sole causing bruising and corn formation.
- Horses that work on hard or stony ground may be more susceptible to bruising and corns.
Lameness is a common sign of corn development and you may notice that your horse is landing toe first to avoid heel contact with the ground.
Your farrier may discover a corn when your horse is shod; they usually appear when the old horn of the sole is pared away to reveal the new growth.
Your vet will use hoof testers around the area of the seat of corn to identify where the pain is. Your horse will respond by snatching his foot away if he feels pain; there won’t be pain over the rest of the sole, unlike general sole bruising.
Your vet may also check your horse’s digital pulses; if they are raised this is another indication of pain the foot. Your vet may also check the feet to see if they are warm; a warm foot can also indicate pain.
In more complicated cases your vet may use x-rays to rule out any other causes of pain in the heel area, such as sidebone, navicular disease or pedal osteitis.
If they haven’t already been removed, your horse should have its shoes removed to prevent further damage.
The treatment for dry and moist corns usually involves trimming the area to relieve pressure, and soaking the feet in Epsom salts can help to decrease inflammation. Rest and poulticing will help to decrease recovery time.
A suppurated corn will need more extensive treatment and usually involves opening the area up so any infection can drain out. The area can be treated with an antibiotic solution and then poulticed to draw out any remaining infection through the hole.
If your horse isn’t up to date with their tetanus vaccinations, your vet will administer a tetanus antitoxin injection which will provide your horse with immediate protection against tetanus. Tetanus, caused by Clostridium tetani, is an environmental bacteria and is commonly found in soil, therefore foot injuries are at particular risk from the disease.
Once the infection has resolved the hole that is left will need packing, usually with iodine soaked swabs but this will depend on the size, shape and location of the hole, and bandaged to ensure infection doesn’t return while the hole heals up. Your horse should be kept stabled on clean, dry bedding until the hole has completely healed up.
Once healed your horse should be shod by a qualified farrier that is familiar with shoeing horses with corns. It is likely that your horse will need a special shoe, such as a bar shoe, that will take pressure off the heels by transferring it to the frog. A horse with low heels is usually more prone to developing corns; therefore measures to improve the heels will reduce their reocurrence.
The key to preventing your horse developing corns is regular and proper hoof trimming and shoeing; correctly fitting shoes will not cause any problems.
If your horse naturally has thin soles and/or poor foot balance, in particular long toe/low heel conformation, it is essential that your farrier corrects and maintains correct balance. The use of remedial shoes, such as bar shoes may be needed in horses with severe imbalances.
It is also wise to avoid too much hard work on hard ground.