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Splints and bucked shins in horses

Quick facts

  • Splints are inflamed or fractured splint bones from long-term stress or injury.

  • Bucked shins refers to tiny stress fractures in the front of the cannon bones.

  • Treatment for splints and bucked shins often consists of rest and anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Signs of bucked shins include pain, swelling around the area (soft and then hard) and sometimes lameness.

Splints

Where are the splint bones?

The splint bones lie on either side of the horse’s cannon bone.

What are splints?

If the splint bones inflame or fracture the horse is said to have “popped a splint.” Splints usually occur from long-term stress (e.g. poor conformation) or an injury.

At first, splints are painful to the touch over the splint bone area. The horse may or may not be lame. A permanent hard swelling may remain at the site of the injury, but isn’t usually painful after the initial swelling has gone down.

Treatment

Splint treatment often consists of rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. Most horses with splints recover and return to work.

Once in a while a horse may develop a callus around a splint bone fracture that damages the ligaments running behind the cannon bone. In this case, the horse may need surgery to remove part of the splint bone. These horses are at greater risk of long-term lameness.

Bucked shins

What are bucked shins?

Buck shins refer to tiny stress fractures in the front of the cannon bones in the horse’s front legs. This condition is most commonly seen in 2-year-old racehorses just entering race training. The incidence of bucked shins in these horses is about 70 percent.

Signs and cause

Signs of bucked shins include:

  • Pain to the touch (front of the cannon bone)

  • Swelling, which is first soft and then hard

  • Sometimes lameness

Bucked shins occur when stress put on the legs by training at high speeds exceeds the bone's ability to adapt to that stress.

Treatment

Treatment generally includes rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. Other treatments, such as blistering and pinfiring are common, but haven’t been shown to be more effective than rest.

Once the pain and lameness resolve, you can resume training at a slower pace. A hard bony swelling may remain on the front of the affected bone(s). This condition doesn’t seem to affect future race performance.

Shockwave treatment may provide pain relief and allow continued training during bone remodeling.

Annette McCoy, DVM, former graduate student, College of Veterinary Medicine

Reviewed in 2018

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